Channel Champion Blog

Choosing the Right Partners

Part 1 in a 3-Part Series

by Matt Beatty

A New Breed of Partners

Handshake_crowdOne of the biggest challenges facing channel marketing and channel sales professionals today is the emergence of new breeds of partners, from big to small. For decades, those partners who were your highest revenue earners last year could be relied on to be your highest earners for next year and beyond. All that has changed, mostly due to changes in technology—with the emergence of cloud technology foremost among those changes. Because of those changes, partners that may have aligned with you in the past may no longer have the same mentality, focuses, or skill sets you need to achieve success.

Partner choice these days is based not on precedent—what a partner did on the past—but what they are doing right now. The challenge vendors face today is being able to identify, capture, analyze, and share information that can be used to assess partner performance. Vendors that find the best way to assess partner performance—and to predict partner potential, will see their channel market share grow.

Vendors that find the best way to assess partner performance will see their market share grow Click To Tweet

One vs. Many

Every organization has a different approach to building its partner ecosystem. Some CCI clients and prospects choose to have a very exclusive partner focus. To be able to condense their channel investment, these vendor organizations put a lot of time into analyzing each prospective partner, often requiring the partner to demonstrate specific characteristics and certifications.

Other organizations make it easy and say, “Hey, entry level is a very easy step.” They give each prospect a taste of what it’s like to be a partner, and give them a peek into other investments that could be realized through partnering with the vendor. Organizations that take this approach create a very broad partner population and then, ideally, apply a tested methodology to narrow their focus within that population.

Joint Planning: The Proof of the Pudding

The first step in creating a partner ecosystem is the use of scorecarding or benchmarking to rate potential partners. Based on this initial rating, organizations can identify those partners that seem to have the highest probability of alignment. But it is only after the partner has been chosen, when the vendor is conducting joint business and marketing planning, a true sense emerges of who the right partners really are.

In a sense, scorecarding is a bit like a sports draft: you make educated guesses but the truth comes out only when the players hit the field. Joint planning (preferably done face to face between vendor and partner) may lead to a realization that the partner isn’t a good fit. There might be a mismatch in terms of goals that reclassifies what was once a platinum partner into a gold partner. Or you could go through the planning process and realize that your organization makes up only a small percentage of the partner’s total revenues. Their focus might be on another vendor or solution provider, with yours just a complementary offering to what their overarching goals are as a company.

#Scorecarding is like a sports draft - the truth comes out when players hit the field Click To Tweet

Scorecarding, benchmarking, or whatever methodology you use can help you choose the most promising candidates. But often there’s no better way to gather the partner information you need to make the final choice than engaging in actual business and marketing planning.

It All Comes Down to ROI

And choose well you must. Gone are the days where you could just point to sales figures and say these are our top tier partners, and that’s where we’re making our investment. The C-level wants proof that a partner’s behavior and focus is consistent with where your company is headed. After all, maximizing ROI is why you have a channel program in the first place. The C-level expects you to have a methodical and reasoned approach to guide partner investment.

Next Up: Harnessing Automation

The evolution of our economy has depended on our ability to harness resources that can multiply return on investment. Whether that resource be the horse, the steam engine, solar power, or silicon, our nation’s ability to leverage new technologies has been fundamental to our success.

In the next installment of this blog series, I’ll talk about how the next resource channel marketers must harness is automation—specifically in the form of joint marketing planning and joint business planning tools.

Each step in a vendor’s relationship with its partners can be the source of valuable information—information that can help the vendor realize ever-better channel ROI. If creating a productive partner ecosystem is part art and part science, automation is the science part—giving you the data you need to make sure you choose the right partners and that you capture, analyze, and share the right data at the right time.