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According to Larry Walsh of the 2112 Group, partners typically remain loyal only until they find a better option. Solution providers are, after all, business owners. For the most part they try to make sound decisions based on the needs of their clients, employees and other stakeholders (including themselves).
The reality is that many would give up even their most near and dear relationships if significantly better alternatives come their way. No vendor should ever overlook the fact that their partners almost always have options, especially in the cloud era where it’s become easier to shift allegiances and swap out solutions.
“The same disruptive forces affecting customers and partners affect vendors,” stressed Walsh at the beginning of his panel discussion during the ChannelCon 2015 Vendor Summit. “Realize that many businesses are struggling with transformation themselves.” He also encouraged the audience to take an honest look at their own current practices to ensure they are actually following their own advice. “Are you telling partners to do things differently today and then countering that message by incentivizing old behaviors?”
In a digital era, many suppliers continue to rely heavily on the revenue they get from second platform services and first platform hardware and applications. The profits from those legacy programs pay a lot of bills and fund many programs. Of course, some customers still request these types of solutions or simply refuse to change. That’s where the hybrid model makes sense.
Shaping the Channel Program of the Future
Walsh quizzed several vendor and distribution executives on a host of issues throughout the panel discussion, which highlighted the continually shifting needs of today’s channel partners. Doug Ericson, VP of WW Partner Sales for Pulse Secure pointed out that “many of us have been guilty of building partner programs around our needs, not those of our partners. That focus is now shifting to the end customers, whose business and trust you have to earn. Our job as vendors is to create trust with our partners and then get out of their way.”
What else can suppliers and distributors do to better enable their partners? Step one is to recognize the differences that exist. “The mistake we make is calling it THE channel,” pointed out Jennifer Anaya, VP of Marketing for Ingram Micro. “There are actually multiple channels and partners are beginning to segment themselves. They understand what they are good at and are beginning to sell those differences, so we need to do more to support those activities.” She suggestions custom marketing and support services, as well as other tailored programs that build on each partner’s unique attributes to help them better connect with specific industries and business segments.
“You have to have specializations plus critical mass,” added Todd Garrigues, Director of North America Channel Marketing for Intel. “The customer has to become the common focus today and we, as vendors can do more to help. We can simplify the processes, improve partner portals and make the programs we develop easier for solution providers to utilize.”
Focus on Partner and Customer Needs
The level of engagement between vendors, distributors and solution providers will need to grow in order to meet the business transformation needs of their collective end user customers. What advice did the panelists have for their peers? Aaron Garza, Vice President of Sales for ProfitBricks suggests placing a greater emphasis on change. “The agility of the partner program really depends on the willingness of the company to create a true partner experience. We believe in keeping it simple for all involved and we learn from what our competitors are doing.”
“At the end of the day, our partners are also our customers and should be treated as a key part of your business,” said Anaya. Cloud and managed services created a closer link between all the players, and mobility, Big Data and social media platforms continue to strengthen, not weaken those bonds. “Distribution is also a key partner for vendors as well as solution providers. Having their support is extremely critical to the success of all involved, including the customer.”
In effect, the entire channel ecosystem needs to be considered when building a new program or creating a new vendor business today. The age of continual business transformation is th and vendors that understand their role will likely have a greater chance of succeeding than those who remain focused on their own “first platform” strategies.
Brian Sherman is Chief Content Officer at GetChanneled, a channel business development and marketing firm. He served previously as chief editor at Business Solutions magazine and senior director of industry alliances with Autotask. Contact Brian at Bsherman@getchanneled.com.