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Relayware Partner Relationship Management

Are You Motivating Partners Based on Their Real Needs?

Posted on January 13, 2014 by Chris Bucholtz

Getting people to do the things you want them to do is difficult, and it’s complicated by the fact that the process you use to motivate them to do those things varies depending on the relationship you have. When one side has all the power, “do it or else” works. But when the relationship becomes more complex – and when each side has different motivations – motivation becomes a more nuanced thing.

Think of your own work relationships. You would never demand that a peer do something, and not just because you lack the power to fire that person. You wouldn’t do it because it’s socially uncomfortable, and often when people are presented with an ultimatum that has no power behind it, it hardens them against the person making the demand.

So how do you motivate people to do what you need them to do? By reasoning, bargaining and relationship building. The key to that is understanding what motivates those you are trying to influence.

The same holds true for channel partners. A simplified view suggests that the only motivation partners have is money. That’s an important one – but it only goes so far.

If you have a partner who resells your products and those of competing vendors, that partner may realize the same revenue no matter whose product is part of the deal. Once the competing vendors offer a similar price point, motivating the partner around price becomes difficult. What then?

I was talking about this with our own Ken Snyder, pre-sales engineer at Relayware. He drew an interesting and apt metaphor, comparing this motivation process to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

For those of you who have forgotten your Psych 101 courses, the Hierarchy of Needs is a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization. This is most often presented as a pyramid, with the most basic needs at the base and self-actualization at the top. From the base to the peak are sets of needs: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

In a reseller context, the base levels might be seen in similar survival-oriented ways -  resellers need income, and they need the ability to provide service around your products. Otherwise, they will fail. But once those aspects are satisfied, other motivators come into play – and they’re congruent to what’s in Maslow’s hierarchy.

So, say you’ve got a gold-level or very high silver-level partner. You want them to do better and to choose your products over other competing vendors – but they’re already making their own revenue goals. More money is always better, of course – but there are other things you can offer them. Access to specialized or additional training, expanded co-marketing opportunities and provision of additional leads all have potential impacts on sales, but they also indicate a closer relationship between partner and vendor. They play into the needs hierarchy; when partners feel that the vendor knows and acknowledges them, it taps into that “love/belonging” level of the hierarchy. Helping a partner feel like an especially wanted part of the partner community builds loyalty by building on the needs of the people running that partner – and can help lead the partner to choose you over a competitor.

Rewards – anything from trophies and “badges” provided through gamification to elevations from silver to gold to platinum levels – plays into the esteem level of the hierarchy. Not only do these partners feel like they play an important role with the vendor, the vendor has acknowledged that role. The vendor has indicated its loyalty – and by doing so it builds loyalty with the partner.

The real trick in employing this idea is to understand where a partner is on the hierarchy. Awarding a gamification badge to a partner who’s struggling to keep the doors open is unlikely to have much of an impact. Similarly, offering an unsolicited discount to a partner who’s already fully engaged may be appreciated, but it’ll have little effect on loyalty and behavior.

In order to understand what motivations are needed, you need visibility into their relationships with you and their effectiveness in selling your products, and their satisfaction with you as a vendor. That’s not a simple thing to assess – and it’s too fluid a thing to understand without a channel management platform to provide an up-to-date picture of where each partner in your channel program stands. But if you can consistently assess where partners stand – perhaps using Maslow’s ideas to help steer your strategy – you can make both ends of the vendor-reseller relationship feel better about their roles and themselves.