Successful solution providers are pros at many things, from knowing IT to running a small business. But chances are every solution provider, no matter how successful, struggles with some of the finer points of being a small-business owner.
As a small business, Channel Maven—more specifically Heather K. Margolis—knows the challenges that only small-to-midsize-business executives would fully understand, from margins to HR issues to the cost of downtime.
Here are five things vendors must understand to be able to create better programs and resources for their partners:
- Money Matters: While 40 percent margin or 42 percent margin might be a line item to you, it makes a huge difference to the SMB owner. If there’s a struggle with a direct sales team or a discrepancy that easily can go one way or another, consider this: A scorned solution provider will never forget and will most likely tell everyone it knows not to work with you. Sometimes the solution provider might push the envelope, but if you’re in the wrong, make it right.
- Time Out of the Field is Money: If you’re asking for multiple members of a partner’s team to attend live trainings and jump through too many hoops, the solution provider executive will go work with someone else. Sure, you want your solution providers to be well-versed in your solutions, but be sure you’re not asking for more than is reasonable. Remember that anytime a solution provider's team isn’t selling, it is costing the solution provider money (see No. 1).
- HR is Painful: Or is that just me? Hiring, firing, dealing with those who aren’t team players or aren’t pulling their weight is probably the hardest thing we as entrepreneurs deal with on a daily basis. Sure, as executives you have to deal with some similar issues with team members, but you also don’t have to go through the pain of finding and hiring replacements or worry about spending money on someone who isn’t helping the business thrive. Anything you can do to help your partners find and keep talent is a huge plus!
- Goals Need to Align: If a vendor is putting requirements on a partner they had better align with the partner's overall goals. Putting together a business plan? Yes. Getting the solution provider's team educated? Yes. Registering a deal? Yes. Putting the vendor's solution content on the partner's website? Yes. Forcing a partner to listen to a webinar about Solution X when the partner only sells Solution Y? Nope. Paying for a huge demo unit when the partner is just starting to sell the vendor's products? Nope. Putting the partner in contact with five different people on the vendor's team for five different functions who don’t understand my business? Nope. Nope. Nope!
Deadlines May Need to be Flexible: We all work crazy hours and need to be understanding of each other's schedules. That four-hour work week guy is nuts. I’m not suggesting that entrepreneurs are busier, but they do fill multiple, totally unrelated, functions, which can be dizzying at times. For example, today I spoke to a customer about a project, worked on a deliverable, posted to our social media, approved our newsletter, wrote a blog post, presented to a prospect, updated our financials for quarterly tax estimates, wrote up an offer letter for a new employee, met with our building manager about some issues we’ve been having, talked to someone about sponsoring an event and interviewed someone for another role we have open.
I’m not asking anyone to play a huge violin for me—I love it! I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else! However, when putting deadlines on solution provider executives, you need to try to understand that they are filling a lot of different roles and may need a little more of a template or guidance from you.
I’m sure I’m missing some. I haven’t even touched on the difficulties in marketing ourselves (yes, even we have a marketing team), and I would love to hear from solution providers what I may have missed!
Contributing blogger Heather K. Margolis, the Channel Maven, has led channel programs for major IT companies.