Loyalty and trust: How a successful channel partnership can blossom

PCR speaks with Betsy Doughty, VP corporate marketing at Spectra Logic, Doug Williams, northern Europe alliance and channel director at Scality and Kevin Rhone, channel acceleration practice lead from ESG Global about what makes for good bedside manners in the best channel partnerships.

For any IT vendor, entering into a channel partnership means handing over the reins of its sales fate to a third party in the hope of steady revenues, ever-increasing brand awareness and, if relevant, venturing into new vertical markets. When it comes to business, the search for the right channel partner is quite similar to searching for a life partner, choosing someone who is best poised to meet all of your needs and desires.

So, what should vendors and resellers consider when looking for the right business partner? To start, it is important to have a clear idea of what your deal breakers are because it is critical that you are both on the same page when it comes to what matters, from your visions, to how much you are both prepared to invest to be successful together.

Betsy Doughty, VP corporate marketing at Spectra Logic, explains the traits that are desirable by vendors: “Creativity and flexibility are very appealing traits that vendors look for in a channel partner.” The COVID-19 pandemic has changed resellers’ approach to sales and that can give them at an advantage in the match-making process, as Doughty mentions: “Resellers who took a creative approach to business practices by, for example by deploying remote installation models, are set to emerge from the pandemic in a much stronger position, and this makes them very attractive to IT vendors.”

There are a lot of qualities within personal relationships that can apply to the channel partner-vendor relationship: deep trust, effective communications and mutual respect for instance. In order for a partnership to be successful and long lasting, these must be non-negotiable.

Doug Williams, northern Europe alliance and channel director at Scality, expands on this “One of the five love languages is quality time: this is vital for the relationship between channel partners and IT vendors. The most ‘attractive’ channel partners are the ones who value spending quality time with vendors, for example running webinars, attending events, etc.” He also looks at the ramifications of this relationship beyond the two initial organisations “Couples must also spend time with each other’s friends: hence we love to see our resellers working with our application and technology partners to create new solutions. Collaboration within the larger ecosystem is a good foundation for a successful relationship.”

Just like a dating profile might display what someone wants from a relationship, vendors and channel organisations must sit down and decide what they want from a partnership. This will help separate the must-haves from the nice-to-haves and narrow down those on the shortlist.

Kevin Rhone, channel acceleration practice lead from ESG Global, lists a few of these traits: “The vendor must create the ideal profile of target partners that fit this value proposition, including organisation, customer base, business model and ability to execute, among several others, and recruit ONLY against this profile.” He also gives some advice about how to approach picking the perfect reseller: “Selecting the right channel partner involves discipline, consistency and perseverance. It is critical that the vendor identify its own unique value proposition for partners, which goes beyond just the latest product/technology. They must fill in any program and engagement gaps against industry best practices, and develop messaging that features the value to target customers and to the partner.”

Problems can arise in relationships when there is a lack of trust and the main foundation of communication is not there. This can result in issues between the two parties or one party being unclear as to what their partner’s wants and plans are. Determination to be noticed by the partner you want to start a relationship with, and making yourself appealing to them will help you stand out in their mind, especially if they are being courted by multiple suitors. Rhone summarises the opportunities brought about by resolve: “the vendor must be determined. The best channel partners already have strong vendor relationships, so selecting and recruiting those partners is not a ‘one-date’ affair. If a vendor takes these steps, they are more likely to select and recruit committed partners that are ‘ready, willing, and able’ to commit and succeed.”

Sticking in the minds of potential partners is all well and good, but making everything about you is not fair on the other party, as their needs and desires matter too. This means listening and taking their opinions and suggestions into account before taking things further.

Bryan Betts, principal analyst at Freeform Dynamics, sums this up as follows: “The main thing that springs to mind is the importance of listening, not just talking. Just as most of us don’t want to go on a date with someone who just talks about themselves, no business wants to, or should, partner with an organisation that thinks only of itself. Among other things, that means understanding how your partner operates, and especially, avoiding channel conflict. Who can commit to a partner who eats the food off your plate and won’t share their umbrella when it rains?”

Researching potential partners’ backgrounds is crucial if you are to select the right one. Not many people would choose a life partner whose background was a little dubious, so why would a business do that? For both channel partners and organisations, understanding each other is key. As an example, say you are going for a job interview: you need to do some research first in order to find out about the job and the company, what its ethos is and why you would want to work for them. This is exactly the same here: find out about how it operates, what its products are and do and why the organisation matters within its industry – only then will you truly understand the prospective partner inside and out.

Through research and knowledge of the organisation, and being able to bring their expertise to the partnership, channel partners can race to the front of the queue in terms of vendors picking them and vice versa. Rhone expands on this “It goes beyond a new haircut or outfit. Partners need to demonstrate too top vendors that they understand the technology and market/customer base that the vendor wants to reach, that the vendor’s products are a good fit with and leverage existing skills, capabilities, and their customer base.”

It seems there is a lot to find out from both sides before entering a partnership, including finding out each other’s plans and whether there is any conflict or competition. Thoroughly researching a potential partner, getting a feel for who they are, what they want and where they see themselves in one, five or even ten years should be the foundation of any new vendor-reseller relationship. A long-term, successful partnership is only going to work if both parties are excited to work together, and as committed as each other to put the work and the hours in. As Oscar Wilde said “Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.”

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