September 2013 Feature

Seven Vendor Trends Emerge to Help Partners

Faced with changing market dynamics, vendors look for ways to keep partners relevant

by Hobart Swan

Diane KrakoraAs channel sales veteran Toni Adams described in our August issue, Wanted: Skilled Guides to Lead Companies to the Cloud, the emergence of cloud computing has created opportunities and challenges for channel partners. This move to the cloud, along with changes in how companies purchase technology, calls for changes on the part of vendors, too.

Diane Krakora, founder and CEO of PartnerPath, shared seven emerging trends as vendors search for new ways to support partners in a changing market.

Krakora has held executive positions in the channel and fulfilled sales and marketing roles at several high technology companies. In 2010, Krakora was named a finalist in the Stevie Awards for Women in Business, the world’s premier business awards honoring women executives, entrepreneurs, and the companies they run worldwide.

“Customers are shifting to on-demand purchasing—often of cloud-enabled services,” Krakora says. “But some partners need a little help making this transition.” Vendors that used to provide partners with technical training and certification are now embracing new trends in partner enablement. Below are the seven key trends that Krakora sees shaping the new vendor/partner relationship.

Trend 1: Solutions and Services

There simply is not enough money in selling hardware alone anymore. Vendors need to educate their partners about building solutions around the hardware they sell. Instead of just selling routers, for example, partners need to learn how to bundle the routers with storage and virtualization offerings to create new disaster recovery solutions.

“There is always a bit of competition over who sells services,” says Krakora. “But the smarter vendors are creating a model in which they keep hold of more advanced service offerings—the very hard, very technical, or very new stuff—and leave everything else to their partners.”

The new market of selling services promises bigger margins for everyone. Smart vendors and partners will work together to develop models that make both sides successful.

Trend 2: Line of Business Selling

Another change, Krakora explains, is the ability of a VP of sales, a CMO, or a VP of HR to acquire technology on a per-license basis. “Today a VP of sales can buy licenses directly from Salesforce. The VP of human resources can buy licenses directly from Taleo. They don’t need an IT department to evaluate, vet, or install the licenses.”

The problem, she says, is that partners are used to selling to IT directors or CIOs—not the VP of sales or HR. The vendor can help partners learn to sell into these lines of businesses.

“Partners can’t only talk about feeds and speeds of a router anymore. CMOs don’t care about that. Vendors should create new sales presentations and data sheets that help partners understand the needs and pain points of these new line-of-business purchasers.”

Trend 3: Lead Distribution

For years, vendors have struggled with the distribution of leads to partners. The new trend is for vendors to use their tools and marketing resources to help partners create campaigns to generate their own leads.

Some partners are big enough to create these campaigns, she says. But most partners earning less than $20 million in revenue don’t have the marketing skills or savvy to build their own brand.

“Vendors have marketing departments that can help partners understand Web 2.0 activities like SEO and AdWords. They know how to build web traffic and manage leads. They can start sharing these skills with their partners.”

Trend 4: Talent Acquisition

The number one challenge for many partners is recruiting talent with the right skills. These could still be technical skills, because partners still need to be able to aggregate technology to create solutions. But increasingly, partners need people who understand business processes, change management, and how to sell to these new services. Once again, vendors are in a position to help.

“Vendors get hundreds of resumes every week—most of which go untouched. An innovative idea is for vendors to ask these ‘extra’ applicants if they’d like to consider positions within their reseller community.”

Trend 5: Learning to Talk to Partner CEOs

Just as partners need to expand their skill sets, vendors need to up their game too—particularly among their partner account managers (PAMs).

“Instead of just managing the pipeline, PAMs can become trusted advisors helping their partners grow their businesses. Gone are the days when a partner account manager should call a solution provider and just ask, ‘What deals do you have for me today?’

“PAMs from big companies like Cisco or Oracle should be saying to their partners, ‘Hey, these are adjacent products you might want to add to your line card,’ or, ‘These products of ours might also interest you since you sell our Hyperion products.’”

The bottom line, she says, is that to help partners transition to the next phase, PAMs need to understand how partners make their money and be educated in how to help them make more of it.

Trend 6: Business Planning

Aligned with elevating their PAMs to the role of business advisors, savvy vendors are further enabling their account managers’ skills in business planning.

“The data show that partners still want program support and co-marketing activities. But business planning is climbing the list,” states Krakora. “Partners believe co-creating these plans gives them greater visibility among vendors. The more invested a vendor is in the partner’s business plan, the more they’ll pay attention to the partner’s needs.”

And needless to say, the more a company takes the time to create plans, the greater its chances of success.

Trend 7: The Ability to Automate

All of the above trends have one thing in common: they all get better with automation. Solution building can be accelerated with partner-to-partner ecosystems. Partner portals with documents, podcasts, and quizzes can educate many partners at once in line-of-business selling, business planning, and other new skills. Lead generation and MDF applications—many cloud-enabled—can streamline current practices. And automated resume sharing can quickly create vendor/partner talent marketplaces.

“Vendors should look to automation because they need to be able to scale. Yes, individual partners may be able to address the shifts in business all by themselves. However, most vendors have hundreds, if not thousands, of partners. Automation enables vendors to reach many of their partners at once. It can link data and use data throughout all of the above six enablement areas to make them better, faster, and more accessible to more people.”

And that, Krakora says, is nothing but good news for all parties concerned.