By Denny Riley, OpsRamp
Partnerships are just that: partnerships. Sounds trite, but in my past experience, many organizations forget the fundamentals of good partnerships and by extension good partner programs. Large, public companies have been built on the backs of strong partner programs, so it’s good to take a critical look at what they are composed of. In this article, I’ll be reviewing those characteristics on behalf of both sides of the table – the Independent Software Vendor (ISV) and Managed Service Provider (MSP), Systems Integrator (SI) or Value-Added Reseller (VAR).
Committing to a vendor is a two-way street. On the one hand, you are aligning your business to a particular horse in the race, perhaps even at the cost of other ISVs (for example, if you have custom application technology that only works on one platform). It’s fair to expect reciprocal commitment. However, winning also means delivering value to the vendor in a way that enables them to deliver greater support back to you.
Consider four major categories of benefits that a good partner program should deliver: Simplicity, Support, Communications, and Business. If you’re the ISV, these should factor heavily into your program to attract top industry partners. If you’re the Managed Solution Provider, Value-Added Reseller, or Systems Integrator, these are the fundamentals you must require from your ISV before you commit development and sales resources.
So what should any of these organizations be on the lookout for when it comes to building strong partnerships?
Ease of Program: A mistake that many software vendors make is not understanding how important it is to remove barriers to entry which otherwise discourage participation. This includes both the simplicity of the program itself, as well as making the product easy to sell.
The ISV. If you offer a “logo program” or other qualification mechanism for resellers to demonstrate expertise to customers, how achievable is it? Members should have a clear set of goals and requirements for each stage of the program, with clear benefits for doing so. Training materials, guidelines, roles and responsibilities should all be delineated so that any potential solutions provider knows the expectations for success. The harder you make it to sell, the less likely anyone is to do so.
The Partner. You should look for ISVs (or their programs) who make it as easy and seamless as possible to sell their products. This means both deep technical and BDM-level content across the sales pipeline, support for answering customer questions – perhaps even in RFPs, and simplified training tools to help your field organization get up to speed quickly on existing, new, or updated offers. If reskilling is needed in order to qualify for the program, the ISV needs to give enough runway for a new partner to come on-board. Some programs offer incentives to partners who meet certain milestones, unlocking greater rewards as criteria are fulfilled (e.g., accelerators).
Overall, the program should be easy to qualify for, align to, participate in, and get trained on. If there’s anything in the program that seems like it would dis-incent a new member, the ISV must be willing to adapt it. If there are things in the software that make it difficult to deploy, manage, and use, or you don’t have sufficient documentation (or automation) to compensate, then (you) the ISV needs to be prepared with support mechanisms and tools to mitigate.
And finally, the most important key to a usable program: people. People want to talk to people. People don’t want to talk to websites. Yes, online support is critical, but if you want your partner to be satisfied, there should be someone willing to answer a 1-800 number.
Partner Support: What naturally follows from simplicity is support. This means more than break-fix engineering (still critical, though) or tele-sales, but speaks to the quality of the program. The right training tools, rather than just the quantity of tools, must address the breadth of scenarios you wish to sell into. Teaching sellers how to sell a solution is as important as teaching them what to sell. How do you differentiate your (ISV) offering? How does the partner build differentiable value with respect to others in the program? This is true partner enablement.
The ISV. Most enterprise systems require considerable customization, configuration, and integration. This means that partners have to be experts not only in your product, but in other platforms, and how yours fits into existing infrastructure. If you don’t train sales engineers on how to build both inside and outside your ecosystem, you’ll be DOA in the marketplace.
The Partner. Do you have what you need to get started? Expect the ISV to help you understand and communicate the unique value proposition of their products:
- Train your sales teams on the marketplace they’re walking into. Look for content on market dynamics, breadth, addressable share, and other factors likely to affect customer interest.
- To enable your field sellers, ask for a suite of collateral that addresses sales and marketing tactics to all levels of a customer’s organization, from the C-suite on down.
- The marketing department should be able to easily deliver directed materials, such as customized presentations, datasheets, emailers, testimonials, ads, videos, experiences/demos, and other white-label content.
- The sales pipeline doesn’t stop once the ink is dry. The ISV’s partner program must include an end-to-end strategy from initial customer engagement and pre-sales activity to feed the funnel, sales support to guide the process, and post-sales customer onboarding with ongoing support.
Partner Communication: Good partners are simpatico. Create and join events together. Drive customer programs together. Create industry excitement together. Going into the market with a unified front connotes commitment, investment, and competitiveness. Customers will see the value in a partner being backed by the vendor, as well as a vendor who has the confidence of their partners. Case studies pretty much write themselves after that.
The ISV. To keep your brand front and center in the hearts and minds of your customers, you need to engage and collaborate with your partners. You need to constantly reach out with news, updates, tools, offers, and other tactics to meet everybody’s common goals—these are the “to-partner” and “through-partner” messages. The partners are your face to the market, so their success is your success. You need only look at the biggest software vendors in the world to understand the value of partner enablement.
The Partner. Provide feedback. Give the ISV insights into what works and what doesn’t … share success stories. What could the ISV do to enhance your go-to-market approach? What changes should the ISV plan for in their product roadmap – you have the ability to influence the next-generation of their platform. Look for opportunities to bring customers into the planning process and communicate that information back to the vendor. You own the customer relationship and are thus uniquely positioned to lead the ISVs where you want them to go.
Business Opportunity: In most situations, neither the ISV nor the partner exist solely to make the other one successful, and no one is getting the exclusive. Everybody is in it to win it, but it is a joint exercise that needs investments—and shared risks—from both sides.
The ISV. You can’t just sit back and collect the business from the partners. You should have a programmatic way of feeding the channel with shared leads, communications strategies, incentives, and a toolbox of “closers” to help partners drive the business forward. Provide clarity and alignment around common goals and issues. Know how to speak to customer challenges, and help the partners address those pains, too.
The Partner. Be open and have honest discussions with the ISV about your shared objectives. Let them know what you need so that each party gets what they desire from the relationship, and everyone understands the resources that each will be contributing to achieve success.
Both the ISVs and the partner community need each other. As each gets larger, the more important it becomes to leverage the unique skills others possess along the value chain. It’s just good partnership. And more importantly, it’s just good business.
About The Author
Denny Riley is VP of Channel Partnerships at OpsRamp.