By Stephanie Dismore, Vice President and General Manager, Americas Channels, HP Inc.
Ask anyone the key to a healthy relationship, and you will likely hear some common themes: communication, participation, dependability. Simple but critical, these attributes determine the success or failure of relationships in our personal lives.
Not so surprisingly, these themes also apply to channel partnerships. In a situation where there are many other suitors vying for attention, consistency and engagement are even more critical for maintaining a trusting, dependable relationship.
Some businesses have a hot and cold relationship with the channel – ducking out when the waters look rough. The risk of this approach is immense. Hopping in and out of the channel causes frequent directional shifts, a loss of momentum, and a loss of trust. This a dangerous combination for any relationship, let alone one that your business depends on.
The signal of a good channel strategy is consistency and stability—you do not need to keep changing it. You research, plan and execute. And most importantly, you maintain your reputation and the trust of your partners.
Want flourishing channel partnerships? Here are three secrets to a lasting and happy relationship.
Always be a trusted source of education and information.
A good strategy helps partners see, feel, and truly understand the power of your solutions. As the evolution from transactional to contractual sales advances, technology manufacturers have the opportunity to become trusted advisors to partners and counsel them on the technology that will further their business strategies.
As partners move along this journey, they require support around what services will help them stand out in the market. Because of this ubiquity of information, making it easy for customers to find whatever they need whenever they need it, customers are circumventing their channel retailers. With this in mind, there are significant opportunities for manufacturers to provide access to unmatched educational resources allowing channel partners to become the first and only expert source of information a customer needs when making a purchasing decision.
Manufacturers should provide partners with tools, resources, and data to develop new business models and educate consumers. Education and training are a huge opportunity for differentiation. Just consider 55 percent of salespeople reported not having the right skills to be successful—leading to disappointment in financials and increased sales representative turnover. Manufacturers should provide training beyond the solutions they provide by including information on customer journey and pain points, industry and vertical trends, competitive landscapes, and potential selling scenarios driving increased success for partners.
Be a solid shoulder partners can lean on.
The speed of change is one of the ultimate challenges of the channel. Partners are juggling to keep up with fast-changing customer issues and demands, industry trends and technology evolution while staying abreast of the latest messaging and offerings from manufacturers.
Manufacturers should stand out by being predictable. This is a paradox, but programs that are well-established and stay the course enable partners to create momentum and gain proficiency with your brand and solutions. This is unique in channel partnerships today. Consistency helps sales representatives learn to apply their knowledge, rather than constantly trying to keep abreast of new sales strategies. Consistency and stability also help partners have a solid, unshakeable idea of what your brand and products stand for. In turn, this allows them to keep a laser focus the functionality of your products and sell them more consistently to customers.
Make it a two-way dialogue.
The secret to any effective relationship: communication.
Partners need clarity and consistency in the communication from manufacturers, but the quality of that information will be more relevant and valuable if manufacturers are regularly soliciting input. Effective feedback mechanisms will deliver insights manufacturers can use to make minor tweaks and course corrections to the channel strategy.
A survey of channel partners found that 64 percent of value-added resellers (VARs) are satisfied with how their vendors gather and respond to feedback, but less than half of VARs in the cloud services field are satisfied. Most independent software vendors (ISVs) also were dissatisfied with their experiences with the voice of partner programs, and most did not believe their vendors valued feedback, addressed top concerns or kept their interests in mind while revising channel programs. The surest way to lose participation and credibility is to solicit feedback and not use it.
But the options to mend these lapses in communications are myriad. Regular calls between manufacturers and partners provide an opportunity to solicit feedback directly from the front lines of retail partners. Partner communities on social media can also be used to solicit feedback and enable sharing, and advisory boards are a powerful tool, both at a strategic level and also at product, service and solution-specific areas. Be thoughtful about who you invite to those groups, identifying both the highest producers and fastest-growing partners.
If your business depends—in whole or in part—on the strength of your channel, constant evaluation of where and how you are investing is vital. In the same way, you would work on a marriage or a friendship; you should work on your professional relationship with channel partners. The players are different, but the strategy is the same. Be dependable. Be engaged. Be open to listening. These are the keys to a happy, healthy partnership.