It is not surprising that organizations are faced with an increasingly complex business environment. More competition, razor thin margins and increased competition yields more challenges to the business than ever before. At the same time the operating business environment has produced IT and security challenges that were often not even on the radar five years ago. Take security, for example. It was not all that long ago that hackers were the “bad outsiders” looking to develop their reputations as professional hackers by hacking into organizations and doing things like changing main web pages. Back then, it was relatively easy to thwart most threats by deploying some perimeter protection (such as firewalls and VPNs) to solve the issue. And life went on.
Today, we have a completely different environment. The “bad people” are not necessarily just outsiders, but in some cases employees. They are not looking to gain a reputation in the hacking community, but are rather doing it for profit. Deployment models and operating environments have also changed. Applications are no longer limited to four wall; instead, they may be found in cloud environments. They must scale everywhere to multiple audiences and must always be available – all while remaining secure.
Technology runs at breakneck speeds with new and innovative solutions coming out and being wholly adopted almost daily. With this increasingly dynamic and complex environment, how can businesses continue to securely stay on top of technology while also operating their business?
The confluence of these trends has laid bare a crucial reality businesses must face: IT has become complicated. Indeed, staying ahead of all the systems, threats and opportunities is a full time job – and it often distracts organizations from their own business. This directly impacts the bottom line and long term viability of the business.
Rather than trying to stay on top of all technology trends, many organizations have called upon the channel to help sort out which technologies will help run the business and how best to keep them secure. Channel organizations have morphed from being viewed as “box pushers” who used to sell firewalls, to “trusted advisors” and key business partners. In addition to the channel partner being up-to-speed on challenges and threats most organizations face, they also are in a unique position to be well-informed about cutting-edge technologies. Channel partners are not only being called upon by businesses in virtually every vertical, but they are being asked to help chart the strategy to ensure technology excellence across the entire organization. Simply put, the channel has a key seat at the table to help ensure systems are always deployed as part of an ecosystem rather than point products deployed in a vacuum.
The shift in the channel responsibility has equally impacted technology vendors. The channel has become an increasingly popular route to market because it takes into account the big picture. It is in a much better position to do so than a technology vendor that is mostly interested in the purchase order for their product.
So how do technology vendors best engage with the channel to ensure their products are regularly included in the portfolios shared with customers and prospects?
- Recruit the right partners – There are lots of channel partners out there, but not everyone is right for every product. Some partners work with specific technologies, specific verticals or in specific geographies. While it is important to ensure that these elements map correctly, it is equally important to make sure that the coverage is sufficient without having too many partners in one particular area. The right place, right time, right route and right value proposition is the recipe for success for all involved.
- Give them the easy button – New channel partners will know little about your product. A smooth onboarding experience which may include training, tools and other operational aspects can make a big difference between a channel that is ready to sell and one that gives up because you are too difficult to do business with. The channel partner not only becomes an advocate for your partner’s organization, but also represents your organization as well. Making things easy for the channel partner will give them confidence you will in turn make it easy for the customer. Generally, that good experience translates into more future business.
- Work the partnership – Any partnership requires constant attention and work. Once a year or even once a quarter drivebys are not sufficient to maintain a truly productive and efficient relationship. It is important for relationships be formed between the technology vendor and partner at the local level. Doing so not only creates a bidirectional feedback loop that is crucial, but also helps both organizations work hand in hand to uncover new opportunities and new business.
- Enable the channel – Channel organizations have a thirst for knowledge. They want to know what keywords to listen for when talking to prospects, how to position your product, what are the key bullets to mention, how to competitively position your product and much more. Having those tools updated and readily available helps the channel partner recognize opportunities and efficiently progress customers through the buyer’s journey. Product recommendation is not only based on need but is also based on the “easy button” you can provide to the channel. Additional incentives such as SPIFs, MDFs and other contests can also provide the push needed to remain top of mind with the partner and enable them to proactively bring in deals.
- Make the partnership mutual – The test of a truly good and lasting partnership is one that is mutual. Both the vendor and the channel partner should feel benefits from working together. Ensuring the right commission structure to the channel and the right amount of deals brought to the vendor is just the tip of the iceberg. In many cases, once partnership terms are set, they are never revisited. Regular business reviews and revisiting of the partnership terms is important to ensure that the partnership remains a mutual one. The ability for the partner to achieve new partnership levels and thus realize new benefits will be an ongoing driver for the channel to drive the business and reap the rewards.
Organizations and enterprises the world over are operating in more complex environments than ever before. While this poses certain challenges, it also opens up new opportunities for channel partnerships. Technology vendors and channel partners have an incredible opportunity to work together and simplify IT business operations for the common good of the end-customer while also driving new routes to and opportunities in the market. Leveraging the channel not only simplifies the IT business environment for the end customer, but can also be a lucrative route to market for your killer products.