By Bob Skelley
As a solution provider, you spend a lot of time trying to differentiate yourself from competitors. One big key to success: Picking the right technology suppliers. All your efforts to brand yourself as uniquely qualified to help customers solve problems can come undone if you fail to develop partnerships with tech vendors that also deliver exceptional capabilities. To make sure your vendor partnerships support your strategic goals — and meet your customers’ expectations — ask yourself three questions:
Ultimately, customers will determine the success or failure of your technology partnerships. With that in mind, approach your vendor strategy by thinking about the roles you want to fill for customers. There are two primary paths you can take:
Solution providers occasionally forget what they do best and try to be everything to everyone. In rare cases, that works, but the key is to understand what is best for your company and for your customers. For example, being a vendor-specific or vendor-neutral partner both come with advantages. If you tightly align with a few vendors, you’ll be able to create strong relationship with their sales, marketing and executive teams, but what else will your partners give in return for this near-exclusivity? If the loyalty doesn’t come with benefits for your company, then it may not be the best fit. Likewise, customers are just as likely to respond positively to vendor-agnostic approaches. They’ll know your broad stable of vendor partnerships means you can deliver a best-of-breed solution portfolio. Each strategy has benefits and drawbacks.
Almost every vendor has a technology partnership program, but the value of these relationships needs to fit your goals. Even if a technology meshes well with your offerings, if the business relationship doesn’t work, the partnership is doomed to fail. There’s a serious need to weigh customer and business interests before making decisions. Just because an exclusive partnership comes with a long list of perks that can advance your organization, that doesn’t mean it’s right for your customers. If an alliance doesn’t improve your ability to serve your customers, it’s probably not the best option.
A crucial consideration of a partnership program is the vendor’s engagement models, which must value partner contributions toward go-to-market strategies. All of the benefits a company can offer are irrelevant if working with its team is too difficult or its sales department doesn’t engage effectively. A company isn’t just its product or its profits. Every aspect of the relationship needs to factor into the decision, whether it’s the percentage of opportunities that get approval or the approach to resolving inevitable conflicts.
Once you know what kind of partners you want and how many, you’ll need to investigate their technologies. Assess the market opportunity and the technology’s point on the adoption curve. Can the vendor’s products and services help your existing customers? Do your research, and then decide the level at which your company can invest. Market demand for the product, paired with a technology that is ready to take off, can be a major opportunity to reap substantial value from the partnership. On the other hand, immature technology and a skeptical market should limit the amount that you invest.
Solution providers, whether they are younger companies or long-established players, succeed in large part by making careful partnership decisions. The best vendor alliances are based on research and customer needs, and they offer results that benefit all parties.
Bob Skelley is the vice president of global channel for Infinio. He has more than 20 years of executive-level experience in the channel, most recently as executive director of North American Channel Sales at Dell. Skelley also served as global vice president of channel strategy and operations at EqualLogic before the company was acquired in 2008 by Dell.