How to Simplify Partner Programs & Processes
One of the complaints we hear most often is how complex partner programs can be. We get it - there are so many elements a vendor needs to manage in their partner programs, like marketing, reporting, certifications, benefits… the list goes on.
Over the years, we’ve noticed the tendency is to wrap everything possible under a program umbrella. But, this often leads to even more complex programs and processes for partners.
Instead, suppliers need to take out all non-value-added costs for their partners. They need to develop frictionless processes and systems. They need to deliver automation and simplicity across the board.
The bottom line is they need to pay attention to the partner experience.
Wondering how to do it? We’ve outlined five areas for vendors to evaluate so they can simplify the experience for their partners.
Complexity Costs Partners in Time, Effort, and Dollars
One partner we work with recently shared what he experienced when one of his vendors rolled out a new program.
The supplier’s program had multiple requirements. First, he had to send in frequent sales and marketing reports in a non-standard format and a level of detail and frequency his existing staff couldn’t handle. The supplier also required a full time marketing person in order to grant access to its marketing materials and funding.
His existing staff wasn’t able to handle all of the additional requirements, so he had to hire a new employee. The time and funding his business put into hiring someone just to manage the vendor’s requirements could have been put to use in other, more productive ways, such as hiring a sales rep or running a marketing campaign to generate demand.
This is a common story that many small or specialized partners can relate to.
How could it be done better?
Before a vendor creates a program, they need to put themselves in their partner’s shoes with an eye to simplification. They must balance their own needs with how much time and effort the partner will need to put in. Vendors should also make it a point to listen to their partners and to be empathetic to them.
Partners are looking for simplicity. They don’t want to hire a person just to manage complex vendor requirements. They don’t want to use their precious selling time to create reports for their vendors. They don’t want to have to hire lawyers to manage every transaction. They don’t want to add infrastructure to meet a vendor’s needs.
Instead, they want to work with suppliers that understand their cost-to-serve. And, they want to spend their time on business development, not on unnecessary or non-value-added administrative tasks. They want to go after target accounts and build a business together.
How Can Suppliers Simply Partner Programs & Processes?
Evaluate every touch point along your partner journey
Many companies map their customer journey to identify areas where they can improve their customer experience. The same approach should be applied to the partner experience.
Vendors need to document their partner’s journey - from product selection, to sales, to configuration, to installation to support. They also need to pay attention to pain points their partners raise, whether in Partner Councils or one-on-one.
Ideally, a person or team would be responsible for mapping the partner journey and identifying areas for improvement. A good way to do this is to sit down with your partner as they go through a particular process.
For example, we’ve been a part of tracking partners’ experiences in filing MDF claims, which led to a revised approval process. Ditto on how a partner accessed solution resources.
Once the potential improvement areas are identified, they need to be plotted out on an Impact / Ability to Impact matrix to prioritize the first few areas to address. Communicating to partners, including what you will address and when, is key to demonstrating that you are listening and committed to simplifying their experience.
Have you mapped your partner journey?
Where can you take complexity out of your partner journey?
Evaluate your Rules of Engagement
We worked with a partner who put in a huge sales effort to win a deal. They assigned their own SEs, created a proof of concept, and presented a proposal to the customer. They were surprised and disheartened to find out their vendor’s direct sales team quoted a lower price.
What happened? There were no rules of engagement. The partner didn’t have clear guidance where the vendor wanted them to sell, and the vendor didn’t tell their direct team where, when, and how to work with partners.
We’ve worked with several companies who have a published a Channel Operational Handbook which clearly lays out everything from the direct vs. indirect remits to how leads are passed to how a partner can register for a deal. These handbooks are especially useful when a conflict arises since they list the processes along with escalation paths.
Have you clearly documented and communicated where you want partners to sell?
Where can you take complexity out of your Rules of Engagement?
Evaluate your contracts
One partner told us that selling a vendor’s software cost them 12% in legal resources for every deal. Each deal required a contract negotiation, no matter the size of the customer or the purchase.
Twelve percent is a big chunk of margin out of profit, not to mention time spent negotiating each contract slowed down the sales cycle and created a bottleneck for the legal departments.
Because of the effect on the finances, this was also impacting partner satisfaction. So, this vendor changed their approach to contracts. Contracts for deals under a certain size were drastically simplified and would not be negotiated. Contracts for larger deals were also restructured for simplicity.
Again, getting to this level of change and simplification involves understanding how your business requirements impact your partners.
Do you know how your contracting process is impacting your partners?
How can you simplify your contracting process?
Evaluate your pricing and discount structure
We’ve worked with vendors who don’t publish their prices or discounts at all, requiring partners to call for quotes on every single deal. We’ve worked with others that have complex special pricing. We’ve also seen deal registration processes ranging from the simple and effective to the futile and unhelpful.
A vendor needs to look at partners as an extension of their sales team. After all, this is the group of sellers who can reach exponentially more customers than a vendor could do alone.
In order for partners to effectively sell, they need to know their pricing structure. This determines if the sale is going to meet their margin requirements, and how it will impact their compensation.
Is your pricing and discount structure published and easy to understand?
How can you simplify your pricing and discount structure?
Evaluate your enablement resources
Enablement is a valuable currency for partners. Done right, enablement helps your partners sell more, more effectively. Done poorly, a lot of effort is duplicated and incorrect information can be provided, which can result in loss of sales.
When a customer is on the line or in the funnel, time, responsiveness, and accuracy are key. If you want partners to sell your solutions, you need to make it simple for them to find and access the information they need, when they need it. This includes everything from building the solution to pricing it to selling it to supporting it. Creating tools and resources for all of these functions falls under the scope of enablement.
Partners want simple access to sales collateral, sales playbooks, customer references, marketing campaigns, and technical tips and tricks. Partner access to demo units, trials, and sandboxes should also be quick and easy.
Every resource the vendor doesn’t provide means the partner needs to create it. This represents an investment in money or people to develop the necessary tool, and an equivalent loss of opportunity for the partner.
Can partners can find accurate information they need quickly and easily?
Where can you take complexity out of partner enablement?
Netting it Out: Why Simplify the Partner Experience?
It’s simple. Partners can choose which vendors’ products to sell.
They don’t necessarily crave simplicity for its own sake, although that is a noble goal. The best partners understand complexity costs them. Every additional hour they need to spend trying to find information, negotiating a contract, or fulfilling an administrative burden represents both a real cost and an opportunity cost.
The best way to determine which areas need to be addressed is to simply ask. A Partner Advisory Council is a group that can give you feedback on your partners’ biggest challenges. They can help you prioritize the areas you need to simplify in order to open up the floodgates to more revenue. Bringing your partners into the problem-set ensures their engagement while assuring you’ll get front-line insights.
If you don’t have a partner board, you can still listen for common threads. Your channel business managers are another source of information across all areas of the partnership. Your marketing team will hear comments and pain points around MDF, campaigns, or leads. Your SEs will know what the issues are around technical resources, demo units, sandboxes, etc. Vendors should use their entire partner team to suss out key areas to simplify.
The bottom line is that vendors need to be willing to listen to their partners and to let them know what they are doing to make the partner experience simple and delightful.