Many channel pros think of partnering with their peers as sleeping with the enemy. Stuart Crawford is emphatically not one of them.
Crawford is senior adviser and partner at Ulistic Inc., a Calgary, Canada-based IT solution provider. "We partner with other firms whenever the opportunity presents itself," he says. Crawford routinely joins forces with partners that have skills his company lacks, or that maintain offices in cities where his clients have branch sites but his company doesn't. "It gives you a competitive advantage," he asserts. "We can offer a complete A-to-Z solution to our client base."
Once rare, Crawford's passion for partnering is becoming increasingly common, as more and more channel pros conclude that teaming up with peers is smart business. Sharing customer engagements and even management advice with potential competitors may sound risky, they say, but it usually produces new revenues and faster growth.
NEVER SAY NO
The logic behind collaborating with other partners is simple: Few IT firms have the skills to meet every client need. Some networking specialists lack expertise in business applications, for example, while some business application experts have limited knowledge of Web development. When customers ask for help your firm can't provide, you can either leave them stranded or earn their loyalty by essentially subcontracting the work to another channel pro.
"Never say no to your end user," advises Kirk Robinson, vice president, channel marketing at Santa Ana, Calif.-based distributor Ingram Micro Inc. "We see stronger growth from resellers that are willing to go out and partner."
Of course, stronger growth for resellers ultimately means stronger growth for Ingram Micro too, which is why the company's SMB Alliance and other channel organizations actively promote partnering among members. In fact, many IT providers view distributors such as Ingram, along with major software and hardware vendors, as the best source for partner referrals. "We really lean on our vendors," says Crawford, who regularly asks both Microsoft and security appliance maker SonicWall Inc., of Sunnyvale, Calif., for leads on new partners.
Identifying potential collaborators, though, is only step one in the partnering process. Before setting a new ally loose on your clients, spend some time confirming that they share your approach to customer service, responsiveness, and dependability. Next, work out detailed profit-sharing arrangements and service-level expectations--in writing. Verbal agreements are too likely to produce disputes later on. Finally, once your partnership is in place, be sure to stay in close touch on pending issues and new opportunities.
"You've got to get in front of people on a fairly regular basis," says Jim Duckett, president and CEO of Phoenix-based integrator Net Fusion Corp. Duckett meets weekly with his firm's top partners, and exchanges phone calls and emails even more frequently.