Get them invested by strengthening their customer relationships
What does it mean when an IT solution provider signs up for a partner program? This simple question may be the greatest source of IT channel agita in the entire partner recruitment, enablement and on-boarding process.
To many technology suppliers, this act is an implied contract. There is great celebration and cheering. “We’ve got a new partner!” shout hopeful channel sales and marketing teams. “We’re going to live happily ever after and make little channel babies that grow up to be huge revenue-generating partners!”
From the solution provider’s perspective … not so much. Less than a third of the time, solution providers report that they have joined a partner program to “create a robust relationship with a technology supplier.” Most often, they join a program either to get more information about the company and the program itself, to complete a one-off transaction, or to provide customers with more options in a technology category in which they already have a leading brand.
Imagine the misaligned expectations that can result from such polar-opposite perspectives. The solution provider arrives for a lunch date, with an “emergency” phone call at the ready in case the pitch turns out to be lame. The supplier shows up with a wedding ring in his pocket. When lunch doesn’t go as planned, the CAM returns to his office, dejected, and reports to his channel chief, “I don’t think it’s going to work out.”
Most technology suppliers I speak to blame the on-boarding process for the unrealized potential of new program registrants. “Someone must have dropped the ball. They signed up, didn’t they?” But solution providers report that only 11 percent of the time does a new supplier relationship not move forward because of a poor on-boarding process.
To the contrary, most of the new partner program registrants who drop off the radar do so because they find themselves overwhelmed by a technology supplier coming on too strong. Upon signing up, they are immediately bombarded with an avalanche of channel marketing materials, contracts, playbooks, technical training requirements and links to webcasts. Or worse, the solution provider gets an email with a link to the partner portal with a note that basically says, “Call us when you sell something.” To continue our already tortured relationship analogy, this is like showing up to that lunch date with your parents. The solution provider is often overwhelmed and bails.
Technology suppliers need to understand why IT solution providers are joining their partner program and have a better understanding of each prospective partner’s profile and value proposition before they even make that first call or send that first email. Understanding what’s important to the partner and delivering that value through effective channel partner enablement is the key to taking them to the next step of The Partner Experience—the experience a solution provider has as a member of your partner program. (View our on-demand Partner Experience webcast here.)
The most important business consideration for any IT solution provider is their relationship with their customers. The same is true for almost every business. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business recently released a study showing that more than 50 percent of the Fortune 500 companies’ value can be attributed to “relational capital”—the strength of customer, supplier and partner relationships.
When asked to name the most challenging request they get from technology suppliers when joining a new partner program, solution providers overwhelmingly responded that it was, “To devote the limited time I have with my customers to pitch their product.” In addition to the difficulty partners face in meeting this request, they also don’t have much motivation to do so. How will pitching your product or service improve their relational capital with their customers?
The key to motivating a new channel partner to sell your product portfolio lies in strengthening their relationships with their customers. Putting aside the tired relationship analogy for a moment, I’d like to turn to a personal anecdote to illustrate this.
My father sold sugar for a living, which is a tough business. Sugar is literally a commodity, so price competition was fierce. He sold to small businesses such as bakers, restaurants and bagel shops. The second he walked out of a store, he was vulnerable to the threat of the next guy walking through that door and offering a 100-pound bag of sugar for 10 cents less.
He needed a tool that would improve his relational capital with his customers so that he was not so exposed to pricing pressure. He came up with one: crop reports. He would visit his bakers and bagel makers armed with that season’s crop reports from Brazil and the Dominican Republic and Florida and Texas and explain to his customers how the weak or strong crop was going to affect supply and, therefore, pricing. He soon became his customers’ trusted business consultant. Not just a sugar peddler.
Technology suppliers need to ask themselves, “What is my crop report? What is the channel sales or marketing tool we can put into the hands of our partners and prospective partners that is going to help them grow their relational capital with their customers?” And “How can we enable our channel partners to further their goal of becoming trusted business consultants to their customers?” (Not just tech peddlers.) That’s how you earn a seat at the customer table and turn little channel babies into huge, revenue-generating partners. And live happily ever after.