Staying Relevant to Your Channel Partners Part I: The Top Three Must-Dos
Whether you are at an early stage of building your channel partner network or already have a mature network, the one question that you should never stop asking is – do I really matter to my channel partner? This is probably the most important question for a channel organization seeking to be and remain truly relevant to their partners. It is certainly implied (so we won’t discuss here further) that you have a competitive product or solution for your partner base to resell and make margins on and potentially attach services on top of your products and solutions, but that’s only the foundation of your relationship with your channel partners. The question is how do you stay in the game and build your relationship forward?
In any relationship, you can’t bask in the status quo forever. You need to keep bringing more to the table to stay relevant and interesting, and this applies particularly to the IT channel. If your organization doesn’t constantly update the ways it helps channel partners stay competitive, agile and relevant to their customer base, then it’s time to take a serious look at your partner relationship management programs and processes. So, how can you find out how genuinely relevant you are to your entire partner base? For a start, companies commonly tend to ask – or more formally survey – their channel partners to find out how they’re doing, and that’s where the disconnect starts. Guess who tends to respond? Those are the top tier channel partners, who offer more and want more from their vendors and, maybe, a few disgruntled channel partners who have a specific point to make. This leaves the voice of the majority of your partner base completely unheard; this is where opportunity is lost. We have surveyed thousands of resellers world wide on behalf of numerous vendor clients. Countless times, we’ve asked channel partners what is important to them and what elements of a vendor program they consider crucial to re-establishing and continuing a relationship with a vendor – assuming that the vendor remains potentially relevant to their business. From our research, we have identified eight core success factors, some organizational or pragmatic and some less tangible, but all key to ensuring you stay relevant to your partner base. In this article, we’ll talk about the three requests that are constantly top of channel partners’ wish lists.
- High Quality Technical support– Above all and no matter what else you do for your channel partners, the number one item is, always, is how good is your technical support? Whether pre-sales or post-sales, your expert support is essential to enable channel partners to troubleshoot technical issues from a complex deployment to application integration, and come across as knowledgeable, dependable and reliable to their customers. This is critical in order for the partner to be able to grow the relationship with their customer base. Vendors don’t always remember that channel partners don’t work for you; they work for their customers. So, if you help them to win with their customers, you’re off to a great start.
A word about offshoring: Far too many companies view technical support as a cost, and end up offshoring support to cut expenses. This is possibly one of the biggest mistakes they can make. Certainly the offshore talent pool is growing, skill levels are, on the whole, on the rise, and outsourced support companies can certainly help you expand the support you offer. But – and this is a really big but – you need to be systematic and scientific in figuring out how not to let deficiencies in language, communication or even technical knowledge get in the way of high quality and speedy support. We hear again and again that partner satisfaction levels drop exponentially when a vendor shifts their support overseas. If your channel partners report this as a problem, delve more into their complaints. Understanding a problem is the first step towards solving it.
- Lead flow– Partners have growth goals, and they need to know how you will help them build their business. You would never expect your direct sales team to generate leads on their own, so isn’t it a bit unfair to expect your channel partners to generate leads on their own? We hear so often from our vendor customers that they are frustrated with their channel partners not generating enough leads on their own. Let’s be realistic. There’s a reason why they’re called resellers, not re-marketers.
Most channel partner businesses are purely sales organizations, with little if any marketing expertise or resources. In today’s world of content-based lead generation, they don’t have much chance of generating new leads for your product without access both to a marketing automation platform and structured lead generation processes. They and you will be frustrated if they end up just being a fulfilment arm. A proven, strategic solution is deploying a proper partner relationship management platform that can not only distribute leads, but also enable partners to generate leads by leveraging partner marketing automation and partner marketing concierge services.
- Sales Assistance– Channel partners look to their vendors to provide them with the means to present themselves as experts to their customers. That includes thorough sales and technical training and full sets of sales tools, including product demos, cheat sheets, battle cards, technical guides and more. Today most vendors provide all these tools but not necessarily in an easily accessible way or all in one place.
One of the biggest challenges for a partner is to find the right sales tools when they really need them, for example when they are face to face with a customer. One of the best ways to solve this problem is to deploy a very easy-to-use partner relationship management platform that is designed to make sure the partner can quickly search through a plethora of content for what they need – and ideally on a mobile device.
Beyond sales tools, during complex deployment discussions engineering support is critical for success, yet many organizations underestimate the need for this important resource and under-invest in sales engineering. The more complex your solutions are, the more sales engineering resources are needed and moreover these must also be specialists in specific deployment environments.
In the next article we’ll talk about the next five must-haves for channel partners. Based on our research, however, we believe that if all you are able to accomplish as a vendor is to implement best practices in the fields of technical support, leads and sales tools, you have already risen high in the ranks of partner relevance. Please read the next part of this article – Staying Relevant to Your Partner Base Part II: Five Critical Factors.