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Channeling success: Helping you and your partners derive the most from your partnership

Tue, 7th Jun 2016
FYI, this story is more than a year old

It's been a week filled with channel-related questions from clients and provider announcements. Perhaps because it's spring and love is in the air, providers thinking “channel” and “ecosystem” and hopping into action.

Today's Cisco/IBM/Bell Canada partnership announcement provides me with a data point (and a reason – I was LOOKING for a blog topic) for discussion about some critical elements to remember when creating (theoretically) strategic partnerships.

First, the announcement, which was fully buzzword compliant (the following is from PR Newswire – so it's right out of the horses' mouths): “IBM and Cisco Combine the Power of Watson Internet of Things with Edge Analytics.

Somehow, Bell Canada, which is actually the delivery partner in the mix, drew the short straw with respect to the title, but happily its capabilities and value were described later in the announcement.

But this blog isn't about criticism of this particular announcement; it seeks to offer advice on how to ensure you and your partners derive the most from your partnerships. So what are a few things that come to mind when reading an announcement like this?

  1. Explain why 1+1=3: What's the value inherent in the partnership? Why is the power of two together better than approaching each individually? In this case, as an example, one would assume that IBM, Cisco (and Bell Canada) are pre-integrating and testing their capabilities in cognitive and edge analytics, data transport and cloud to create solutions that would otherwise cost an arm and a leg to stitch together. Make sure that your partnerships easily demonstrate added value to clients and address specific pain points.  
  2. Create metrics and/or KPIs among the partners to ensure activity, interest and (hopefully) results: a partnership without pre-established goals is little more than an announcement (back in the day, we'd call these “Barney announcements” as partners simply professed love for one another with no additional substance provided). Particularly for those partnerships that desire or demand marketing and sales support on either or both sides, metrics that are minded and reported regularly are critical.  
  3. Don't just collaborate on marketing; collaborate on enablement: channel marketers among partners may well collaborate on materials to provide to prospects, but ensuring that the appropriate roles – mostly the sellers – on all sides actually understand the mission, offerings, go to market plans, pricing, customers/roles/personas to target, competition, etc. will be key to success. Whether through webinars, videos, presentations at kickoffs or all of the above, create an enablement plan for all those involved with customer interaction. Plan also to refresh this at regular intervals, particularly when there are new releases, customer wins, etc. worth addressing.  
  4. Figure out support plans: someone has to own the customer relationship, and while decisions about who would take level 2 and 3 support calls may well depend upon how offerings are licensed, there is typically a clear choice for the first level of support. Typically, whoever owns the (inter)face to the customer would be responsible for level 1 support since customers will often assume that provider “speaks” for all technology in the solution, but generally speaking, the provider of the platform providing primary value to the customer would take the lead. After that, ensure that the appropriate agreements and handoffs are created to ensure that if a problem lives in a partner component or integrated product, support can be provided and the customer kept whole.  
  5. Create an organised approach to customers: this basically means “make sure that all parties don't attack the same customer without knowing each other is in there.” It could also mean that partners agree to split different types of customers, geographies, etc. depending upon what's being offered and to whom. Ideally, the established partnership will result in an amalgam of experience and sales tactics that are additive and mesh well together. But making sure that boundaries, if needed, are created will save much angst down the road relative to territories and customer targeting.

Obviously, there's more to be discussed and accomplished in a strategic partnership, but these five items hit the highlights of what occurred to me as I read today's announcement and digested some of the discussions I've had with clients of late.

I will be anxious to see what the IBM/Cisco/Bell Atlantic partnership announcement yields in terms of integrated offerings or solutions and new customer wins. Hopefully, they've addressed the above to help those come to fruition.

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