By Rodney Foreman the Vice President, Global Channel Sales at Nutanix
In today’s sales culture, many companies have moved away from relying on partners to support their businesses. Others claim to have a “channel business” and dip their toes in the water without a full commitment, obtaining lackluster results. They believe channel partners “are in it for themselves,” and it’s easier and less cumbersome to keep sales efforts in-house. Some don’t want to put in the effort to train more people, make the necessary investments and build relationships beyond those they build with customers and prospects.
In the last 15 years, I have seen a wide range of companies that are fully committed to a channel business and can say the most effective way to scale your software business is through channel partners. This involves leveraging a robust partner ecosystem that includes Value Added Resellers, OEM, GSIs, SPs and if your channel business is two-tier, Value Add Distributors. Your alliances with top ISVs are also very important and an integral part of any channel business. Aligning with other top software vendors is also critical to success and a healthy software business today.
Here are a few ways you can leverage your partner relationships to grow your business:
1. Give your partners autonomy
First and foremost, invest in extensive partner enablement so that you can trust your partners to know your business strategy and products. To be serious about scaling as a software business, you need to relinquish some control and let partners carry out deals on their own and build complete customer solutions embracing your technology. If you’re providing the right training, marketing, programs, and selling/technical tools to your partners, they will extend your market reach and will be able to close a deal from start to finish, leaving you more time to focus on your own business and strategy.
Partners will generate new opportunity, and that should be the focus of your marketing platform and channel program. A best practice is passing leads to partners in a methodical way based on target markets, partner skills, and historical success. The passing of leads pays off in many ways that go back to the business in new opportunities the partners generate on their own. Building this “muscle” within the channel of lead generation is fed by creating a robust lead passing engine. Most often, the channel asks for one of three items from the software vendors: 1) skills, 2) removal of any channel conflict (do not compete with me) and 3) pass me sales leads we can win.
2. Treat partners like one of your own
From the beginning of your relationship with your partners, you should treat them as a part of your team. Bring them to your sales kickoffs and your employee training. Provide regular updates to your training curriculum when you announce new products. The most important way to ensure partner autonomy and, ultimately, company growth is to train your partners as well as your direct sales team so that they know as much about your product as you do.
Reward wins; publicly recognize your rock-star partners when they help you win, using your brand to pump up their industry visibility. Announce targeted incentives for verticals, types of customer acquisitions, and strategic growth areas of your business. By doing this, you’ll demonstrate to partners why selling your product will benefit them too. As you grow, they should grow too!
3. Obtain new customers through the channel
Channel partners are not just about signing on return business —although they’re great at that too! Channel partners have strong customer networks; leverage your channel partners’ market reach, customer base and relationships to connect you to new business. Motivate partners to bring on new logos by introducing incentives and rebates for new customers. Your customers rely on partners as their trusted advisors and experts to deliver software and services to transform and support their business.
Bringing in new customers goes beyond the initial sales and eventually allows you to expand your product footprint in that client account over time, growing market share and also building more customer references for your brand.
4. Stick your neck out for the little guy
Don’t just place your bets on large partners who can bring you large customers. Remember, deals can add up! Instead, prioritize the partners who are most invested in your business (i.e., those who bring you a consistent level of deals and who invest significant time and resources in completing your sales and technical-level training and certifications). If they’re excited about your business and show a desire to scale with you, give back to them!
5. Find leadership that values partners
If you’re a channels leader, make sure to work with an executive team that has prioritized working with partners from day one. In one of my first in-person interviews at Nutanix, my interviewer said: “have you gone to my LinkedIn profile?” I admitted that I hadn’t, and he held up his profile which read “Product guy now building a business, hoping to stand on the shoulders of the channel to outdo the big guns.” This was Dheeraj Pandey, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Nutanix. In that same vein, find a CEO who also wants channel partners to be at the forefront of the company’s growth. Executive backing is the ultimate first step to building out a robust channel program. Once you have that, the rest comes from you and how you build your channel program and team.
Scaling your software business through channel partners requires you to prioritize them by investing in a competitive channel program, adequate skilled resources, and commitment across the organization. But sooner rather than later, efforts to foster positive partner relationships will pay off. By investing in them now, you set up both you and your partners for sustained growth and success!
Rodney Foreman is VP of Global Channel Sales at Nutanix where he is responsible for all aspects of the Nutanix partner organization. Rodney brings more than 20 years of channels leadership, IT and computer industry experience to Nutanix. Prior to joining Nutanix, Rodney was SVP of Business Partner Channel Sales and Alliances at Informatica where he was responsible for partner relationships, creating and driving key program initiatives and sales execution within Informatica’s global network of business partners. Prior to Informatica, Rodney led the global channel business at IBM for their Cloud Software business unit, which was the largest component of IBM’s software channel business with over 7,000 partners globally. Rodney has also held key positions at Compaq Computer and Dell Computer.