Partner Loyalty Demands Proper Prioritization

By T.C. Doyle

Let’s be honest: some of your business partners just don’t get it. They don’t understand or fully embrace your business proposition, strategic vision or go-to-market strategy.

Some days you wonder whether they have their own agenda, right?

Well here’s a newsflash: they do. And it isn’t to sell your software or recite your sales messages as though they were performing on stage.

If you expect channel partners and business allies see the world through your lens given how much time, money and energy you invest in them, then here’s another news bulletin: your expectations are unrealistic. Chances your priorities are, too.

So says Glenn Robertson, CEO of Purechannels, a global marketing and sales advisory based in the UK that helps vendors, distributors and channel partners upgrade their go-to-market programs and activities.

Robertson was among several channel experts who shared strategic insights in Channel Growth Hacking, a new, bi-monthly discussion hosted by Impartner and the JS Group. Channel Growth Hacking takes place on the second and fourth Thursday every month on Clubhouse, the drop-in social media platform.

In the inaugural Channel Growth Hacking event, Robertson challenged conventional thinking that says partners will respond positively to your message and agenda if you simply offer the right incentive. That’s nonsense, he says. In the Clubhouse session moderated by Kerry Desberg, CMO at Impartner, and Michelle Ragusa-McBain, vice president of global channel strategy with the JS Group, Robertson challenged channel practitioners to upgrade their thinking.

“If you can assume anything about your partners it’s that the majority are either unhappy with you or unmoved by pleas to sell more of your stuff,” said Robertson.

If you want to better resonate with partners, “switch your pitch” to them, he says. Instead of pushing innovation, offer business value.

“So many vendors pitch partners to sell their solutions. But the messaging and programs they lead with is all about them,” said Robertson. “Partners don’t wake up every day thinking or even caring about your marketing or lead generation program. They get up every day and ask themselves ‘who gives me best experience so I can go out and do what’s best for my customers?’”

Like other channel experts and members of the Impartner Channel Chief Advisory Board (CCAB), Robertson works closely with vendors and partners every day. Time and again he is dismayed by myopic thinking. Doing business through partners successfully requires a level of selflessness if not empathy that is lacking in the tech industry. Take partner programs.

Many vendor programs fall short due to the following:

  • Unrealistic sales expectations
  • Overly rigid program requirements
  • Feeble automation and tools
  • Poorly thought-out economics

Here’s a closer look at each, and a suggested growth hack worth considering.

Unrealistic sales expectations

Vendors with hot-selling innovations often assume partners will line up to sell their technology. They also believe that partners will agree to minimum requirements from the very start. Vendors may even believe that partners will agree to sign long-term commitments and invest in training and certification without ever closing a single piece of business. If your program has minimums, comes with one-sided contracts or includes expectations that channel partners pull their people out of the field to train on your technologies, then prepare to explain to your chief revenue officer why you failed to hit your revenue goals.

Channel Growth Hack: Every partner that joins your program did so for a reason. Chances are it was to help customers solve a business problem, not to grow their business. If you understand this first and foremost, you will understand that getting to that first sales is wholly dependent on solving those customer problems. Instead of goal setting, optimize problem solving.

Overly Rigid Program Requirements

One sales engineer, two salespeople and an organizational certification that must be updated every six months. Oh, and an agreement to perform a certain number of marketing initiatives every year, plus a promise to participate in quarterly business reviews and a pledge to hand over customer lists. If this sounds like just some of the things you expect from partners, then don’t expect to make many friends in the channel. Ditto if you lavish your best rewards on a small set of Gold or Diamond partners. For a program to work properly, it must be fair and equitable. Your program must recognize that partners have high-turnover, long sales cycles and different business needs. Inflexibility is inexcusable.

Channel Growth Hack: Offer a solution when a partner loses a top certified engineer, not a penalty. Let’s face it, tech jobs are hard to fill because top tech talent is in high demand. As a result, certified tech professionals move around a lot. That can wreak havoc on an organization that must maintain a certified professional on staff at all times. Rather than cut a partner loose when a certified professional leaves, why not offer a solution to the problem such as a program to backfill certified engineers on a temporary basis?

Feeble Automation Tools

The idea that you can run an ecosystem on a spreadsheet is woefully outdated. It’s like trying to pay a month’s worth of bills with hand-written checks. World-class partner programs run on world class tools — the kind that provide consumer-like experiences when it comes to onboarding, training and certification, enablement and through-channel marketing. With world-class tools, vendors also have access to data so they can properly plan, manage and reward partners. If partners struggle with any aspect of your program, you will earn a reputation for being difficult to work with. That’s a kiss of death in the channel no matter how innovative your solutions are.

Channel Growth Hack: You didn’t hear this from us but it pays to understand where you stand in terms of best-in-class in your market category. Before you launch your next program, take the time to research who prospective partners think is best-in-class when it comes to partner automation technology. Then find out which of your competitors are using partner automation software. If you think you can compete without proper tools, you’ll be sorry later.

Poorly though-out out economics

Chances are you have calculated the ROI you get on every deal you close. But have you done the same for your partners? Moreover, have you asked yourself whether the amount of money you earn from the efforts partners on your behalf is commensurate or at least fair with the return they enjoy? These are serious questions that beg for honest answers. Even top tech companies struggle in this area. There were times that Microsoft and Cisco did, for example. Other vendors are today. Whenever financial returns are imbalanced, partner satisfaction falls precipitously.

Channel Growth Hack: Before launching any initiative, program or promotion with partners, ask yourself where the money is in it for them. If you cannot see it, they surely will not find it. Partners are too busy to follow breadcrumbs and too wise to believe in promises. Show them the money.

In business, that’s akin to showing them you care.

You can start by putting empathy into your expectations, your policies and guidelines, your tools and technology, and your economic plans, too. As Ragusa-McBain says, “your partner program is a reflection of how you see the world. Show partners your best.”

For more Channel Growth Hacks, be sure to tune into Clubhouse every second and fourth Thursday of the Month. Each week, you’ll hear from channel experts like Robertson, including:

  • Latane Conant, CMO, 6Sense
  • Andrew McCraith, vice president of business development, Conversica
  • Scott Boyd, global director of Partner Experience and Platforms, Dell Boomi
  • Cassandra Gholston, CEO, PartnerTap
  • Gina Batali Brooks, president, Is Inspired

One hour for a years’ worth of wisdom from leading business experts? That’s a fair exchange any day.

Now do yourself a favor and see what world-class automation tools can do for your business. Sign up for an Impartner demo and gauge how well your partner experiences compare to your competition.

T.C. Doyle is the Channel Growth Evangelist at Impartner, the leader in channel management and Partner Relationship Management (PRM) technology. A journalist, book author and analyst, Doyle has worked in media for three decades. As channel evangelist, Doyle produces podcasts, case studies, e-books and more for Impartner. Doyle can be reached at tc.doyle@impartner.com.

Sign-up for your Impartner demo today.

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