To end users, it should never appear that two distinct entities are involved. Everything should be dovetailed into a cohesive, coherent, and complementary approach.
Done poorly, actions from either side can delay or even prevent sales. Sometimes both parties work competitively, vying for control and customer attention. And other times, actions can appear confused or poorly coordinated. If the customer doesn’t feel that the vendor and the channel partner are aligned with their interests, they can become discouraged or even alienated.
You tend to see the good on large accounts and the bad on smaller ones. But there are exceptions. Big accounts can be lost to rivals due to efforts to stay in control of the deal or because of poor communication between the partners. There are instances, too, when small accounts are spectacularly served by a vendor and partner operating as one.
Here are some ways to promote smooth vendor-partner relationships that will enhance sales and gain customer trust.
Follow the Customer’s Lead
Some vendors want to lead all deals. They consider themselves the authority and may look upon channel partners as sales assistants. That’s wrong. The leader in any deal should usually be the one that a) found the deal in the first place and b) has the strongest relationship with the customer.
Often, a) and b) will be the same organization. In such a case, the leader is evident. The other party should take on a secondary role and support the leader in every way possible. That party should initiate no actions and originate no communications to the customer that aren’t coordinated with the leader.
But sometimes, a) and b) don’t align. Internal alignment is needed between the channel partner and the vendor when this happens to determine the best course of action. In all cases, defer to the one that has the strongest relationship. Say, for example, a channel partner has worked with Company X for years and recently introduced them to products or services offered by Vendor A. Company X may be so happy with these new products and services that it reaches out to the vendor directly. Yet no one in Vendor A knows much about the company. Vendor A would be wise to hand control back to the channel partner and support the deal from there.
It also can work the other way. Vendor A has a long-term relationship with Company X and might bring in a channel partner to help with a new service. Later, the marketing actions of that channel partner might generate a lead. But no one at the partner has any real connection to Company X. Hand the lead back to Vendor A and stand by to support the deal in every way possible. But remember: situations vary. There’s no room for rigidity.
Listen to the Customer
Direct sales and channel sales sometimes come into conflict. Good communication is key to avoiding contentious relations between vendors and channel partners. Take the case of a vendor uncovering pain points in a customer environment and recommending a particular solution. It’s wise for the vendor to ask the customer if it has a strong relationship with a channel partner and what its preference is. Is it to have the solution fulfilled through the local provider or directly by the vendor? Vendors should always align with what customers want to achieve and not seek to cut the partner out to avoid paying a commission or for another reason. This is really part of the deal qualification step. Discover how the solution should best be delivered to the customer and align with that decision. Partners value vendors that operate this way.
Think Long Term
Fighting over the current deal is the best way to sour a relationship. Both parties should instead consider the long term. By coming to an operating basis acceptable to both sides, mutual respect facilitates higher sales for the vendor and the partner. Each side should bring deals to the other. By doing so, the relationship strengthens. The lifetime value of each customer is likely to be greatly enhanced.
Partner relationships should never be competitive. Arrogance or the desire for control should play no part in decision-making. Decisions should be based on completing the deal and keeping customers coming back for more. If deals are based on that perspective, harmony reigns, and sales multiply.
Such actions bring about trust and mutual respect. Vendors are likely to send more business to channel partners that understand the need for cooperation, put the customer first, and avoid ones that cause unnecessary friction and upset. Likewise, if the vendor wants to hog all sales and control every aspect of every deal, the channel partner may decide to form stronger ties with competitors. Seeking to muscle your way into every deal can alienate the vendor. Leads will dry up. The vendor will look to other partners it can rely on.
Vendors should understand that channel partners often have local connections and deployment expertise within a specific niche or vertical that can make or break a deal. Partners should understand that vendors know their products and services better than anyone and bring deep knowledge vital to increased sales. Mutual trust brings both of these elements together and forges a strong bond.
Uttam Reddy is formerly the vice president of global sales enablement and strategy at Rackspace Technology. With more than 20 years of executive roles at IBM, Dell, CenturyLink, and others, he has deep experience in building and operating sales, marketing, operations, and services teams at enterprise technology companies (SaaS and hardware) at a global scale. He has a BS in industrial engineering from New York University and an MBA from Duke University.