By Diane Krakora, CEO
I'll tell you now, this is not one of those blogs where I give tips and solutions to make your channel program awesome. Rather, this is what is sometimes called “channel therapy” – a.k.a. our twice-annual channel roundtable with channel executives. We share problems, listen with empathy to ever-growing challenges and give advice to each other. At the end of these sessions someone always comments, “So, we're all facing similar problems. That's good to know. No one has it figured out.” Indeed.
1. Willingness to share.
We had quite a mix of attendees: big companies (IBM, SAP, Google) and small companies (Cylance, Aptare); organizations that collaborate and those that compete; individuals who've known each other for years and those who had only just met. I was surprised and excited to hear the participants talk at length and with detail in support of each other’s individual growth goals and company’s success. In a competitive industry, and at a rather rough political time with a lot of negativity floating around (just ask me about Thanksgiving with the family), it was very heartening to watch the open, honest, kind and helpful exchange of ideas. You never know where that next great idea may come from and we in the channels have an awesome community of helpful and knowledgeable people. Don't neglect this resource. (Okay, so that was a helpful tip for awesome partnering.)
2. Similar priorities.
As a foundation, we all agreed that partner experience leads to partner engagement and engagement drives channel sales. So my first question to the group was about their priorities for 2017 and creating a fantastic partner experience. As we went around the room, three priorities emerged: channel model, partner program and infrastructure.
The channel model conversation included how to define partner roles in a subscription- or cloud-based consumption model; how and if to segment partners into transactional models; the financial aspects of a cloud channel model (discount, deal registration, co-marketing monies, rebate, influence fees, and more) and leveraging distribution. Regarding distribution, we had a particularly lengthy and eye-opening discussion on cloud marketplaces. Many of the vendors in the room were trying cloud marketplaces and experimenting with the value proposition, but unsure if anyone was actually shopping there.
The second priority was enhancing or refining partner programs. We talked at length about deal registration structures, co-marketing initiatives, incorporating professional services and support into the overall partner program and how to navigate the conversation of who owns the customer. Some of our guests have large, established programs and others smaller, newer programs, but all of them agreed on the direct effect the program itself has on partner experience.
Our third uncovered priority was infrastructure – the systems and tools used to automate partner collaboration, communication and management. This was not only about automating partner programs with PRM (self-serving plug about our awesome PRM system here), but also about specific challenges enabling partners to do effective marketing as well as measuring the ROI of MDF programs and SEO campaigns. Additionally, there was a lot of angst and hand-ringing around tying systems together to produce better dashboards and scorecards for both themselves to manage the channel business and for their partners to track their own performance.
3. Cloud challenges.
Each of the attendees were struggling with the duality of selling in the cloud. They know they need to invest in channel partners who are moving to the cloud and not invest in those solution providers who are not (about 13% from our research). However, the vendors still want to support the on-prem business (and partners) until it dies or is completely taken over by the subscription model. (It's one thing to not invest and another to ignore or defund a part of the business which still bring in revenue.) Each of the vendors in the room seemed to have the business model transition issues just like partners do. From aligning contracts (click-wrap or signed with a pen) to services and compensation of their field teams, the participants shared challenges and ideas on how to make a move to a channel model in the cloud work. All this know that, at the end of the day, the customer doesn’t care how the solution is delivered, they care about what gets delivered.
Keep the conversation open.
I am very honored and blessed to be able to work with these bright channel minds in fostering in the next version of channel models, programs and frameworks for tomorrow’s generation of solution providers and channel leaders. Sometimes it's hard to block time in your calendar to talk, think, discuss and share. Too often it's about the next meeting, call or email. But I encourage you to maintain your channel friendships and take time for a little channel therapy. I know I will – and I hope to see you at an upcoming channel roundtable. Email me if you or your channel executive would like to attend.