You’re a successful reseller with a loyal customer base and a strong portfolio of products. As a proactive reseller you’re always keeping an eye open for other products that you could take to your customers and you’re approached by a vendor that has an interesting product that you know will interest your customers. Before you sign on the dotted line to become a reseller partner, how can you be sure that you’re joining forces with a vendor who understands what it takes to achieve a successful channel partnership?
AB: Roger, what do you regard as the starting point for any reseller partnership to be successful?
RS: There are a number of factors that are key to a successful channel partner programme; recruit the right partners, manage and nurture them carefully, enable them to succeed by providing first-class sales and marketing support, and help them to grow by assisting them to maximise opportunities within their client-base.
A software vendor will seek out resellers who can offer two key assets: access to customers and domain knowledge in a market not known to the vendor. Key to success is that the reseller has strong relationships with those customers and is willing to work with the vendor to present their offering to them. The vendor’s offering may require customisation and careful positioning to appeal to their customer base but if the vendor is willing to work with the reseller to understand the specific needs of the customer base, both parties have the foundation of a fruitful partnership.
AB: Given that a vendor receives this reassurance, what else does a reseller need to know about the vendor?
RS: Far too many vendors have the wrong approach to engaging the reseller channel. In the past, I was approached by numerous vendors wanting access to our customers. Their starting point was that we would need to invest in reseller and training fees and demonstration licences. To add insult to injury, they would then tell us we would not make any money from the first five sales as they would complete the implementations. At Intuitive Business Intelligence, our core focus is on gaining momentum with a reseller and our objectives are simple:
- To use the resellers’ domain knowledge to customise our solution for their market.
- To work proactively to help them to establish a reference site in the shortest timescale.
- To agree a joint marketing and sales plan to present the value proposition for customers.
- To use our resources to help the reseller to develop their skills.
AB: Is it critical that vendors offer a dedicated account management team for the channel?
RS: Whilst having a dedicated account manager is extremely helpful, it is more important that you have a responsive point of contact for issues, and that you feel comfortable working closely with them to win deals. The best software vendors will regard themselves as an extension of your sales team and want to win your trust from the outset.
AB: How important is a deep understanding of the market and the competition to a reseller programme?
RS: It’s essential. The vendor should know where the biggest opportunities for their software lie.
Ultimately, a reseller wants to offer solutions that will provide an additional revenue stream to its existing portfolio, so it’s imperative that the vendor understands your markets, where the low-hanging fruit is and where the longer-term opportunities may be and is prepared to work with you to realise the maximum sales achievement.
AB: What about differentiation? Is a highly differentiated product the most important factor in deciding whether to become a reseller partner?
RS: My view is that a technically superior product is just one of the factors that should influence your decision to sign up as a reseller. Equally important is to ask how the vendor’s channel partner programme, sales and marketing support and partner management differ from the competition.
What makes the vendor’s partner programme better and ultimately, how can they make your life easier? What a reseller really takes into account are the benefits and amount of work they must do to make one dollar if they decide to work with a vendor. The less work and more profit involved, the more attractive the reseller programme is!
This means the vendor needs to conduct a thorough review of the benefits of their programme long before they approach a reseller, giving thought to lead generation and distribution processes, commission payment schemes and incentives, marketing programmes, ongoing product training, etc.
AB: Finally, what else should resellers ask a vendor to provide?
RS: First-class marketing support. Not all resellers have the resources, skills or experience to run ongoing marketing and lead generation programmes so it’s vital that the vendor can provide you with a range of marketing services and tools to help you.
At the very least, you should expect co-branded product literature and proactive assistance with marketing to your existing client base together with advice and support to reach out to prospects, too.
Underpinning of all this, though, is the need for clear and direct communications between the vendor team and reseller team. It’s quite remarkable how many software vendors rely on email to communicate important information about their products with resellers. You really need to set an expectation that the vendor is willing to put in the time and effort to being part of your team, and that means regular face-to-face meetings to bring you up to speed with product updates, technical information and critically, to discuss goals, pipeline management and agree tactics for achieving targets and working collaboratively to win new clients.
It sounds deceptively simple, but in my experience of channel partner management, communications is the critical success factor for a relationship which flourishes – or not!