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How to Successfully Enable Your Partners

Blog Series: The Old Man and the Channel – with Olivier Choron, Managing Director EMEA, Impartner

Part 6: Partner Enablement – 2020 and Beyond

I was recently asked to discuss “Partner Enablement” with the additional caveat of looking at “2020 and beyond”. Interesting challenge! I know this is critical for many organizations who work with a channel, whether these have tens of local partners or tens of thousands of partners, globally.

Bringing the message home

Like everyone else, and although I have been in the channel for 25+ years, I decided to go online and search for ‘partner enablement’. Sadly, I mistyped my search and it came back with results for ‘parent enablement’. How interesting! I have 3 teenage boys and, for anyone with children, my search results highlighted some powerful messages, most of which also completely relate to ‘partner enablement’.

To successfully enable your children (and partners), you need to:

  • Create a common ground, educate and provide; you need to understand each other, to nourish their appetite for knowledge and understanding of the world (or your world), and provide for them.
  • Communicate; it’s all about communicating, talking, discussing issues, sharing ideas, all in a 2-way direction. This means speaking the same language and sharing the same objectives.
  • Be at the ‘same level’; If you have children going through their toddler tantrums, you may understand about kneeling down and reasoning with your children at their levels. It’s not about dominance and it’s never about imposing one-sided un-explained rules!

I found my accidental search results so surprisingly insightful. Looking at Partner Enablement, now or in 2020 and beyond, we need to keep these principles in mind. Partners are simply people who all have different experiences, backgrounds, and expectations. If we don’t listen and try to speak the same language, if we try to push ‘our views’, if we don’t agree on joint objectives, if we don’t communicate and educate, we will only face resistance and fail in enabling them and engaging with them!

But you need to move this to the next level! Children have one set (or maybe two sets) of parents. Your partners have 10-20 suppliers they work with. You need to understand that and make sure you know your place – you are one of many your partners are engaging with…

So, what should we do today?

If you’ve been in the channel for as long as I have, you already know what is required. It’s a tick list, but start with the start!

  • Understand each other and plan together. This is not always easy. With 20 partners to manage, Channel Account Managers can have meaningful discovery and joint planning calls. GREAT! With 10,000 partners to deal with, it’s a strain on the organization. NOT SO GREAT! But you need to try. You cannot succeed in delivering a solid and impactful enablement program if you don’t understand the needs of your partners. Ask the questions, on- or off-line. Ask what they want to accomplish. Ask if they need help with selling and marketing. Ask if they have staff dedicated to pre-sales, post-sales, marketing, etc.

    When possible, write a joint business plan. When it’s not possible, ask for what they need and what they miss most. Why push some marketing training or campaigns if they don’t have staff or budget to support this? Why push for sales training on some products, which they are not interested in? WASTED!

  • Train your partners. Of course, you are likely to include technical training as a mandatory part of your Partner Program. I understand this and so do your partners. I am not talking about this though. I am talking about OPTIONAL and FREE sales and marketing enablement training. Potentially you could also train them on customer support or contract-writing best practices. They need to know about GDPR, SEO, email marketing, social selling, and much more. Don’t just enable them to be better at selling, marketing or supporting your solutions. Enable them to be better salespeople, better marketers, or better customer-centric organizations. Forget about your own agenda and deliver partner-centric programs.
  • Communicate, communicate and communicate. To make sure your partners are the best at what they do or what you want them to do, you need to communicate with them, in a way that’s meaningful and personalized. You need to show them that you respond to THEIR needs. You need to inform them about products and programs THEY want and require. Don’t send one-size-fits-all emails to your entire partner base; it will only serve one purpose – to alienate them. I am biased (!) but have a look at News on Demand from Impartner and discover that the era of 100% targeted and 100% personalized comms has started!
  • Measure. You do need to see how successful you and your partners are. Track portal visits, assets downloads, email engagement, campaign involvement, training courses attendance, event registrations, call, and support requests, organization sales, and profitability, customer satisfaction, etc.

Again, make sure you align these results with the plans you put together or the expectations you have for these partners. But it’s important you encourage engagement and not penalize them for low engagement (remember my ‘parental engagement’ introduction!). You are in this together; if a program doesn’t work for certain partners, it’s most likely that your program doesn’t answer their needs and is ill-suited to your and their purpose.

  • Listen and respond. Finally, you need a feedback loop. If it’s not working, then ask and fix!

What’s for us in 2020 and beyond?

Let’s now look at what we need to do that is different for 2020 and beyond. Why should we do this? Simply put, the world is changing. Your partner audience is changing in terms of demographics and roles. Welcome to the era of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Welcome to the world of Managed Service Providers (MSPs). Let’s embrace Generation Z. Portals and tools are evolving – we can now automate processes we never thought could be done online.

  • Shift from persona- to people-based marketing. We have, in very recent years, stopped from treating partners as ‘organizations’. We have started to understand partners are composed of individuals. Because of technical restrictions, we introduced the concept of ‘personas’, grouping people in distinct pockets to allow us to target them differently. Sadly, by creating personas, we have made assumptions. ‘Sales’ personas want this. ‘Technical’ personas want that. This was a great start, but it’s so wrong!

    We now can and need to shift to people-based marketing. Let individuals tell us what they want and let us deliver on what they each require. In 2020 and beyond, we will be able to center everything (education, communications, measurements) around individuals and make everything we do personal! Some of this technology is here today (again, have a look at News on Demand from Impartner) but this will expand. Training and enablement programs will be geared to meet the needs of your partner individuals.

  • Become a data-driven channel organization. To deliver these ‘human-centric programs’, we need to better understand our partners. We need to draw upon all the knowledge we have about them, whether it’s been collected offline or online, on your Partner Relationship Management (PRM) or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or Learning Management systems.

    To do so, we will need to leverage the advances in Machine Learning (ML) or Artificial Intelligence (AI). We will need to add Data Scientists to our channel organizations to make sense of the data we produce and collect. Channel Marketers will be hired less on the grounds of their ‘flair’ and more on their capability to understand, analyze, and deliver programs based upon the data presented to them.

  • Shift from Through Partner Marketing (TPMA) ‘feeding’ to collaborative partner marketing services. We will stop pushing our mono-branded campaigns to partners and, based on the data we have collected and analyzed for them, we will offer concierge services that will deliver personalized campaigns to them. Finally, we will be able to develop marketing programs and campaigns that meet their needs and drive real demand. We will focus on true enablement and development. Partners will be more in control; they will ask and we will respond. We will be in a

    position where we can truly collaborate together. Each campaign will be tailored to each partner.

  • Mobil-ize. Consumer-ize. Google-ize. With new data within our reach and new automated platforms to leverage this data, some of which are already available today, our portals and tools will become simpler to utilize and digest.

I look forward to the days when my portal experience is as sleek and individual as my Google search engine and my Netflix portal. Partners want to be in control. As individuals, they use consumer-centric tools every day that is tailored to their needs. They search, they get, they save… but they are also served ‘sponsored’ content. In 2020 and beyond, they will be able to navigate through your portal, on their desktop or their phone, as they navigate through the internet today. They will find the product assets, deal registration pages, incentives they are looking for, whilst you will be able to – intelligently and systematically – serve the content you think – you know – they also need.

But to make this happen in 2020 and beyond…

… we will need to have more budget allocated to the channel. To become smarter, more intelligent, more partner-centric and more data-centric, we will need to add Data Scientists, Marketing Operations and other expert staff members. Data will need to be collected, integrated, cleansed, manipulated, and analyzed. PRM systems will need to be customized, workflows to be created, programs to be enabled. This can only happen with budgets.

To obtain these budgets, we will need to elevate our channel roles within our organizations. We will need to see Channel Chiefs or, as I call them, Chief Channel Officers appear and represent us at board-level.

About the author

Olivier Choron joined Impartner in June 2018 when Impartner acquired Tremolo Software. Olivier was the CEO and Founder at Tremolo, the provider of News on Demand and Social on Demand products, which have now been added to the unique Impartner PRM portfolio. He is currently the Managing Director for EMEA.

With 25+ years of channel marketing expertise, gained in Europe and in the US, at companies such as 3Com and Nortel Networks, Olivier is a well-recognized figure in the channel. Having also run a channel marketing services firm for 12 years in the UK, Olivier has advised many organizations on how to best structure their channel programs and how to best enable their partners, including Adobe, Vodafone, Trend Micro, Zyxel, and Samsung, among others.

Olivier holds a ‘Diplôme d’Ingénieur’ in computer science from the ENSI de Caen (France), and a master’s degree in electronic engineering from the University of Kent (UK).

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