Ensuring the success of partner organizations is getting more attention from vendors. In December, Axcient, a provider of a comprehensive set of business availability solutions, announced its Partner Success Team, an 11-member squad dedicated to ensuring its managed service provider (MSP) partners receive the highest level of service. And in February, Channel Impact, a full-service channel specialty firm for technology companies, released a white paper titled, The Rise of Partner Success in the Services Driven Economy.
“While customer success involves direct engagements with the customer, partner success is about enabling partners to optimize their profitability and success ,” states the Channel Impact document. “Looking at it through a different lens, if partners are the ones designated to make the promises, then vendors must help them master the art of delivering on those promises – to ensure that the value customers expect is achieved, not once but throughout the entire relationship lifecycle.”
When an indirect go-to-market strategy is in place — where partners have the primary relationship with the customer — it’s become clear that today’s technology vendors must focus on delivering the right programs, technologies and guidance to fuel partner success, Channel Impact stressed. This includes enabling them with the tools, skillsets and resources to build their own customer success organizations and supporting them to transition and align with the recurring revenue movement.
Companies need to put as much effort into the success of their partners as they do with their direct sales team, said Kristine Stewart, Channel Impact’s VP, Client Success. “If your goal is to successfully roll out a partner-focused go-to-market strategy, you need to provide your partners with all of the enablement tools and support that you extend to your direct team. Partners are, after all, an extension of your sales organizations.”
The Channel Impact white paper lists 10 “strategies” necessary to drive partner success. Included among them are company-wide commitment to a centralized program, a detailed plan informed with a clear understanding of what partners want, and a formalized approach to measurement that prioritizes partner profitability.
“You’ve got to start with company-wide commitment,” said Stewart. Acknowledging that responsibilities for different channel functions often sit in several departments, she stressed that C-suite commitment to partner success is critical. “It’s not a problem if some resources sit under corporate marketing, or some of them are in the worldwide partner organization…as long as they are aligned and have a common vision of partner success. If you have siloed initiatives, you can spend a lot of money throwing it at nothing that’ll be successful.”
Commitment to partner success should start with product development, said Stewart. “If you’re doing everything right, you’re working with your product teams, getting them to engineer in features, upgrades or extensions that create insertion points for partners.”
As the white paper notes, “Partner success shouldn’t be an afterthought. Include (partners’) needs, requirements and value add into your product development offers. Those offers that have the ﬂexibility for partner insertion points from a vertical or technology expertise perspective will generate the most optimum outcomes.”
Companies that are transitioning to recurring revenue offerings, for example, can ensure partner success by supporting customer engagement through land, adopt, expand, and renew stages, said Stewart. “As companies expand the number of engagement points along the customer lifecycle, they need to make sure that partners are aware of the new or add-on services they can offer to their customers,” she said.
Listening to partners is key to developing a partner success program, added Stewart. “Obviously, you will get a variety of input based on the partners you talk to,” she said. “But that’s exactly why you want to talk to different types of partners – so that you just don’t hear back what you want to hear because that’s what you were telling them last year.”
More important, many partners have a good idea on what makes them successful, she said. “Certainly, they have expertise, often in spaces you want to develop. Incorporating what helps partners outperform others into a partner success program is critical.”
Stewart recommends that companies initiating partner success programs should start with select group of partners. “It’s important to find out what works, what partners embrace,” she said. “This allows you to test the program, get feedback from partners on how it’s working… asking questions like, ‘Does this learning content work for you, does this training help, are these tools easy to use, do these KPIs make sense to you?”
Finally, a formal approach to measurement is key, notes Channel Impact. “Your plan and your playbooks should identify the milestones that partners should aspire to along each phase of the journey map, as well as the KPIs that you expect them to achieve as those milestones are reached. Only through metrics and reporting can you measure partner progress and understand where and how your program might need improvement.”
The Channel Impact white paper is available here.