Earlier this year, CompTIA and AchieveUnite partnered to define a common and unified definition of partner experience. This research uncovered four underlying trends that are proving to drive successful partnerships over the long-term. Today, as the power equation has shifted from binary partner relationships to partner ecosystems and communities, enablement has become essential. In fact, enablement is the new currency with tools providing the critical path to the success of these ecosystems. CompTIA’s Carolyn April will detail the findings and more at ChannelCon Online in a session titled: Exploring Partner Experience Trends.
In the following article, AchieveUnite sits down with its very own Bob O’Malley, executive principal, and Jessica Baker, chief program officer, to answer questions on why partner experience in the channel is essential. Here’s what they had to say:
Why not design your channel to optimize the partner experience?
Last year, CompTIA released its “Customer Experience Trends in the Channel” research. This report, jointly conducted by CompTIA and its community members, opened eyes to the methods used by customers today to make technology buying decisions. A year later, CompTIA and AchieveUnite started qualitative research to explore the partner journey, or more accurately to define the ideal partner experience. The interviews conducted with vendor and partner leaders discovered that, among other changes, channel power had shifted from the vendor to the customer. Large enterprises have always possessed the power with their need for standards and capacity to integrate and deliver solutions to their users. SMBs, however, are finding new power when their interests are represented by assertive channel solution providers. In other words, much of technology is “good enough.” What makes the difference is the methods used by the solution provider to put the technology together to serve the needs of the end customer. As a result, many vendors are starting to look at the channel and its partner communities in a whole different light.
Looking through the LifeTime Value Lens
Many vendor suppliers look at enterprise client relationships through the lens of customer lifetime value (CLV). These vendors assign relatively high-level, talented executives to coordinate the enterprise account planning and execution. If the vendor can retain an enterprise customer, not for a transaction but for several transactions, even several years, profit is maximized. The concept was described in detail by Carl Sewell and Paul Brown in their 1990 book, “Customers for Life.” Carl was a Dallas-area car dealer who described the philosophy and his approach to taking a $30,000 car sale and turning it into a $300,000 customer for life by giving customers experiences that other dealers didn’t. Other dealers could have done what Carl did, but they didn’t. We have the same opportunity in the technology channel with our vendor/partner relationships, giving an outstanding partner experience.
Let’s Make Work Easier for Partners
When vendors look at what AchieveUnite calls Partner LifeTime Value (PLTV), when they look at making the partner’s business more successful, they reap the rewards on a trusted advisor. These successful vendors can conduct joint planning with their partners in a seamless fashion. They can share resources with partners without borders. They can look at the relationship success metrics much more holistically. Partner LifeTime Value is simple. It is the application of CLV to our partner communities. PLTV amounts to using common sense on the sales frontline and make life easier for our partners.
The Two Forces Driving “Partner LifeTime Value”
There are two forces acting to create optimum PLTV: the relationship force and the business connection force. Without both forces acting in the vendors favor, optimum partner value will not be achieved. The relationship force is the personal trust placed by the partner owners in the vendor representative and in the vendor organization. This trust is like a reservoir, with additional trust earned in drops, and lost in gallons. The vendor must realize that representative selection and coverage consistency are paramount. One misstep by the vendor organization or by the representative, not immediately corrected, will cause irreparable damage. The business connection force acts on the fit between the vendor’ business model and the partner business model. Before partners found their power, vendors called all the shots. Today with a level playing field, vendors need to work jointly with the partners to make the business-to-business match, somewhat like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. Each partner is different, so each desires a slightly different slant on the fit between the two businesses. Partner programs, for example, should be equitable, but configurable so that the business connection is a natural one, a self-reinforcing one.
Where’s the Beef?
So what do vendors need to do to take advantage of the new reality? Three elements should be added to all vendors channel strategies:
- Acknowledge that the playing field between the vendor and its channel partners has leveled. Develop peer communities and REALLY listen to these peer partner communities. Ask them what solutions you, the vendor, should be developing.
- Teach your partner-facing representatives about their partners’ businesses so that they can assume the role of trusted business advisor. Then empower them to make decisions, consistent within established partner principles, and in support of the partner.
- Rebuild your portals and partner programs understanding how to make your partner’s business connection with you, the vendor, more relevant and easier to navigate. Develop configurable components that can be automated individually but assembled to fit the partner’s business.
No one knows where improving partner experiences and focusing on Partner LifeTime Value will lead. For sure we know that our technology channels will not go back to the way it “used to be.”