Frustrated with overly-complicated, inconsistent partner programmes, partners are seizing the initiative to build deeper, more strategic customer connections. Gone are the days of shifting boxes and showcasing features. They're now fully-fledged consultants, advising customers on everything from technology trends and innovation to solution and service integration.
Ultimately, the conversation is all about outcomes: what each customer will be able to do better, as a result. This puts the power firmly in the palms of the partner, and is driving need and demand from the bottom up, rather than vendors dictating and sending their instruction from the top down, as it has been historically.
Collaboration is critical
Just 77% of partners consider Partner Programmes to be important in determining their relationships with vendors - down sharply from 94 per cent in 2016. Nearly 1 in 10 (9%) feel that programmes were “not at all important”, while almost a quarter alarmingly conclude they "lack importance"(1).
Of course, no one is suggesting that partner programmes no longer have a role to play - or that they still have the potential to make a significant difference to a partner business. It's more that their substance and shape need to change - and fast.
Really, these findings are a warning to vendors. A shot across the bows, telling them they need to align with their partners more closely and understand their needs. This support, through knowledge and collaboration is even more important as the market becomes convoluted and disrupted with developing and emerging cloud, AI and other digital technologies.
After all, when it comes to vendors, partners now have more choice than ever when considering who they work with. Fancy products and shiny new features are no longer enough to entice them on their own. Especially as there's really not that much genuine differentiation about these days! They're more likely to value mutual working relationships, the emotional benefits rather than the physical.
So, vendors must focus on involving partners more closely in strategic discussions. By immersing themselves early and ensuring both parties contribute to planning, the resulting programmes will deliver greater value to vendors and partners alike.
It's still about selling
The role of a partner is still primarily to sell stuff – let’s not forget that! Sure, it's a more complex mix of services, solutions, consultancy, support, relationships, and so on... than it used to be. But it's still ultimately about selling, that is fundamentally the reason they get up every morning! It's just that now, partners place emphasis on relationships, service and satisfaction, rather than speeds and specs.
Logically then, the vendor or vendors that make it easiest for a partner to sell and consistently ask (and successfully answer) the question “how can we make it easier for our partners to sell more of our stuff than our competitors?”, will win their trust.
Two great ways to achieve this, are through strong Partner Programmes and Portals which are simple to use and easy to understand; and offer compelling support and rewards. All adding up to keeping it simple and ensuring that doing business is as easy and hassle-free as possible.
That's what gets today's partners excited... and it's something we know a fair bit about here at purechannels. Because we've been doing it for a while.
In fact, and most notably, we did it back in 2015, when we refreshed and relaunched Vodafone UK's partner programme to make it partner-centric, not Vodafone-centric. Putting partners at the heart of everything… at every touch point and in every deliverable, engaging Vodafone executives and partners to help us define the right structure, members, requirements and benefits.
It was worth the effort. Purechannels won a Runner Up award at 2017's International B2B Marketing Awards. We were well ahead of the game - but that's what you get when you work with a dedicated channel agency!
1 Canalys research, 2018