Supporting the Partner Channel

Education and Services Can Help Partners Truly Add Value, Keeping Them and Customers Satisfied

March 13, 2003

A well-educated and well-supported partner will help you make more sales. Be creative and generous in how you make it easier for partners—as well, of course, as customers—to do business with you.


Common Misconception: Partners Are Well Served

Most manufacturers or service providers that we work with truly believe that they are being good to their partner channels. They prepare their partners for new product launches; they provide up-to-date marketing collateral; they provide ample notice of new releases; they respond to inquiries in a reasonable fashion. All in all, they think they are giving distribution partners all the ammunition they need to close sales and to support customers.

However, whenever we map out Customer Scenarios® that explicitly require a partner to fulfill the customer’s needs, we inevitably find that one of the biggest areas of opportunity for improvement to the customer experience and to bottom-line profitability is for the supplier to provide more proactive services and education to the partner channel.

MAPPING CUSTOMER SCENARIOS WITH PARTNERS. We often meet resistance from clients when we suggest that they include their channel partners in their customer requirements’ gathering sessions, particularly when we suggest that they invite competing partners to the session. There seems to be a natural resistance or reluctance to bring customers and channel partners together in order to co-design customer-impacting initiatives. Yet, every time we succeed in running these customer/partner/supplier co-design sessions, all of the participants are amazed by how productive and constructive they are. After all, all the parties want the same outcomes: for customers to be happy and for customer-impacting processes to be streamlined and profitable.

Patterns of Inadequate Partner Support

When we work with customers, partners, and suppliers in our Customer Scenario® Mapping sessions, we see a number of patterns over and over again. Interestingly, these patterns are not specific to hard goods vs. soft goods. Whether the supplier is a manufacturer or a bank, many of the issues are the same. Here are a few of the dysfunctional patterns we’re seeing again and again:

* NEW PRODUCT LAUNCH. Customers’ Scenarios reveal that partners are rarely adequately educated on new products or on new product releases before they’re launched. Customers--whose time is increasingly precious--are loathe to spend any time with channel partners getting briefed on new offerings. They know from experience that the partner won’t have most of the answers to their questions.

* EDUCATION & TRAINING. Although most suppliers do eventually provide good education and training for their distribution partners, our scenarios show that this is usually provided much later in the product cycle than it should be. When the customer’s influencer and/or decision-maker knows more about the product specifics, implementation gotcha’s, and integration issues than the channel partner’s team, this does not inspire confidence. Or, when the partner doesn’t know enough about the product specifics to correctly qualify his prospects, he winds up wasting potential customers’ time.

* PROPOSAL GENERATION. Customers are increasingly impatient with the time delays they experience while waiting for answers to the questions they raise during the proposal and negotiation process. Every time the partner has to go back to the supplier to ask for clarification, to check on the customer’s eligibility, on inventory availability, on specific configuration options, or to answer a question about future directions, the customer fumes.

* BREAK/FIX. Most customers rely on their partners as their first or second line of support for everything from administrative issues to technical support problems. Customers feel that most of the problems that arise in their break/fix scenarios could be prevented if the supplier had more visibility into the customer support interactions and dialogues from the point at which the problem is detected/reported. With today’s extranet and portal capabilities, there’s no excuse (from the customers’ vantage point) for suppliers not to know what’s going on with every single one of their customer accounts. In fact, increasingly, customers are demanding that their products be instrumented and electronically monitored for preventative problem detection and resolution. They expect both the channel partner and the supplier to be monitoring these diagnostics.

* UPGRADES. One of the most lucrative revenue opportunities for both channel partners and suppliers is to upgrade an existing customer to newer, more powerful, and/or higher functionality products or services. Unfortunately, very few companies have taken the time to really understand customers’ upgrade scenarios. We have yet to find a customer/partner/supplier upgrade scenario that works flawlessly from the customers’ point of view. Generally speaking, upgrades tend to be ...

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