August 2012 Feature

High-Impact Partner Opportunity Planning

by Anna Johnson

When vendors implement and refine the joint marketing planning (JMP) process with their channel partners, they are rewarded with channel productivity gains and a significant uptick in their ROI. But what happens when further refinements to the JMP process haven’t met the expectations of both the partner and the vendor? There maybe a bigger problem lurking underneath the partner relationship that’s preventing perfect execution of the joint marketing plan.
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To uncover the problem many vendors face with effective joint marketing planning and shed light on the solution, Channel Management Insights sat down with Braham Shnider, president of Channel Enablers, a global channel training and channel consulting solutions company with expertise in multi-channel routes to market.

Joint Marketing Planning Global Trends

Joint marketing planning is more pervasive than ever. There’s been a lot of consolidation of partners in the US and Western Europe in the last five years and as a result, there are a lot more quality and experienced channel partners who employ JMP. “The general trend is that JMP is a lot more pervasive today than ever before,” says Shnider. “But traditional JMP isn’t the perfect solution for every partnership, so two types of JMP are emerging: traditional JMP and what I call ‘partner opportunity planning,’ or POP.”

When traditional joint marketing planning works well, there is a high level of alignment between the partner and the vendor as well as a high level of impact when the plan is executed. “This type of plan makes a lot of sense when you’re doing things together like demand generation and events. The other trend we’re seeing very strongly in the market is when the vendors don’t have a lot of influence over the partner and the alignment of goals between the two is not present,” says Shnider. When partners and vendors don’t have complete alignment of goals or a balance in power, then JMP will lose its effectiveness. “This change in the partner market is a correction to the imbalance in power, especially in North America where you have a few very large partners that dominate the market. If you haven’t got alignment with the large partners, vendors need to quickly adapt and show them the opportunity of working together. When vendors realize that alignment isn’t there and the balance of power is shifting to the partners, we call on partner opportunity planning instead of the traditional JMP,” Shnider asserts.

Become What Partners Need

“We’re seeing vendors learn how to sell to partners today so that partners stay engaged and alignment can happen before moving onto traditional JMP,” says Shnider. Don’t think that you only need to sell the benefits of the partnership as part of the recruitment process. Instead, the goal of POP is very different than recruitment. “POP is an ongoing process. The primary goal of partner opportunity planning is to determine what will drive the partner to change versus looking for partners who fit a certain profile,” says Shnider. It’s true, you can use POP for a new partner, but you can also use POP when you want to move a partner from a lower tier up to the next tier or have a partner that you want to move to an exclusive engagement. “You’re trying to sell the concept of change to partners. You’re not selling your products but selling your commitment to making the partnership work,” states Shnider. These words are especially insightful in creating an environment that fosters alignment.

Different Goals for POP and JMP

The goals are a bit different between partner opportunity planning and joint marketing planning. In JMP you have goals for the partner and goals for the vendor and they are harmonious with each other and not in conflict. Once you have the goals in place, you can write a few objectives for sales, objectives about closing the competency gap, and deciding on what market segments you’ll go after together. You’ll decide on your joint market proposition and what roles each of you will be performing in order to meet the objectives. The plan will contain the promotional and demand generation objectives, the metrics to measure them, and the process to meet them. After the objectives are agreed upon, partners and vendors determine the schedule and resources to put toward the JMP. For example, who does what by when, and then every 90 days you have a quarterly business review to go over what’s been accomplished and develop an action plan for the future. The last part of the JMP includes the communications strategy for each stakeholder. The stakeholders could be shareholders, press, or customers. But you have to have a plan of who you’re going to communicate with.

“Partner opportunity planning is a completely different process than joint marketing planning,” contends Shnider. The steps you take as a vendor in partner opportunity planning include the following:

  1. Assess the strengths and weaknesses of your partners. Determine what partner change or investment is required to improve partnership results.
  2. Identify partner decision influencers and stakeholders; investigate partner needs and motivations and understand how decisions are made.
  3. Determine the chief selling message and communicate the benefits of change and investment.
  4. Address potential concerns and objections.
  5. Create an agreed action plan for the next 90 days.
  6. Jointly evaluate outcomes. Celebrate success and identify the next steps.

“The process is much more sales oriented when the vendor needs to figure out what motivates the partner,” continues Shnider. “In the past, the balance of power was much more on the side of the vendor but now that there are a few very large partners, the power has shifted and the momentum of the pendulum is sided toward the partner.”

Conclusion – Climate Ripe for Partner Opportunity Planning

The traditional JMP process isn’t failing vendors. In fact it’s more widely adopted now than ever before. But applying JMP to a partnership where there isn’t a tight alignment of goals is a misuse of time and resources. Hone your ability to recognize misalignment before investing in the JMP process. And rather than cut your losses with a willing partner when the alignment is off, employ partner opportunity planning as Shnider advises. “Using POP tools and processes helps to lay the groundwork for effective joint marketing planning and it gives vendors a sound approach to gain alignment with the partners.”