The IT market is becoming more interconnected with a rising number of companies working together. McKinsey refers to this as ‘ecosystem 2.0’ and they predict that technology businesses collaborating and working together will increase.
Research conducted by Coterie Marketing and the University of Huddersfield found that during 2020 there was a heightened restructuring of the ecosystem. Traditional tiers and levels were found to be confusing and there was a need for partner marketers to constantly monitor both the partners and end-user needs – and respond.
Building on this, in the Forrester 2021 channel marketing predictions, Jay McBain introduces the concept of the ‘ecosystem mindset’. He talks about the ‘Rise of the Ecosystem Orchestrator’ and how so much is focused on the process, programmatic, and technology elements of ecosystems. But he also asks the questions: What about the people? What is the ecosystem mindset?
My role is unusual in that I look after both technology partners coming into our business and the channel partners who resell our services. This has given me a complete 360-degree view of the partner world: from activating partners inbound, i.e. I am the partner, and also outbound, i.e. I am working with our partners. This all-encompassing view requires an ‘ecosystem mindset’ which I have been championing for some time. However, I do now see an increased need for action because of the move to digitisation and more functionality in the cloud, as no one tech company can do it all; no one partner can build the entire technology stack alone. As a result, partner marketing is an incredibly important route to market for businesses and requires a new approach.
These are my four approaches to adopting this new mindset:
Share IdeasBring new ideas to partners and innovations to help respond to the market. Partner portfolios are becoming more complex because of the growing ecosystem and move to Anything-as-a-Service (XaaS). As a result, it is critical to start with a strategic dialogue which includes sharing information to build out joint business plans. No business can operate in isolation, it is about adjacency – ‘we're better together’. For example, we’re all responding to common trends such as the workforce pivot during the pandemic. Vendors need to be taking new ideas and concepts to their partners to help them collectively adapt to the changing market.
Be DistinctTake a distinctive approach when developing a joint value proposition, to help create a campaign that can be built and executed easily. Once you have a joint business plan including the target market, you then need to develop a compelling joint value proposition, including the customer, the pain points, and what each partner brings to the offer. The point I am making is that these are no longer purely transactional relationships where the partner takes the vendors’ value proposition. It needs to be distinct and stand out in the noise.
Coach, Don't SellEnable sales teams by coaching them to deal with objections. You can only build a healthy channel ecosystem if you listen to your partners’ needs and help coach them. Technology vendors can quite often attempt to run sales campaigns by standing up ‘product’ promotions via their partners. But these are not an insignificant effort for the partner; they often don’t receive all the sales collateral or training so they can adequately educate the sales team, or they are pointed to a portal to add their logo, customize, and push go. This is the old technology push mindset. An ecosystem mindset is about investing time and resource to understand what your joint end customer requires. And to support them in this new approach with time and resource.
Be Succinct and SpecificIt's critical to be supportive on major bids and account-based marketing. It’s now about bringing both organisations’ strengths to the end customer – regardless of the size of the partner. This is important, because in my experience, small partner organisations are more agile than large ones, and therefore their size should not take away from their value to a vendor. Being specific and to the point in how you help partners is the key shift.
Rob Reynolds is Global Partner Marketing Leader at Verizon. The views and thoughts expressed in the content belong solely to the author.