In my last blog post, I defined the term Partner’s Journey as the decision-making process that leads up to a new partner-supplier relationship—not, as some claim, the partner-supplier relationship itself. If you haven’t seen this post, you can read it here.
Many IT suppliers focus almost exclusively on the partner-supplier relationship and don’t make a serious effort to reach out to solution providers until (and unless) they become a member of their partner program. While it is extremely important to support and enable your partner program members, it’s also important—believe it or not—to support and enable prospective partners. Why? Because if you are not participating in the Partner’s Journey leading up to a technology or partnering decision, you are missing out on valuable opportunities to capture partner mindshare, win new partnerships and motivate existing partners to sell more.
There is a long, complex decision-making process leading up to a partner’s decision to sign onto a partner program or add a new technology from a current vendor. And, like the Buyer’s Journey, it represents a huge opportunity to steer the right solution providers in your direction and potentially bring them on board.
Passive vs. Active Recruitment Tactics
Suppliers who instead wait for solution providers to reach out to them often rely on familiar, passive tactics to bring prospective partners to their door, which they may defend with one or more of the following explanations:
1) First, they say everything a prospective partner needs to know about their program and products is on their website or in their partner portal.
I’m sure this is true. But it assumes that the partner knows the vendor exists, has a desire to partner with the vendor, and is able to find their web site or partner portal—these resources must be actively promoted in order for potential (or even existing) partners to discover them. Also, most of the really good content that suppliers create sits behind a registration page on partner portals for fear that competitors will get their hands on it and, unless you’re a partner, you can’t access it. Not a very effective recruitment strategy.
2) Secondly, they say that their Channel Account Managers (CAMs) are responsible for finding new partners in their territories and convincing existing partners to sell across their product portfolio.
I’ve been in this industry for close to 20 years. I’ve never known this to be an effective strategy for the simple reason that most salespeople live by the 80/20 rule. Most CAMs spend the vast majority of their time working with their biggest partners because they’ve got a quarterly number to hit, leaving little time to recruit new partners. In other words, they’re too busy farming to make time to hunt. And even if they had the time, they often wouldn’t know where to look.
Similarly, suppliers can’t depend solely on CAMs to drive partners across an expanded product portfolio. Let’s say your company sells network switches and one of your CAMs has a partner who does $300,000 a quarter in that product. “Now you want me to push a $1,500 security appliance?” the CAM thinks. “But I’ll make more money helping partners find more customers for the $15,000 switch.” So that’s what they do. The more motivating choice is clear.
3) Lastly, they point to distributors as their key source of new partnerships and cross-sell opportunities.
Distribution definitely plays a role here. But the question you need to ask about new business gained via distribution is whether or not it is net new business driven by the distributor. Also, like any other sales organization, distribution is largely focused on the big partners driving the bulk of the revenue for that supplier. Volume Incentive Rebates (VIR) for net new business are great and a step in the right direction, but those dollars pale in comparison to the larger revenue goal. And if your distributors don’t achieve that net new target, are you going to fire them? Of course not.
None of these go-to “initiatives” (even taken together) represents an adequate strategy for recruiting new partners or motivating existing partners to sell more, especially in today’s profoundly transformed IT industry. In order to compete in today’s channel, technology suppliers cannot rely on passive methods like these—they have to actively differentiate themselves, actively articulate their worth, and actively engage solution providers (who now have a plethora of options at their fingertips) along their journey. The first step toward doing this is, of course, recognizing and understanding the complete Partner’s Journey. (For a helpful, at-a-glance summary of the Partner’s Journey, check out our infographic here. For a more in-depth explanation of the ins-and-outs of the Partner’s Journey, we have also created a marketing guide, which you can download here.) The second step is aligning your marketing efforts with it.
Leveraging the Partner’s Journey to Recruit New Partners and Motivate Existing Partners to Sell More
As outlined in my first Partner’s Journey blog post, aligning your marketing efforts with the Partner’s Journey means appealing to solution providers in each stage of the journey: Awareness, Consideration and Decision—with special emphasis on the first two. In the Awareness stage, solution providers are just discovering and exploring new technologies, brands and/or business models. There is a lot of competition and “noise” out there, with all the new solutions and vendors vying for their attention, so you need to be putting your brand in front of them regularly and capturing their attention with memorable, original, and concise brand awareness campaigns (think Twitter, banner campaigns on independent channel web sites and press efforts that give you editorial coverage).
In the Consideration stage, solution providers are getting more serious about a new technology, business model or partner program, and are therefore looking for meatier, more in-depth information. Think case studies, webcasts and white papers—content that answers their questions about a particular technology or business model and positions you as a thought leader in your area of expertise.
In the Decision stage, solution providers have narrowed down their list of potential suppliers to just a few—you will want to be on it. Your job at this point is mostly to make the final push that will put your program or technology over the top and seal a new deal with the partner. Do this by providing even more in-depth content, such as white papers, webcasts and program guides that clearly articulates your unique value to the channel and differentiates you from the competition. Another important activity for engaging prospective partners in this final stage is attending industry events: the face-to-face, humanizing environment of a live event can provide the final piece needed to clinch a partnership.
More than one million solution provider employees wake up every day with a veritable smorgasbord of choices as to what brands, products or solutions to sell that day. Amid all this competition, the only way to effectively steer them in your direction (or get them to sell more of your products, in the case of an existing partner), is to step up to meet them on their Partner’s Journey. If you wait for them to come to you, they may never arrive.
For more on the Partner’s Journey, check out CRN editor Steve Burke’s recent article: https://www.crn.com/news/channel-programs/300080190/channel-co-exclusive-research-the-partners-buying-journey-is-as-big-a-game-changer-as-the-buyers-journey.htm
You can also download The Channel Company’s Partner’s Journey marketing guide and infographic here: https://www.thechannelco.com/partners-journey