Route-to-Market Goes Through Partners

It’s quite rare to see an enterprise B2B company that isn’t leveraging one or more partner channel to achieve growth and revenue objectives. These partner channels fill very specific roles, ultimately contributing to a sustaining ecosystem of complimentary products, services and communities of practice. From OEMs and ISVs to Solution Providers and VARs, businesses invest heavily to create these critical ecosystems, but quite often success casts a shroud over the reality of maintaining them.

Here are the 5 Partner Ecosystem Mistakes companies make as they attempt to evolve their businesses to support the modern buyer:

#5: Partner marketing efforts are not being planned and executed holistically.

Let’s face it. Supporting such a wide array of partner types is a complex undertaking. Each partner type carries with it unique methods of engagement and enablement in support of the overarching business objectives. The mistake occurs when enterprise companies divide partner responsibilities indiscriminately, creating continuity gaps and breakdowns in what should be a seamless process.

Partner Programs, usually responsible for the economics around partnering, are typically managed at a global level. Like all global operations, being too far removed from the front line restricts in-market specificity and creates challenges in implementing regional partner feedback. Quite often systems and data supporting partner engagement and enablement sits at the corporate level. Accessing them in-region is not always the easiest thing to do. The complexity translates into field partner teams struggling to align program benefits to partner needs and interests. In-theater authenticity fails, and partner participation stumbles.

Frequently I see large enterprises break partner responsibilities along three borders: Programs, Engagement and Enablement. With borders come the inevitable breakdowns in communications and execution. These breakdowns diminish program continuity, and therefore, revenue optimization.

Partner organizations should understand that programs, engagement and enablement should be unified and aligned to the same success metrics.

#4: Partner investment is not proportionate to revenue contribution.

I’m always amazed when I see  disproportionate spending along the demand process. When growth and revenue requires more pipeline, the default answer is more top-line investment. How is it that the conversion points get so little attention? Huge investments are being made in marketing automation and content development. As a result, more and better qualified leads are being pulled into the demand engine, but there is still a huge problem in getting those leads into the hands of engaged and qualified partners.

Integration of marketing automation and CRM is intended to get more out of the top-line investment. Leading direct sales organizations are starting to see the benefits of nurturing within the demand process, but it all falls apart when considering the Partner Channel. This is a problem for companies that see a majority of their revenue coming through the channel.

The investment in “to and through” marketing automation and lead management needs to carry through to support the channel.

#3: Customer journey gets attention, while partner journey is ignored.

Yeah, I know. If I hear “Customer Journey” one more time…

Important? Absolutely! Just as important (if not more so) is understanding the Partner Journey. Getting close to customers is what our partners do! Understanding the intersection of Customer and Partner demands that we know what leads up to that moment. Their are two parts to this mistake. The first I already covered, only focusing on the customer journey. The second part is when businesses generalize their partner journey by taking an “inside – out” approach to building it.

It’s important to identify Partner Journeys – outside-in – by partner type, with clear understanding of the Customer and Partner intersection.

#2: Partner engagement takes the form of batch and blast.

Right along side #5, the way partner engagement is executed deserves attention. In recent conversations with various channel partners representing two markets – technology and energy management – I gained some interesting insights. All of the partners complained about getting bombarded with irrelevant information from every supplier.

How is it that suppliers don’t have an intimate understanding of their partners’ strengths and specialties, then focus communications around those capabilities? Is it that suppliers are too lazy to do it right, or perhaps this is made manifest by mistakes #5 and #4.

It is imperative that suppliers get to know their partners, segment them intelligently, then communicate meaningfully.

#1: Consideration of the partner’s role in the demand process is typically an afterthought.

I’ve been involved in many revenue planning workshops in my career. So much time and attention is always applied to products, product families, awareness marketing and demand generation. Far too often, the step children that are: Sales Enablement and Services are barely brought up in conversations.

You’re probably wondering why I’ve not brought up Partner? Well, because it is usually lumped under Sales Enablement. It just goes to show how the partner’s role is considered tertiary to the exercise. That, my friends, is a problem.

Since “Partner” plays such an important role in the demand process, it should be the cornerstone of planning.

There are so many more things to say, but I’ve already run up against the the attention span limit of 99% of the planet’s population. Good luck in your partner efforts. Let me know what you’re doing to empower that critical role in your demand process.

Image courtesy of Simon Harrod.
Image: Moss Creative Commons Licence Attribution 2.0 – Generic.