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I’ve been fortunate to grow up in a corporate environment that puts most of its emphasis on the value of relationships. I say grow up because that’s truly how I feel about my experience in the channel and the career I’ve built and continue to build. Because of all I’ve learned, I know what a truly valuable relationship looks like, feels like, requires and demands. When it’s right, it’s special, and hardly anything can break it.
During a CompTIA event about two years ago, I was in the audience listening to a panel of seasoned experts talk about relationships between managed service providers (MSPs) and vendors. One of the panelists explained that the power shift has changed over time between the MSP and the vendor. In the past, vendors had the power. There was typically an upfront fee to join partner programs, contracts, sales quotas to maintain status and dictated margins.
Since then there’s been a complete change. Now, the MSP has the power. Partner programs are free to join, no contracts, no commitments, sales quotas are out of style, billing methods are flexible and resources are being thrown at the partner left, right and center. The reason for this is the increase in competition and diluted vendor markets. The importance of vendors courting their partners means more than ever now. With that in mind, here are four ways MSPs and vendors can become best friends forever!
Define Each Other’s Roles
It’s important to start the relationship by clearly defining each party’s roles and responsibilities. The vendor provides reliable products and services that solve a business need for the small- to medium-sized business. A trustworthy product gives the partner peace of mind, while the vendor also offers quality tech support. The vendor supplies the partner with free training to get them better educated and comfortable working with the solution. The vendor brings a motivating and rewarding partner program to the table that keeps the partner engaged and hungry for more. Lastly, the vendor should offer help, often.
The MSP is responsible for building and maintaining its own book of business with its customers. Nurturing current customers, developing a net new sales funnel as well as defining brand, value proposition and go-to-market strategy also falls on the shoulders of the MSP. Taking advantage of the abundance of training and education made available is a key to success. Providing feedback – both positive or constructive – to the vendor is important in order to continue growing the relationship. Lastly, the MSP should ask for help, often.
Set Real Expectations
This is essential in any type of relationship, but very much a requirement in business. Setting realistic and attainable expectations on both sides should avoid most issues or the blame game. High level vendors should have policies in place on SLAs, tech support escalations and response times.
General expectations as it pertains to the partner journey are critical. Onboarding programs and partner programs should do their best to quantify what it is the partner will be receiving and when.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Consumers of most markets these days have become somewhat spoiled by completely customized and personalized experiences. Every business is different when it comes to employee count, team structure, verticals, geographical location, business model, business maturity, growth goals, etc. A successful partner program engages the partner, aligns with their specific business goals, and provides tools and resources to help them meet those goals. The methodology and structure behind it can be universal, however the approach should be custom for each partner.
A truly great relationship means understanding how the other person operates. What is their job and what do they need to accomplish daily? What do they respond well to and how do they prefer to be contacted? Do they prefer phone calls or emails? Every person is different and if we take the extra time to learn about our business partners, it will make work more enjoyable and more productive all around.
Share Your Personality
Last, but certainly not least, people do business with people they like. It goes a long way to be open with your business partners. Some of my best relationships start off by finding common ground with each other. We’re all people. We all have families, hobbies and lives outside of work. Don’t shy away from sharing some of your personality. It’s endearing and can go a long way.
The most real advice I could give anyone on relationship building is to be yourself and just be honest. Have good intentions, do what’s right and always go the extra mile. Let’s all remember that we’re in this together and we’re on the same team. Vendors and MSPs need each other, equally, so let’s make the most of it and have some fun along the way.
Samantha Ciaccia is vice chair of CompTIA’s Cloud Community and partner marketing manager at Datto.