No One Wants Your Stuff

OK - This title doesn’t refer to all the great, productive, and innovative products that the IT industry churns out with amazing regularity, and it doesn’t mean that the cloud will make technology products obsolete. It’s just that we have found that customers are a lot less concerned today with ‘what’ it runs on than ‘if and how’ it runs... and by ‘it’ I mean the complex infrastructure and solutions that deliver the business outcomes critical to their companies.

IT Vendors hate it when we tell them this because they love their products. They've invested a tremendous amount in them. They are hugely proud of their innovations and ‘best-of’ awards. But we all know that the IT decision maker buying persona is changing. The influence of line-of-business buyers and new pathways to IT digital transformation have combined to alter sales motions, the decision-making process, and ultimately long-term technology consumption and value.

I’ve been there! Right after, “where are the sales?”, more cumbersome questions arise: Was it really worth it? Why are only a few resellers bringing in new business? What is wrong with them?

Customers Just Want to Solve Problems

From our vantage point, we see that the best partners (estimate: 25% of the universe) are moving away from selling ‘stuff’ to selling outcomes, at a frightful pace. We see the emergence of a new category of IT partners that specialize in a certain market/technology mix. They absorb vendor training and IP and develop unique expertise that extends the value of these products, making it much more than just ‘stuff.’

These partners are investing in teams that are getting better and smarter at building and packaging a whole range of solutions, and, oh yes, adding managed services to ensure that the solutions deliver on their promises. They're selling up the stack by forming relationships with line-of-business heads, with C-level executives. These are the people that aren't buying stuff. They're buying business outcomes from partners that take full responsibility for not only the ‘stuff’ but how well it delivers on their promises.

When I encounter these types of problems, I start by asking myself and the team the following questions:

  • Are our product’s strengths backed up by solid data and value propositions? 
  • Are we clearly articulating the top 3 to 5 reasons why a channel partner would be crazy not to sell our product?
  •  Are we recruiting the right channel partners to sell our products? 
  • Are the target end client/users and the target purchasers clearly defined for our partners? 
  • Can our channel partners really make money with our compensation plans and pricing? 
  • How are we helping our channel partners to make money?
 Yes, a lot of it depends on us.

Surpassing Partner Expectations

How does this impact effective partnering? It's all about the total partner enablement package, which is much more than what it used to be when the focus was on certifications and compliance, the technical foundations of ‘stuff.’ Enablement now needs to focus on total sales readiness, integrating new sales motions, and go-to-market strategy.

Are technical skills still important? Absolutely, and they need to be in place first. But there are two additional critical components of a total readiness package that vendors need to provide.

Here is a quick exercise: compare your website to your industry/category brethren. Do you sound similar? What makes your product the strongest in its category? Are you stating points of parity, or are you making it easy for the prospect to see your product’s advantages and uniqueness?

  • GTM enablement: Training, education, and collaboration investment and resources must all focus on go-to-market readiness. It must build on the basic technology foundation and then help partners hone the high-level skills that allow them to engage with and sell to line-of-business persona hot buttons.
  • Technology support: Companies need to continue to invest in providing different types of partner-facing resources. These include core engineering support for partner-branded services offering development and pre-and post-sales technical resources to help partners pull it all together at the point of attack.

    By the way, the competitive analysis is one of the top three documents that the best and most interested partners will ask for.

Don't Worry!

The good news is end-users do still want your stuff, so don’t stop making innovative products. But the definition of ‘stuff’ needs to change to include the entire business outcome. Your great stuff must be supported by a comprehensive, solutions-focused enablement program that allows partners to independently respond to the needs of their new buyers, and also achieve their unique business and growth goals.

(This content was originally presented by Kevin Rhone, Practice Director and Senior Strategic Consultant at Enterprise Strategy Group, as part of a Lightning Round presentation on the “Top 9 Things Channel Chiefs Must Do in 2018 to Transcend the Performance of Their Channel.” To watch the entire presentation featuring a host of top channel strategists, CLICK HERE. This blog post originally appeared on ESG Blogs, March 7, 2018)

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