For most companies, the goal for any extended partner ecosystem is to be in a position of continuous improvement: Better sales year-over-year, more-efficient technology systems, smoother onboarding of new partners, and general growth which supports your long-term plans for expansion. In turn, this requires a well-optimized set of sales channel partners which act like a fine-tuned machine, with each partner operating efficiently and effectively.
While this certainly is achievable, not every company is at that point yet. Some are just starting out, and still working to build their program to the point that such growth becomes sustainable. Others are, for whatever reason, being held back by problems within the ecosystem.
So, based on our experiences working with businesses at all stages of partner relationship development, we wanted to share a few common scenarios we see which result in sub-optimal sales partner ecosystems. For many companies, addressing these issues will be key to greater long-term performance.
1 - Channel Managers With More Responsibility Than Authority
In a business with a rapidly-growing network of partners, the Channel Manager may be one of the hardest-working people in the business. The Channel Manager is ultimately responsible for both communications and performance of dozens - hundreds? - of partner companies, and is tasked with getting them everything they need to succeed.
These Managers also have to work with several divisions within the company itself, generally including:
- PR & Marketing
- After-sales servicing and support
This becomes an issue if the individual departments have more actual authority to alter their tactics than the Channel Manager does, because they're (naturally) going to tend towards pushing solutions within their sphere of influence. This can easily lead to a "too many cooks" situation where point solutions coming out of individual departments fail to add up to the real-world holistic solutions partners require to succeed.
The main solution here is to give the Channel Manager more authority to conceive of and implement Big Picture solutions, even if they require some collaboration between departments. Improving training, for example, might require Training and IT to work together to develop effective online training programs.
2 - Overly-Complex Technology Channels
This is something we frequently see in businesses which started off using ad-hoc software solutions, without thinking about the future. It's certainly understandable why a small yet growing operation would turn to cheap point solutions for specific technology demands, such as using a third-party CRM, plus Dropbox for files, plus Skype for communications, plus Google Docs spreadsheets for tracking training, etc.
In short, tech bloat starts strangling the system.
This can easily hit a point where sales partners are forced to log into several separate systems each day, none of which can talk to each other, making it extremely difficult for them to fully participate and succeed.
The only real option here is to bite the bullet and consolidate on a single platform, such as a PRM solution. This is better done sooner rather than later. The longer a company waits, and the more point-by-point solutions are implemented, the more painful it will be consolidating the systems.
3 - Too Much Inter-Channel Competition
It's generally agreed that a small amount of overlap in sales channels is healthy and, arguably, necessary to ensure that as many customers as possible are covered by sales options. A sales channel structure without any competition between outlets is probably one with major gaps in customer targeting.
However, channel competition can easily become counter-productive, or even destructive, if channels end up fighting over the same customers. In a worse-case scenario, this can even drive customers away.
Part of this boils down to smart channel planning: Being aware of what markets\demographics a partner serves, and making tactical choices in partnerships. It may also involve occasionally cutting a partner loose, if they have so much overlap with other channels that they can't pull their own weight.
Improved communications will also help substantially. Having unified customer\lead databases which partners can access will help identify potential points of conflict. It further opens up the possibility of helpful collaboration. If a large potential client needs solutions in areas A, B, and C, good communications ensure they can work together to meet the client's needs seamlessly.
Great Channel Planning Is A Continuous Feedback Loop
Basically, there's no single 'magic bullet' for building a great partner ecosystem, but the biggest part of it is listening to your partners and looking for ways to make their lives easier. Anything your Channel Manager can do which makes onboarding, training, sales, and support easier for them will usually pay off with great efficiency and greater sales.
There's no such thing as a "perfect" ecosystem, but by being attentive and responsive, any business can significantly improve efficiency within their operations.
We offer the Channel Program Blueprint process to help our customers plan for success. Interested in learning more?