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Relayware Partner Relationship Management

Your Customers Are All That Matter Pt. 2

Controlling the customer journey and experience when you don’t really own the customer

Posted on September 10, 2014 by Mike Morgan

Last week, I discussed the important role that channel partners play in your customer relationship. Catch up on that here. As I mentioned, the channel was servicing the vast majority of your target customers before the recession, they continue doing so and will well into the future.

Though these facts cannot be disputed, there remains a lack of focus and investment on indirect channels. Too many senior executives stubbornly believe that their brand carries more weight than their indirect channel, and as a consequence, the brand will generate the demand and the channel will merely fulfil the demand.

There are a couple of flaws in that belief. First, most products and services we buy are part of a whole solution that addresses our needs as a customer. This means that the product is only of the total sum. Your partners are the cooks that combine the ingredients into a consumable dish for the customer in a way that you alone cannot. And to round off this particular metaphor, don’t forget that your partners serve the menu, make and serve the meal as well as wash the dishes too.

Secondly, your channel partners are seen by the customer as an independent, vendor-agnostic trusted advisor to the customer. Whether they’re a technology system integrator, an independent financial advisor, a motorcycle dealer or an insurance broker -- the customer expects they are getting sound and impartial advice.

In the same way that social media can be an enemy or an ally to a company by moulding public opinion and influencing potential customers, a channel partner can win or lose you a customer based on the perceived quality or lack of quality of your relationship with that partner. The quality of your relationships with your channel partners is entirely down to you and your company’s execution of a channel strategy. This strategy must take into account both your company’s needs as well as meeting the needs of your channel partners. This requires that vendors devotes equal attention to executing well in every phase of the partner lifecycle as well as fluid two-communication throughout:

  1. Selection and Segmentation
  2. Recruitment and Onboarding
  3. Training and Enablement
  4. Establishing Shared Goals
  5. Incentivization, Motivation and Compensation
  6. Go-to-Market Collaboration
  7. Provision of Information, Tools and Resources
  8. Performance Management and Optimization

 

Many companies succeed in executing such a holistic channel strategy, but only to a handful of their top performing partners. This effectively engineers a self-fulfilling Pareto principle and an over-dependency on just another set of large “customers” with all of the economic disadvantages I highlighted earlier. The rest are left behind.

The consequences of poor execution across the board to all partners are clear and profound. I encounter dozens of companies every week who go merely through the motions. Companies who, through carbon-copy partner programs fail to recognize that their indirect sales channel represents 10s or 100,000s of people and make a living out of marketing, selling and supporting the things they make to the customers they covet.

Remember that in over 90% of all buying decisions, most depend on a combination of your direct marketing execution (assuming you can influence the customer BEFORE they engage their channel partner) and the effectiveness of your channel strategy in influencing your channel partner’s behaviour once engaged with the customer. But which carries more weight in the final moment of truth? Even if your competitor’s marketing execution is weaker than yours, but they have greater influence over the channel partner than you do, all other things being equal, you will lose most of the time.

So how effective are you addressing the needs of customers who are serviced not by you directly, but rather by your channel partners? And just how effectively are you partnering with the channel to help them to be more likely to market and sell for you and delight your customers every step of the way? Here are my suggestions for some next steps:

  • Go meet your customers. Not just the blue chips, but try meeting the small to medium-sized business owners as well.  Ask them:
    • What they buy, who they buy it from and why?
    • What value they perceive in their relationship with their local seller?
    • How much influence the seller has on their buying decisions?
  • Meet your channel partners - large and small;  loyal and disloyal. Ask them:
    • Which is their top vendor and why?
    • What makes a great supplier and a poor one?
    • Rank you and tell you what you could do better.
    • If you made their suggested changes, would they recommend your products over those of the competition?
  • Find out what proportion of your human resource, IT and marketing budgets go towards providing manpower, systems, tools, resources and air cover to your channel sales and marketing operation.
  • Talk to your channel sales and marketing teams. Find out:
    • What do your internal teams do?
    • How can you make them more successful in winning channel mindshare and retaining their loyalty?
    • Where do you generate most of your channel revenue from?
    • How many partners do you have in total and how many bring in the bulk of the revenue?
    • What % of the channel are you actually collaborating and communicating with?
    • What results could be achieved from doing these things better?
    • What tools does your team believe it needs to be more effective?

 

  • Ask your internal teams the tough questions. When most of the company’s revenue flows through an indirect sales channel, why is it that we:
    • Don’t know who or where they are?
    • Don’t know what they do, what their skills are, which specialties they have, or which markets and customers they address?
    • Can’t communicate with them at all or at least not through their preferred medium?
    • Communicate the same message in the same way to the whole channel regardless of profile?
    • Don’t know if the channel partners we work with today are the right ones to reach the markets we want to target?
    • Don’t know where to go or how to go about recruiting the right channel partners?
    • Don’t segment our channel partners effectively so that we can work with them in the most complementary fashion?
    • Don’t have a means of enabling and educating the channel so that they are more capable and comfortable recommending our product than our competitor’s product?
    • Don’t motivate and incentivize channel sales people as effectively as we motivate and incentivize our own?
    • Don’t share in the proceeds of growth?
    • Don’t collaborate effectively in marketing – same message, same audience and same time every time?
    • Don’t collaborate effectively in selling – generating, sharing and closing sales leads and supporting customer engagement?
    • Don’t provide the same 24x7, on-demand access to essential sales, marketing and support information, tools, assets and resources that we give to our own people?
    • Don’t monitor and optimize sales and marketing performance for our indirect channel in the same way that we monitor and optimize that of our own people?

 

And then, ask the big question again: “are your customers all that count?”

The answers to these questions will help you identify the weak link and how you can increase sales.

Take a look at the top-10 leader board in every sector of the market. If necessary, compare it with the same table from 2000 and 2010. Make a note of the leaders and the changes.

The most successful companies with an indirect or multi-channel go-to-market strategy are consistently those who make it their business to effectively leverage their indirect channels. They embrace the channel as a true extension of their own sales and marketing organization, providing them with the “equipment” and “ammunition” to sell and market effectively and collaboratively on their behalf. And they empower their partners to be as effective as they are in delighting their customers. Doing so is engrained in their culture. We work with many of these successful companies.

Remember to keep an eye on and cultivate a relationship with the men and women who don’t just buy your products, but devote their working life to selling and supporting your customers too. You don’t pay their salary or bonus; you don’t give them a desk, chair or phone; you don’t pay for their healthcare or provide for a pension, but without them your company wouldn’t be where it is today. These are relationships you can’t afford to ignore.

By Mike Morgan,

CEO Relayware

 

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