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Partner Enablement: Not a Cookie-Cutter Process

03.23.17

By Diane Krakora, CEO of PartnerPath

enablement-cookies.jpgPartner enablement is a tricky thing. Ostensibly, it’s a process designed to help partners be more self-sufficient and able to sell and support solutions to end-customers. In reality, it’s a measuring stick used by vendors to determine when their partners are ready to sell their technology, regardless of whether they actually are. Without a doubt, enablement is a critical process for both vendors and their partners – with the scope and process ever-changing.

The concept of partner enablement was highlighted during our most recent webinar featuring Jo Pettifer, Vice President EMEA Marketing at Box. During the hour-long discussion, Jo and I bandied about what enablement means, what it should mean, and how vendors are using (or misusing) the partner enablement process.

Enablement is never done.

Traditionally, vendors have applied certain metrics such as completion of training courses or certifications, to measure partner readiness. This was fine when the partner role was mainly that of reseller and sometimes installer. It was easy to determine whether partners knew enough about the technology to sell to the right customer in the right environment. 

But that was then and this is now. Customer shifts to the cloud and services-based IT have turned partner roles on their ear, pushing them to evolve their business models and be providers of solutions, not hardware, and create value in addressing customer needs through personalized technology offerings.

The fluid nature of this new business model means the traditional means of measuring enablement among partners just doesn’t work.

“Does [a fully enabled partner] ever exist?” Jo asked. “So much is changing in the dynamics that enablement is an ongoing growth process. Vendors can measure enablement, but it’s got to be a continuum” rather than checking off items on a list.

We at PartnerPath believe a partner is enabled when it can independently initiate and complete the sales process and effectively implement and support the customer solution. But enablement must shift from an endgame to an ongoing activity. No longer do partners need just technical skills and certifications, and long gone are the days when partners hit a threshold and, voilà! They’re enabled.

Enablement is important to partners.

In our 2017 State of Partnering survey evaluating what elements most greatly affect partner experience, partners ranked post-sales services enablement as the most important element of the enablement pillar by a wide margin. Following at a distant second was access to services methodologies and tools, while pre-sales technical training took the third spot.

Enablement-elements-2017.png

Those results did not surprise Jo. “Services delivery is the most margin-intensive niche for partners,” she said. “It’s a core revenue stream for them, and it demonstrates their value to their customers. Anyone can go and sell a license, but how do they make it come alive for them?”

And, since partners are the “face” of the solution to customers, she added, offering those services to ensure customers can get to their desired outcomes, how they accomplish that is core to their business.

But as highly as partners ranked post-sales services enablement, vendors taking part in the survey ranked it almost dead last – behind only “business transformation to a subscription-based model” – in priority for their partners.

Again, Jo was nonplussed by the results. “From a vendor perspective, it’s hard. It’s really hard,” she said. “Customer environments are complex and every one is different. How do you keep up with enabling partners and your internal consultancy and services delivery team with an ever-changing customer environment?”

It’s for that reason that vendors are content to stick their heads in the sand and hope their partners don’t ask for post-sales services enablement. But that’s a dangerous tack.

Be proactive.

This new era of digital transformation has shifted the power structure to the partners. Today, partners own the customer relationship, not the vendors. Which means vendors must be proactive, not reactive, in addressing partner needs or even demands.

“Partners have so many vendors to choose from,” Jo said. “The difference will be which ones give them a richer experience and share that experience.”

Do you have the solid approach to enablement or are you having trouble determining how to enable partners and define enabled partners to your teams? Tell us what works or doesn’t work for you.

Diane-Krakora.jpgDiane Krakora is CEO of PartnerPath with two decades of experience defining the best practices and frameworks around how to develop and manage partnerships.

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