In late 2019, Gartner analyst Wunmi Bamiduro wrote the following:
“From demand generation to sales strategy and channel management, the next five years will bring significant changes to established technology service providers’ go-to-market strategies.”
They had no idea what we were really in for.
In fact, as we approach two full years of living with COVID-19, “significant changes” reads like a massive understatement. The pandemic catapulted everyone into the cloud mindset, and the days of traditional on-prem resale are quickly receding in the rearview mirror. For vendors and their channel partners, this has meant a complete reassessment of go-to-market strategy and a total rethinking of the dynamics of their collaborative relationship.
I’ve given a lot of thought to these changes in my role working for a software vendor, and I think there are a number of actions vendors and their partners can take to work better together into 2022 and beyond. Let’s unpack a few.
Meet Partners Where They Are — and Know Where They Want to Go
Despite the rapid, business-wide cloud push, not all partners are necessarily in the same place entering the new year. It’s important for vendors to recognize the different stages different partners are at in their cloud journey. Some may be cloud residents, some may be in transition, and some may have not even started. But the relationship can’t work if vendors don’t communicate with partners about where they’re at in their journey — and recognize the tools and resources they can provide to help them move along.
Keep the Two-Way Lines of Communication Open
Vendors must also treat partners as extensions of themselves, especially when building out and maintaining their channel programs. Partners should be active parts of the planning or launch processes when developing new solutions and offerings. At SAP, for instance, our team works with key partners to formulate what “standard” will look like going forward — and to build out solutions that meet the needs of our partners and customers. That’s how you build space for trust, opportunity and expansion.
Provide Feedback — Good, Bad, and Ugly
A relationship can’t be successful without feedback and growth. Over my years in the channel, I’ve taken the opportunity to survey internal and external stakeholders on their experience with specific partners. Providing unfiltered anonymous feedback to your partner can catch them off-guard. However, if you don’t share what you hear, though — good, bad, and ugly — partners won’t be able to reflect on what they’re doing and alter or dedicate resources in a way that positions them for a better future. Honesty and transparency are essential.
Validate to Differentiate
Rewarding partners for doing things the right way is important, too. After all, it is a relationship. Vendors should be looking for ways to identify different topics around presales and sales readiness as well as opportunities to build out joint customer success stories that spotlight the vendor-partner teamwork. In other words, good work should be rewarded, so make sure you’re investing your demand-generation budget with channel partners that are doing things the right way.
Stay Aligned for the Ride, Keep the Aperture Wide
Partners themselves must be purposeful about alignment amongst their ranks, too. By remaining focused on specific areas (industry, solution, etc.), you can help identify white spaces and ways they can be filled, whether by vendors or partners in non-competitive areas. A partner advisory council made of various types and levels of partners can also be helpful in this regard, providing a strong collection of feedback on what impacts each kind of partner.
It can be all too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day rat race of operating a modern business today — and miss out on full optimization of the vendor-partner relationship. Get too caught up keeping up and you’ll fall behind. Just think about what it will take to be a successful partner in the future. Technology isn’t just going to be “next-gen”; it will be digital products and services. The focus won’t be on being specialized; it will be on innovating. And solution providers won’t just want to create “IP”; they’ll want to co-create IP ecosystem solutions.
Because in the long-term, transformation won’t be a process with a starting line and a finish line. It will be a continuous process, one requiring a healthy and happy channel program to keep things moving. Whether we know what we’re in for next or not.