What makes a good partnership? For my money, in the tech channel it comes down to one thing: playing to each other’s strengths. A partnership should involve a deep alignment that means each can work in harmony with the other and get the most possible from the relationship.
The first consideration in a successful channel partnership lies in knowing who should drive which part of the sales cycle. At EMC we believe the vendor should not automatically be involved in every step of the sales cycle and should only step in where they can add value. This is common sense. If you have a long-lasting and trusted relationship with a partner, why should we step in when that partner has worked so hard on creating a strong relationship with the customer? In such cases there is little we can add.
Take, for example, the systems integrator/alliance partner space. In the channel tech vendors are crying out for c-level discussions with end user businesses. Sales will always need to be signed off by those at the very top of the business and so meaningful engagement at this level is absolutely crucial.
Vendors must be able to step back and draw on their SI’s expertise, as nine times out of ten it’s the integrator that holds the high-level relationships. Not only does that mean they already have in place the right contacts, but they are better informed about the overall strategic direction of the customer.
Vendor sales teams absolutely need to be alive to this and willing to let the integrator lead on these strategic conversations, offering their support as and when appropriate. It all comes down to recognising who is in the best position to bring a sale to a successful conclusion.
Looking at the wider channel ecosystem, there are times where partners benefit from the direct support of vendors. For example, if a partner wants to sell a small unit to a big customer that they have not sold to in the past then involving the vendor makes sense. Not only can the vendor help with appropriate sales materials and customer messaging, they can also assist in the proposal stage, taking an active role in closing the deal. Once the relationship has been secured, the vendor can then start to take a step back and let their channel partner lead the relationship.
The real job for vendors, therefore, is to make themselves strategically relevant to their partners; to align with their businesses and to bake themselves into bids through best-of-breed technology, innovation and expertise that add value to the sales proposal.
It also comes down to delivering the highest levels of customer service. Especially when dealing with senior contacts within customers’ businesses, vendors and their channel partners must be aligned at all times. When alignment does not exist, it is difficult for the customer to see exactly how each party adds value to the relationship and to know who they should contact regarding the various questions they might have. Poor coordination between partners can, meanwhile, lead to duplication of effort and frustration for the customer.
This is what I mean when I talk about playing to each other’s strengths and it is this sort of alignment that results in true partnerships that create unbeatable competitive offerings. It also results in each party bringing incremental revenue to the other’s business.