IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

The Partner Program Mess

To uncomplicate the complicated, partner programs need to be standardized, predictable, and easy to use. By Michelle McBain

COMPLICATED is the “new normal” in the vendor-channel partner landscape. Understanding, executing, and getting paid on multiple vendor programs is already a full-time job for partners, and it will only get worse as they continue to add new vendors in a multicloud and hybrid-cloud world, not to mention emerging tech providers in areas such as IoT, AI, and automation. For vendors and the channel to achieve mutual success, partner programs need to be standardized, predictable, and easy to use.

According to JS Group research, 62% of vendors trust a partner to uncomplicate the complicated; yet 51% of end users say they cannot find someone specialized enough to understand their business. Channel partners also report that they have a poor experience working with smaller and emerging vendors.  

To improve the partner experience, JS Group recommends the following best practices:

Targeting and recruiting. Instead of viewing the channel program in the traditional gold-silver-bronze fashion (yawn), vendors need to see it as an integration of dozens of partner types overlapping in new and interesting ways. Vendors need to support each partner’s journey and experience by integrating into their ecosystem: Understand what partners read, where they go, and who they follow to engage in the right place with the right content and messaging. Through understanding and integrating into their channel communities, vendors will more successfully execute their recruitment strategy and strengthen partner relationships.

Channel onboarding. Firms with the right mix of onboarding tactics will improve revenue and profit from channels because better-educated partners will outperform less engaged ones. Managing today’s channel requires effective handoffs between recruitment, onboarding, short- and long-term incentives, co-selling, and co-marketing. Farming, building, and nurturing expertise and loyalty from current partners while hunting for and recruiting future partners takes planning and skill. Ultimately, this investment will translate into higher channel revenue and loyalty, which then correlates with the long-term success of the partnership. Each partner type, including each individual job role within the partner companies, will require a specialized approach focused on their specific needs.

Incentives, motivation, and loyalty. Common “old school” incentives include volume rebates, new customer bonuses, sales performance incentive funds, market development funds (MDF), embedded headcount, and activity-based rewards. Yet JS Group research shows close to half (48%) of benefits in vendor programs are unused by partners. New trends and complex channels are causing vendors to rethink how they motivate and drive loyalty, particularly with the influx of new partners that look more like influencers, digital marketers, and professional service advocates. Modern incentive programs are experimenting with nonmonetary rewards, micropayments, and gamification.

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