Keep Channel Partners Happy

Some product managers will look at this title and ask, “So what does this have to do with product managers and our roles?” Read on and find out why your role and actions can impact a successful channel program and increase the adoption of your product(s).

Not Just a Sales Channel
Most of the information and discussion we see on the web about channel partners, value-added reseller (VARs) and system integrators is almost exclusively focused on incenting and selling to channel partners— i.e., how to create the right rewards program for partners, the most effective use of market development dollars, and the most advanced partner relationship management (PRM) solutions. All of this information is meant to induce your best channel partners to give your product the most favorable position with their customers. In fact, it reminds me of the challenge of a new soft drink company competing for shelf space.

What we rarely discuss is how discovering what matters most to your channel partner and building it into your product will win your product the best positioning possible. It also leads to greater market success through all channels.

Increasingly, channel partners are your best point of access to your users. In many respects, they are your equal in terms of market expertise and when it comes to knowing the competition, they can easily lap you.

Today indirect marketing and sales partners are a unique type of customer. Their business objectives are different than your end customer (more aligned with yours) but they are a customer of your product, no doubt.

Like any other customer, your partner needs to be listened to—not just sold to.

If your channel partner is your customer, then it follows that the broader channel program is a product, and as such, the program in combination with your product needs a roadmap.

Role of Product Management
To give this shift in roles more perspective, it might be useful to compare what was once considered normal behavior for product managers. Not that long ago, a product manager might takes sides in the direct vs. indirect channel strategy. They might complete the competitive intel for their product; distribute the trending data to his indirect channel partners and keep the best competitive analysis for her direct sales force.

Today many companies have created dedicated roles with titles like Partner Product Manager or Product Manager for the Partner Platform whose charter is to improve the partner experience (Px) and the improve partner’s monetization of that company’s product suite.

Your company may not have made this flip yet, but knowing more about your channel partner is critical:

  • Know your partners as well as your customers
  • Understand their business model – VAR, Cloud or Hybrid
  • Maintain a dialogue

Product managers have the unique vantage point of understanding the product and the market. This can provide for a valuable exchange with your channel partners.

To be successful with your end customers, your channel partners need:

  • Ease of implementation
  • Expandability
  • Enhance-ability
  • Maintainability

The reason these “ilities” are so critical is that they translate into higher margin and the fast track to recurring revenue for channel partners. If you excel at addressing these “ilities,” it will increase the revenue velocity for your product with your direct channel as well.

Cloud Apps Are Different
Most people will say everything changed with the cloud—even the role and value of channel partners. Not so fast…

It is true that traditional VARs performing front-end implementation and integration tasks don’t have the same value in the cloud or SaaS application world. However, your customers are looking for partners that can supply and centrally manage their entire SaaS application portfolio. Combining this customer desire with your company’s need to obtain more product revenue from the indirect channel to meet growth targets; your channel partner has a vital role in the success of your products.

Partner-Ready Product(s)
Increasing your focus on the Px goes beyond the basic product offering. A VAR will not resell your product or solution unless they can achieve solid margins from it.

Consider these channel-centric roadmap themes for your product suite:

  • Integration ubiquity
  • Billing infrastructure
  • Direct customer support infrastructure

Underneath all of this is the critical need to improve the overall Px and push adoption.

The takeaway—complete a Px assessment of your product. Give more weight to functions that enhance the channel partners’ ability to execute and achieve their business goals. Closing these product gaps could be a game changer.

How have you kept your channel partners happy? Leave a comment and let us know.