Ingredients of the Ultimate Partner Advisory Council
by Anna Johnson
Gleaning insights from partners to help shape go-to-market strategies reaches beyond collecting partner feedback. It requires a targeted approach to build an influential forum between a vendor and its partners where the forum’s purpose is to strengthen the relationship between the company and its customers through the channel. With this purpose in mind, the idea of the Partner Advisory Council is born.
To turn the idea of a Partner Advisory Council (PAC) into a program, Channel Management Insights sat down with Mark Chellis, principle of MVC Associates, and asked him, “What does it take to design an effective Partner Advisory Council program?” Drawing from his years of experience of creating and managing PACs for companies like Motorola, Compaq Computer, and Smith International, Chellis shared his best practices.
Recruit Individuals With Strong Opinions
So you’re all set to recruit but you aren’t sure what criteria to look for in a partner. “You want your PAC to be diverse and dynamic so that you can learn from different perspectives. The best way to do that is to recruit partners with strong opinions and a point of view, even if it’s an opinion you don’t share,” advises Chellis. Compliant participants may not examine new ideas as thoroughly as a partner who is passionate about the process of shaping your strategy to improve products and services. If you’re worried about too many opinions represented or participants becoming too vocal, don’t be dissuaded. Chellis has a tip to offer: “The ideal size of an advisory council is about six members, with no more than 10 people. With a smaller group, members have an opportunity to develop relationships with each other and work effectively as a team. With a larger council, you run the risk of partners disengaging, or fighting to get their opinions heard. If you do end up with a larger council, you can divide them into subgroups based on partner type, region, or industry.”
Great Group Chemistry
You’re not just recruiting individuals; you are also designing a team to help you strengthen your business. “For the technology industry, there are a lot of different types of partners, such as distributors, VARs, software developers, and in the case of Motorola, there are carriers too. Make sure you have representation across the various partner types and regions so that when they come together as a council, their different experiences are represented,” says Chellis. Here are a few suggestions from Chellis to help you transform a group of individuals into a PAC with great chemistry:
- When your PAC meets for the first time, include executive leadership to help kick things off, introduce partners to one another, and show your company’s commitment to the channel.
- For every two partners, there should be no more than one vendor representative. This ratio serves two purposes: First, the ratio ensures that partners get to know one another and second, it forces vendors to be active listeners rather than be in a position of always presenting during the meeting.
- Limit the duration of volunteer service to 18 months to two years. This allows enough turnover so that the PAC will always have “new blood” to encourage a dynamic and productive council.
- Meet one to two times per year with ongoing group communication using social media throughout the year.
Nurturing Takes Communication, Patience, and Commitment
The channel business is built on relationships and deepening those relationships takes time, communication, and commitment. Participating on a PAC requires that both partners and the vendor take on roles that have not been part of their initial agreement. In fact, the roles may be reversed. “Vendors are used to talking to partners, training partners, and disseminating communication to them. When they receive feedback from partners, it’s rarely aggregated and shared with executives in order to make strategic decisions,” states Chellis. “The PAC changes this dynamic. Partners volunteering on the PAC take on an advisory role so that they can provide feedback on programs, services, and products before they are released to customers.”
To show their commitment to the PAC, vendors need to share their strategic plans, solicit feedback, and integrate what they learn from the PAC into the way they make business decisions. “A PAC can’t operate as a silo. A PAC is most effective when it understands the goals of the company and can provide input into strategic decisions like a go-to-market plan for a new product,” says Chellis. “If it isn’t able to operate with this level of trust and influence, the PAC will never be able to reach its full potential.”
Example of the Ultimate PAC
When a PAC reaches its full potential, it can help reap extra revenues and, in one case, avert total disaster.
“As part of a PAC member for a hardware company, I was presented with a go-to-market plan for a new server computer. The company wanted to grow their business by cross-selling to their existing customers who purchased front-end products like desktops and laptops with back-end servers and services. All the members of the PAC looked at the plan and then turned to one another and asked, ‘Do you sell servers? Do you know anything about supporting servers?’ It turned out that the entire channel was not prepared to sell back-end computer equipment and the go-to-market plan didn’t account for this major discrepancy. When the PAC recommended additional training and recruitment of new partners with back-end hardware expertise, the company revised its strategy and delayed the launch so that the existing channel had time to prepare and new partners could be on-boarded,” says Chellis.
With social media and, in particular, protected online communities, PACs can share their insights with a variety of vendor stakeholders. “In more recent years, PACs have been able to provide feedback through protected online communities so that members of the marcom, product marketing, product development, and the executive teams all receive information at the same time. This helps the company communicate to the PAC early and often and when they receive feedback, improvements are made so they can get to market faster than ever before,” says Chellis.
PACs are an important instrument for vendors to glean new insights about changing market conditions, future product planning, pricing, competitive research, and market strategy. Here are a few tips from Mark Chellis to create and manage your ultimate PAC.
- Recruit individuals with a strong point of view and opinion
- Communicate with the PAC early and often
- Incorporate feedback into your decision-making process
- Limit membership to six to 10 people
- Create diversity across partner types, regions, and industries
- Keep volunteer service at 18 month to two years to encourage a dynamic council