Cultivating partnerships is more important than ever for channel success

A gardener filling a small plant pot on a workbench
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Relationships have been the number one priority during the pandemic. In our professional and private lives, seismic changes have reshaped the way we behave towards, communicate with and care for each other.

In the commercial world, this has meant finding a new equilibrium between the needs of employees and the demands of the enterprise. Workplace cultures have been rebuilt almost overnight, and there is much channel businesses can learn from the experience that will put us all on a firm footing for recovery and success as we face the future.

The power of culture

A truly successful business is always greater than the sum of its parts. Turning the individual strengths of your partners into a pooled drive for productivity is crucial, and such a strategy must have culture at its heart. I believe culture - the character and personality of your workforce - can be transformational and is imperative to achieving your channel objectives.

This begins with attracting agile, forward-thinking partners with capabilities that fit the bill for your business. The next step is to drive engagement with each individual, offering what we term a positive partner experience.

The heartbeat of any channel is the organisations and people who operate within it. Vendors that are embracing a positive channel culture and actively investing to deliver a positive partner experience are pulling ahead of the market. The power of partners can no longer be overlooked. They are at the forefront of software as a service (SaaS) transactions and have a deep understanding of customers’ needs. You should therefore place them at the centre of channel strategy, rather than making them a secondary consideration.

If you’re taking the first step on this journey, you can evaluate the partner experience at your organisation using several key measures. These include the longevity of partnerships, customer retention, opportunities around the joint value that you share with your partners as well as shared values and culture.

The ever-changing channel

Change in the channel is never far away but COVID-19 has only accelerated disruption. The pandemic caused a major shift in business and operational priorities across the globe, and was responsible for driving huge organisational change.

Now, more than ever, the channel should embody something that people want to come back to, engage with and use as a vehicle for growth. Prior to 2020, when researchers measured global levels of employee engagement they discovered only 30% globally were engaged in their jobs. Just imagine what your organisation can achieve if you can engage and enthuse the indifferent 70% among all your partners?

In my view, the primary objective for the remainder of 2021 should be marrying the culture of individual vendors and partners to achieve mutually beneficial relationships.

There is now so much more to channel success than profit. The driving factor behind this is the realignment of the technology industry, which has evolved into subscription-based SaaS models.

With end-users able to switch services on or off to suit demand, vendors must more closely consider their customers’ needs, redoubling efforts to enable their channel partners. The experience is everything.

Connect on common ground

In all of this, vendors must decide whether to only align with new partners that share their values and culture or to also target those with divergent views and behaviours.

My advice is to be broad in your outlook. The channel is wonderfully diverse. If you’re working with partners that operate in locations or sectors outside your sweet spot, celebrate that diversity - don’t shy away from it.

That said, some shared values are handy when seeking new partners; for example, a mutual belief that collaborative working fuels growth. All relationships are built on common ground, no matter how limited that may initially appear. Conversely, if your checklist of values is too extensive, you risk missing out on potentially transformational opportunities.

The traditional channel model gave vendors the luxury of searching for an entirely like-minded partner. But with tech now being largely subscription-based, there is a dependency on strong renewal engagement skills, customer education and regular communication.

An inside-out approach to PX

The likes of Salesforce and Microsoft 365 have got this partner-focused approach down to a fine art. Their success can be a guiding light for the re-examination of go-to-market strategies that are well underway at tech companies, with the pandemic providing the time for inward reflection.

In pausing, firms have been able to recognise the future will be partner-driven and consider crucial questions such as: is my channel fit for purpose, and are my partners happy? In other words: put PX at the core of your culture and long-term strategy.

Now is the time for your organisation to use the channel to collaborate, strengthening your channel infrastructure and helping partners to move on from the pandemic.

Culture and channel partner experience must underpin this shift. Where there is a workforce, there’s workplace culture. If executed well, people-driven transformation will improve your culture, boost partner retention, and drive profit for your channel.

Tom Perry is CEO at Sherpa