Guest Column | January 4, 2019

Software Providers: Help Your Partners Help Themselves

By Tom Brigiotta, Rocket Software

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How partner enablement benefits developer and reseller alike.

Partnerships take work. Whether you’re going into business together or tying the knot, both parties have a set of expectations for the other and duties each must fulfill. That’s why it’s so important to find a good match — because when it’s right, both members benefit and grow.

In this respect, enterprise software channel sales are like any other partnership. The software vendor brings the technology, while resellers bring the customers. Both make money when the customer buys the solution.

Channel sales can be an effective strategy for software developers to expand their sales network without taking on the risk of hiring a whole new team. But channel partnerships also come with certain risks of their own. The mistake that both parties, vender and reseller, can make is thinking that their relationship is a passive one. Having spent nearly 30 years in enterprise software sales, I can tell you that there’s no such thing as a passive channel partnership — at least not one that lasts.

To be successful, channel partnerships require constant communication and most importantly, growth. As a vendor, your end of the bargain is to help partners help themselves. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions to engage partners from the very beginning to help drive joint success.

Choose Partners That Match Your Go-To-Market Strategy

Vendors have traditionally seen their partnerships with resellers as a “sell-through” relationship — that is to say, the reseller functions as a kind of outsourced sales group that operates and organizes selling activities relatively independently. There is nothing wrong with this strategy and it can definitely help you to move additional product. However, many companies today are entering into partnerships that do not fall into this category.

One approach is the “sell-with” strategy, in which the vendor and the reseller coordinate efforts, leveraging each other’s expertise and customer bases. Many companies call these types of resellers “alliance” partners. In these types of partnerships, the software vendor usually provides sales collateral and training that enables the VAR to clearly position and articulate their joint value proposition. While an alliance relationship requires more engagement from the developer, the synergistic opportunities they present can amplify sales for both companies.

Whichever strategy your organization’s leadership agrees is best, the lesson here for vendors is to be selective about which resellers they partner with. Ultimately, the decision about who to partner with should follow from the go-to-market strategy. If the defined strategy is sell-with, then establishing sell-through partnerships can undermine those efforts (and vice-versa). While non-strategic partnerships might increase sales in the short-time, they also can serve to confuse customers and frustrate resellers, both which wreak havoc on the brand you’re trying to build.

Be Selective About Who You Partner With

Sell-through or sell-with, every channel partner needs engagement on behalf of the software vendor to succeed. If the VAR or reseller is out of touch with the latest developments in your company, they’re not only not on-brand, but they’re probably selling old software, too. Either way, letting resellers go on their merry way without having a plan for keeping them engaged is the easiest way to lead to an unproductive partnership.

The task of enabling partners starts with how you select partners. Only partnering with organizations whose vision and values matches your own minimizes the amount of work you need to do for them to understand and be able to articulate your value proposition. The other key when it comes to selecting partners is to only form relationships with the number of firms you can reasonably manage. A focus on quality over quantity allows you to have a high-touch relationship with channel partners and increase the effectiveness and longevity of each partnership.

Help Partners On Their Digital Transformation Journey

Everyone knows that enterprise software is a fast-moving industry, and that it’s easy for software vendors to become irrelevant if they’re not mindful of market conditions. Well, the same thing is true of channel sales partners, who depend on vendors for the latest technology. But the dependency goes both ways: Poor channel relationships in which the VARs refuse or are unable to innovate essentially makes all the hard work your engineers have put into making improvements irrelevant.

If your relationship with a partner isn’t progressing, then it’s stagnating, and that means you’re in danger of losing it. Either their business may become irrelevant, or you, the vendor, may have to leave them behind. Every vendor (and reseller) should want to avoid this. To do that, you and your partners should agree on growth and evolution strategies from the outset. Educate them on how adopting your newest technologies will help keep them relevant in a rapidly-changing environment and put them on a plan for incorporating regular updates into their solutions.

Additionally, agree that if the relationship is fruitful (i.e., meets certain metrics), that the two of you will consider doing more business together and add new products to their catalogue. The key to this is to show resellers how adopting your newest products will help keep them relevant in this constantly-evolving industry. Here are a few suggestions to achieve this:

  • Visit your partners regularly to give them demos of the latest products. Emphasize how they fit into the reseller’s current offerings and customer base.
  • Send out newsletters alerting partners about product improvements and new product announcements. Give them time to become familiar with new solutions on their own before you reach out to them personally.
  • Schedule regular trainings to make sure they’re using current products to the greatest possible degree. This increases their satisfaction with the products they’re currently using and helps build trust that you have your mutual interests in mind.
  • Ask for input from your partners to make sure that future versions have the improvements they’re looking for. Not only does it help make them feel more engaged, but channel sales partners are there, on the ground, with your customers, and are a great resource that should be utilized by your product engineers anyway!

In the software business, innovation comes at a breakneck pace, and not keeping up can be fatal. If your business opts for a channel sales strategy, remember that it is an active relationship that requires buy-in from both parties. Keep your channel partners close, however, and you set yourself up for a long and productive relationship.

About The AuthorTom Brigiotta, Rocket Software

Tom Brigiotta is SVP and Chief Revenue Officer at Rocket Software, where he is responsible for driving Rocket’s sales strategy and execution. Prior to Rocket, he spent 8 years at Imprivata as Senior Vice President of WW Sales and Field Operations. While at Imprivata, Tom led the go-to-market transformation from a horizontal Single Sign-On (SS) Technology Company to a Healthcare Access management market leader and his team achieved significant multi-year revenue growth.