A Step-by-Step Guide to Building an Awesome Partner Experience
Many vendors realize the best way to win and retain customers is not necessarily by offering the lowest price or the fanciest features, but rather by delivering a delightful customer experience (CX). However, few suppliers are paying the same amount of attention to the experience they are creating for their partners.
Companies need to view partners as an extension of their own sales force (we call them your “off payroll sales team”). This means partners need the relevant information at the right time so they can best represent their vendors’ solutions.
You Need to Create an Awesome Partner Experience
Partners have choices in what they can sell - your solutions or those of your competitors. Sometimes the individual rep can make this choice, and sometimes the choices are made by their partner executives.
Partners want to make a sale and are looking to their vendors to help them do this as quickly and painlessly as possible. Added steps, redundant requests, approvals that take weeks to hear back all lead to a poor partner experience.
Partners are humans, and like all humans they will follow the path of least resistance. If your solution information is out of date hard to find, or your partner portal is hard to navigate, your partners will get frustrated or give up, ultimately slowing or even preventing sales.
How Do You Know What Your Partners Want?
The first question is where to begin. You don’t necessarily want to jump in and tackle the first challenge one of your partner raises. Different partners might have different opinions of what you need to fix, so you need to hear from a cross section of partners.
Don’t assume you know what they’ll tell you. Ask them! We’ve used a few methods to get feedback from our partners:
We’d regularly send out a formal partner survey.
We took advantage of partner events where we would ask our managers to seek feedback from specific partners.
We’d seek information at partner visits.
Another effective approach is to host a partner advisory council. We’d convene representatives from a handful of partners four times per year. Two meetings would be in person, and two would be over the phone. This was our go-to group responsible for speaking on behalf of the broad partner community, in addition to representing their own needs.
What We Heard
We heard that our processes and programs were complex. Some partners even had to hire a person just to manage one of our programs. The bottom line was we needed to be simpler which would directly pay off in terms of their sales productivity and partner satisfaction.
Next Steps: Taking Action
We heavily relied on our partner advisory council to help us prioritize the inhibitors based on impact and urgency. This way we weren’t making assumptions based on what we thought, but were hearing directly from our partners who lived these issues day in and day out.
We then narrowed this list down to the top few since we didn’t have unlimited resources. We did this by plotting the partner feedback based on our ability to impact the item, and the size of the impact. To do this, we created a 2x2 matrix to map out the various challenges the partners raised.
The Y axis represents our ability to control, starting at the bottom where we would have no control and running to the top where we had total control. The X axis is the relative size of impact, running from the left (lowest impact) to the right (highest).
For example, in the lower right quadrant we would plot an item such as a pricing action since even though partners told us that would really make a difference, but in our case this was a an item controlled by headquarters.
In the upper right quadrant, we would put an item such as additional demonstration units since the partners said that would make a huge difference in their ability to sell, and also an area where we could take matters into our own hands (budget, carve off units, etc).
We would then select a few items from our matrix, ideally in the upper right-hand quadrant, and assign owners responsible for delivering action plans with timelines. We held regular status reviews at our staff meetings, ensuring these issues got executive level support and scrutiny on a monthly basis. This also ensured the senior leadership team could step in to escalate if anything became stuck.
We reported back to the partner advisory council both the progress that was being made, as well as the final outcome of each of these projects. After sharing with the council, we would then communicate to the broad partner population.
After you tackle the top one or two issues, you’re ready to move to the next few inhibitors. Eventually, you’ll tackle all of your partners’ concerns, creating an excellent experience for them.
The Bottom Line
Like so many things, it all comes down to communication. Keep lines of communication open with your partners, really listen to what they have to say, and take reasonable steps to making their experience great.