No longer a trend, partner ecosystems are the new reality.
Maybe I’m jaded because I’ve been writing about partner ecosystems for so many years. In fact, we’ve mentioned it as a “forward-looking trend” for the last five years in our end-of-year channel predictions webinar. It’s not forward-looking anymore. In fact, we're in year two or year three of the new reality where the people, programs and systems are in place to engage and support large partner ecosystems. Am I insulting your intelligence to keep mentioning the increase in partner types populating partner programs? The increase in the sheer number of potential partners? Here are some facts to support the new reality of partner ecosystems and a few, dare I say forward-looking, ways to adapt to the new reality.
Signs the partner ecosystem is a reality
- Ecosystem is everywhere: There are 12,000 people on LinkedIn with ecosystems in their job title and 500,000 people who use ecosystems in their job description.
- Multiple trusted advisors: McKinsey research indicates every mid-size customer or enterprise customer in the world has seven partners they trust. There are multiple trusted advisors in every organization and no longer one primary “throat to choke.”
- More partner types: There are multiple types of organizations and people touching the customer along their journey. It’s no longer just a reseller or a VAR or even what we’ve always called a solution provider. There could be digital agencies, accounting firms, legal companies or consultancies all making recommendations and influencing customers.
- Complete lifecycle engagement: Partners are now part of every stage in the cyclical customer lifecycle. They engage before the transaction with consulting and advice services; during the transaction with ordering and procurement; and after the transaction with implementation, integration and customer success motions.
- Complex solutions: We’ve called partners “solution providers” because historically they’ve combined multiple products (hardware and/or software) and services to build a complete solution. There are often seven to nine products working together. With the proliferation of cloud software and services, the partner ecosystem has adapted to build more and more complex solutions.
- Number of partners: The technology industry went from a half million partners around the world to new estimation of four million. That’s a lot of potential partners.
This is the ecosystem: all these new partners and partner types, all these new roles, and all of us with ‘ecosystem’ in our title who are in the trenches every day creating new processes, solutions, programs, and technology to make it all work together.
Embrace the Ecosystem
- Accommodate different types of partners: With the mishmash and multiple types of partners, there's no longer one ideal partner profile of who can help sell, support, and manage your products with customers. Make sure your partner program can support the many different types of partners in your overall ecosystem that help customers along every touchpoint in the buying journey.
- Identify partners by role: To foster the ecosystem, create programs with flexible engagement structures. Instead of identifying partner types (there are just too many!), segment your partners by the roles they play in the customer lifecycle. Do they advise, sell, build, service, manage? Partners performing different roles need different support and engagement with you.
- Build a points-based partner program: Go a step further and yes, do a little more heavy-lifting. Consider building a points-based program where partners earn points for activities they perform along the customer lifecycle. Those points add up to increased program benefits. It’s like a frequent flyer club – the more you do (fly, buy snacks, rent cars) the more benefits you get with United (whoops, I mean “the airline”). A points-based program rewards partners and, even more importantly, allows you to be nimbler and move your revenue focus around the partner ecosystem as quarterly goals change.
In this year of 2023, the people, the organizations, the programs and the systems involved in the channel have leveled up. Partner ecosystems is not a phase and it’s not a trend, it’s a reality. Has your partner program adapted?
Need help adjusting your partner program for the new reality of partner ecosystems? Or convincing your bosses of the reality? Contact me – I'm happy to chat. Find ways to embrace the ecosystem in your organization and benefit from all the variety partners have to offer.
Diane Krakora is CEO of PartnerPath with over two decades of experience defining the best practices and frameworks around how to develop and manage partnerships.