The fourth installment in the Channel 101 series offers insights on basic program components*
Question: Why would anyone want to partner with you?
If you think that’s impertinent, then chances are you haven’t thought through everything that is required to build a successful partner program. Whether you’re new to channels or struggling to make them work, you’re going to have to hone your partner value proposition. It’s nothing less than the raison d’etre of your entire program.
Put bluntly, you partner value proposition is the sum total of all the reasons why partners will want to align with your company. It includes the economics of partnership (as in how partners will make money with your company and what it will cost them to align with you), what kind of support you provide (both technical and marketing), how you stack up against the competition, how you fit with other vendors partners represent in the market and much, much more.
In this, our fourth installment of the “Channel 101” series, we zero in on the basic components of your partner value proposition. As a quick recap, we previously provided an overview of different partners, program requirements and more. Now it’s time to focus inwardly on the basic program components.
(Note: A complete partner value proposition includes more than an analysis of program components; in our next installment we will examine another aspect, different partner types and their needs.)
Your Partner Value Proposition: Basic Program Components
Let’s come back to the central question: why would anyone want to do business with your company? If you break it down, your answer will likely include a mix of the following elements:
Below, we break each of these down a bit more. One thing to note: partners of different maturity demand and/or need different things from your organization. New companies that come into your world will likely need more technical and sales support whereas partners more versed in your products and services will likely want more marketing support and/or opportunities to build on top of your innovations.
The Innovativeness of Your Solution
Chances are your solution solves one or more end-customer challenges. It might enable them to generate new revenue or better serve their own customers. In all likelihood, you have developed a sound customer value proposition. You’ll need the same for partners. Why is fairly obvious.
Suppose your product solves a challenge that undermines a revenue stream that would-be partners rely on? Good luck trying to get them to partner with you. What you must do is concisely tease out what business problem or market opportunity your idea addresses for partners. You must also look at how your idea is “packaged.” Some ideas, for example, cannot be packaged in way that they can be sold or supported by a third party. If that’s true with you, then partner recruitment is going to be a challenge.
Once you have a defined understanding of what problem your idea addresses, then you’re halfway there. Now you must think in terms of more mature partners who will likely want more detailed information about niche use cases and/or vertical market applicability.
The Economic Opportunity Your Product or Service Provides
Sell a widget, make a buck. That’s the basic reward model for many ideas sold though partners today. But it’s only a fraction of the economic reason why a third party would align with you.
In addition to immediate financial rewards, partners are looking to align with companies that help them create new business practices and/or revenue streams. They are also looking for those that create opportunities for them to sell additional services.
What attracts potential partners most is the total economic value that surrounds your offerings. In the tech world, many software vendors invite third parties to join their partner programs because they can demonstrate that for every $1 worth of their technology sold, there are an additional $4-$9s worth of additional services generated for partners. That’s a compelling proposition.
While that economic opportunity doesn’t exist for every industry, you’ll benefit from doing the math on what economic opportunity your ideas generate.
One additional thought: As your partner program matures, your financial incentives and rewards will have to be better thought out. You’ll want to keep things simple but must figure out how to reward different activities and behaviors. You’ll also have to figure out how to reward different levels of contribution, which will likely stimulate you to consider adding tiers and other adjuncts to your program.
Your Distinct Customer Acquisition Process
In addition to knowing how your ideas solve buyer problems, partners want to understand how your organization targets customers. The steps you take to educate the market, to position your ideas and even whom you target are key considerations for potential partners.
Critically, it is important to understand how your buyer’s journey meshes with your go-to-market activities with partners. In days of old, third-party dealers, consultants and more played a significant role in helping steer customers to your brand. Now Google and other influencers play a role. Today, most of a buyer’s journey is nearly done before end customers ever connect with one of your partners. This has significant ramifications in terms of how you educate, motivate, support and reward partners.
When thinking about the distinct customer journeys you create, you must factor in where partners fit into the mix. What stage do partners naturally fall in? And are your policies and programs aligned accordingly to yield the maximum from their input and support?
When your program is more advanced you will likely need to consider additional tools and means for generating demand. At some stage, you might turn to partner events. At the very least, you will need to think in terms of community and ecosystem building.
The Level and Type of Marketing and Sales Support You Provide
Ever been excited to attend an event because of the guest list only to arrive and find the food is lousy? If so, chances are the experience was less than what you hoped for.
That’s not unlike what happens in the partner world when a vendor comes to fore with a creative innovation and a lot of brand awareness but will no support for partners. The net result is the same: dissatisfaction all around.
To be successful with partners, you must provide them with comprehensive marketing and technical support. Don’t skimp.
When it comes to sales, early-stage partners will need help with basic questions so budget appropriately (read: disproportionately) for pre-sales support. And pony up for post-sales support, too. Remember: partners don’t have access to your engineering department the way that your direct sales team does, so make sure they are supported adequately.
When it comes to marketing, make sure they have everything they need to faithfully position, price, configure and sell your idea. They will need Powerpoints, sales scripts and more.
One final thought: share liberally. Some companies prefer not to share competitive information with partners because they fear it will fall into the wrong hands. Bad idea. Give partners the same access to tools and information that you provide your internal sales teams.
After getting established, you will need to think in terms of PR, success stories and, most importantly, leads. (We will address lead generation in another installment but just note that it requires an investment in automation.)
Your Commitment to Customer Success
This bucket covers a lot so we will focus on one aspect that matters regardless of what product, service or idea you provide. This is how committed you are to your partners’ customers’ success. In far too many instances, this is an afterthought. But it shouldn’t be.
Prepare yourself to work cooperatively to measure end customer satisfaction, not as a way to identify under-performing partners, which is something you should absolutely do, but more as a method to ensure that the people or entities actually using your ideas are as satisfied as they could be. Doing so sets you up for continued success, be it subscription renewals, upsell and cross-sell opportunities or more.
If your ideas are complex, then you must commit to seeing delivery through partners to the very end. Not all organizations do this. Some expect partners to handle everything once they step into a buyer’s sales cycle. This is a mistake for several reasons. It cuts your company off from important feedback and insights that customers will share based on their experiences, and it abstracts actionable steps that you could take to make things better.
One final thought: Whatever you to do with regards to customer success, make sure you do it in coordination with your partners. Do not let the final step in a long process unravel everything because a policy or bad practice ruins an otherwise solid relationship.
What do we mean? Think warranty claims, returns and more. Oftentimes, unrealistic demands on the part of idea originators spoil an otherwise healthy relationship. Be fair to the bitter end: your partners will appreciate it.
After thinking through basic program components, it’s worth spending a moment on what Tenego Academy* calls model alignment.
After gaining traction in your market, you might learn that you could do more business through partners if you change your approach in some fashion. The change could be how you sell your technology, to whom and for how much.
You might learn, for example, that your ideas or innovations are too expensive compared to your competition. You might discover that there is insufficient add-on revenue opportunity associated with the sale of your product or service. You might also learn that third parties consider you difficult to work with.
All of this is perfectly natural and to be expected. Relax, in other words: you got this.
After thinking through basic components, make sure you don’t let that good work go to waste by under-investing in partner automation. It is worth repeating: The products and services you provide the market are only a portion of what partners evaluate when considering your value proposition. They also take into account your onboarding, marketing support, training and more — the kind made possible by world-class automation. For more insight, sign up for an Impartner demo today.
Coming next in Part Five: How to Hone a Value Proposition That Appeals to Different Partner Types
*The Channel 101 series was produced with insight and information provided by Tenego Academy. Tenego Academy is a Cork, Ireland-based company that provides support to companies wanting to grow their organizations with third-party “channel partners” be they dealers, agents, referral partners, distributors, consultants and more.
Tenego Academy’s 12-part “Build Your Partner Program Like a Global Leader” education program helps companies looking to create, grow and/or optimize a partner program regardless of their size or market focus. No matter where your company is in its channel partner program journey, you will benefit from Tenego Academy’s 12-part program, which covers everything from channel strategy to partner recruitment to automation and more.
T.C. Doyle is the Channel Growth Evangelist at Impartner, the leader in channel management and Partner Relationship Management (PRM) technology. A journalist, book author and analyst, Doyle has worked in media for three decades. As channel evangelist, Doyle produces podcasts, case studies, e-books and more for Impartner. Doyle can be reached at email@example.com.