Mutually Beneficial: 4 Ways To Spot – And Be – an Indispensable Supplier
By Chris Cleary
The key to successful channel sales is developing a mutually beneficial relationship between a supplier and its partners. A properly balanced program increases profit margins and adds value to the product offerings of everyone involved.
But how do you as a partner know when a vendor has such a program — or, as a supplier, how do you build one?
These four insights can help forge an ironclad channel partner program and build long-lasting business relationships.
No. 1: See It From Their POV
One essential practice in a strong channel program is to consider things from the other side: Instead of having a mentality of “go out and sell my product," you need to understand your partner’s business.
Ask: What is your partner’s value proposition to the end customer? Then align your solutions with your partner’s portfolios. Otherwise, you’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole — as much as you may strive to give your partners everything they need to be successful, unless you align with what they bring to the marketplace, the strategy is not a revenue-generating one.
This does not necessarily mean you need to create an individual, granular plan for each partner you work with. But you can build programs geared toward supporting the type of partner in a few key ways.
Messaging is an important part of this. You must understand your partner’s messaging and target your own in a way that accentuates your partner’s portfolio, thereby allowing the partner to strengthen its value proposition to its customers.
No. 2: Add Value Through Support
Your channel partner is your customer, and you need to serve your customer in a way that allows the partner to be successful with its own customers.
Ensure your products seamlessly integrate with those in your partners’ solutions sets. The partner should be able to see that distributing your product strengthens and enhances its own value proposition to its customers. However, while quality products are vital to a channel program, partners also need to feel confident that a manufacturer can support them in other ways. In fact, a 2016 Vision Solutions partnership survey found that more than half (55 percent) of respondents said the reason they had chosen their current partners was because of support.
Therefore, you need to build a business case around other ways in which a partner would want to work with you. While you must show that you can make the partner more profitable, you must also demonstrate that you can give the partner the resources it needs to be successful. Think technical training, marketing development, targeted campaigns for customers, sales support and expertise in the field.
No. 3: Understand the customer’s customer
When building out a structured channel sales program, keep in mind your partners’ go-to-market strategies and how they serve their customers. This will help you build systems that allow your partners to deliver your products effectively. For example, when my company, Vision Solutions, a software-as-a-service, disaster recovery and migration services provider, partners with global systems integrators, we understand that the SI will have different needs from a product-delivery standpoint than will a regional solutions provider, although the core elements of partner training and enablement will be the same.
To illustrate, the SI might need to deliver our services to customers in highly regulated verticals, such as the financial industry. For us to get software licenses to that kind of end customer, we need to configure our product portfolio and delivery mechanisms for the SI to ensure it’s in compliance during product delivery.
No. 4: Always Ask for Feedback
Constantly solicit feedback from your distribution partners and, most importantly, listen and incorporate advice. Ask how the selling is going, whether they think the relationship is successful and how it could be improved.
The answers will vary, but any and all feedback is valuable. For example, a partner may say you need to improve your products because customer demand is decreasing, or that technology has moved beyond the old value proposition. This sounds negative, but you should look at this as a positive — a way to always make better products and improve customer satisfaction. We’ve gotten some of our best feedback from the field on ways we can improve our products and services, and, many times, those recommendations make their way into product updates.
Alternatively, negative feedback might reveal that you have not provided key information, a specific tool or proper training during a technical enablement. You then can take the opportunity to retrain and re-engage with your partner and improve their knowledge and understanding of the product. In the Vision Solutions partnership survey, almost nine out of 10 respondents (89 percent) indicated that when selecting partnership programs, technical pre-sales and post-sales support was either “very important" or “important."
Remember, sellers in the field are a valuable resource and have the power to help you improve everything from product development to delivery mechanisms. Partners often want to give that feedback, and soliciting and utilizing it is one of the greatest ways a manufacturer can maintain its relevance, demonstrate its commitment to its partners and evolve as a company.
Successful channel-partner programs are about more than just contracts and handshakes. They’re about creating value. While you depend on partners for your own profits, you also need to ensure you are always making your partners more successful with their own customers as well. If you do this, you’ll make yourself so valuable to your partners that they can’t be successful without you.
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