The Partner Pyramid
A partner might not be a customer exactly but it’s never a bad idea to think of partners in that light, at least in some instances. Last time we delved into the partner experience and compared it to the customer experience and discovered some similarities. But we can take the comparison further and rather than emphasize the customer aspects of the relationship, look into the business attributes.
First time vendors setting up a partner channel are prone to making the rookie mistake of thinking, “If we build it, they will come.” This come and get it approach to the channel often results in an inevitable disappointment as vendors realize that potential channel partners don’t share their enthusiasm. But it’s not enthusiasm; it’s hard business sense that drives things. Partners need to be shown in good detail how they can make money working in the channel and that usually goes far beyond vendor promises that “You can make money selling our stuff because we offer big margins.”
This brings us back to the notion of whole product. In an end user situation it means the core solution plus all of the policies, procedures, programs, and outreach that assure customers that they’ll be successful not only in productively using your solution but in interfacing with your company. Partners are no different though their whole product needs are. Consider these needs and you’ll get the idea.
Partner value proposition
Your value proposition starts with margin but by no means ends there. It encompasses everything from the robustness of your product to how easy it is for partners to register a deal, leverage your marketing and content, create invoices and make returns, and, oh, yes, get paid. It also relies on your brand and product reputation in the marketplace. If your major competition has a more visible and trusted brand it will attract more partners simply because the competition will appear easier to sell. But everyone has to deal with differentiation via competition, which is why, all things being equal, you want to be the company that’s easiest for a partner to deal with.
Your partners are like anyone else, they don’t want to spend a day on-site when an hour online might suffice. That goes to the heart of ease of configuration and deployment. You can always improve product usability and for that reason you should never stop asking partners how to do this.
Many partner programs are made or broken on their business processes and for good reason. Your processes make up the part of whole product that your brand and product don’t. Your business processes are what make you easy or difficult to work with and they require constant monitoring. Processes typical to a partner channel can include business onboarding, ongoing ease of doing business, easy access to technical support and service materials, well thought out terms and financing programs, deal registration, and marketing cooperation and marketing funding support.
Very often we think of partner relationships as bi-lateral between one vendor and one partner at a time. After all, partners don’t want to share their knowledge of customers and deals in a forum where others could scoop them and that’s completely understandable. But when it comes to product and business process improvements you might discover a different reaction. A community organized around sharing in these domains usually turns up many good ideas that benefit all parties because ideas mature quicker and with greater detail when many heads consider a problem and provide solutions. So don’t rule out a partner community.
The role of PRM
Most of the partner processes mentioned and many others, are best supported by a robust PRM system. For example, one process not already mentioned is integration with CRM. PRM is not CRM, it is a specialized platform for managing the relationship between the vendor and the partner. But data and process flows need to work bilaterally between the two management systems for maximum effectiveness.
PRM should support everything else in the partner relationship and enable and automate the processes discussed above. If a vendor is using separate spreadsheets to manually manage its partner program, that vendor may quickly discover that the spreadsheets put an effective cap on the size of the partner population it can manage and thus the revenues it can drive through the system. This is not to say that a manual, spreadsheet based system can’t work, but it does imply limitations based on volume, size and, importantly, error rates in all of the business processes managed by spreadsheets. If your competitor’s way of doing business is more streamlined, they will win some of your partners.
Automating your partner business processes will maximize the utility of your partner program by providing much better support for partner initiatives and reducing the time it takes a partner to get something done. It will also reduce the inconsistencies and errors associated with even the best intentions in a manual process.
All this boils down to a partner’s ability to make money and control costs in your program. It’s what everyone aims for but it’s a more realistic way of getting there than simply opening the doors and saying come and get it.