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In the digital age, partners decide which vendors they're interested in and will grow with — or not. Vendors might want to play nicer.
May 24, 2018
The IT industry has been talking ad nauseam about the customer journey. Well, it’s time to talk about the partner journey — yes, there is one. In fact, the partner’s journey, viewed in terms of how partners work with vendors, reveals that, today, partners hold the power in their vendor relationships.
Thanks to recent research – The 5 Stages of the Partner Journey – by PartnerPath, the stages of how partners work with vendors is brought to light. The five stages include: awareness, consideration, decision, experience and growth.
“This idea of life-cycle selling has gripped us, but it’s been talked about as the customer’s journey to getting products — not just selling it, but getting customers to use it, to optimize it and expand it,” Diane Krakora, CEO of PartnerPath, told us. “We turned that around and asked, ‘What’s the partner’s perspective on all of this? If life-cycle selling is the partner’s responsibility – they have the customer and the partner is the trusted adviser – how do vendors get partners to sell their product?”
For decades, vendors have been calling the shots. They’ve been the ones out there recruiting partners. Today, in the digital age — not so much. Today, the partner is the one deciding which products they present to their customers. So how do partners decide which vendors they need? How do they look at vendors? How do they consider the products? How do they decide which vendor’s products they’ll carry?
PartnerPath conducted an online survey of 220 solution providers and 114 vendors from mid-November to mid-December 2017. Earlier this year, the company published its State of Partnering Survey 2018, the 12th to date. The 5 Stages of the Partner Journey is a follow up report. [Note that PartnerPath bundles partners into a single bucket and refers to them as “solution providers.”]
The partner journey begins with awareness. In this step, solution providers are exploring new products, technologies or vendors. The partner might be replacing something and/or adding new solutions. The top reason partners look for a new vendor is because they’re trying to fill a customer need — that’s according to more than 40 percent of survey respondents.
Other reasons stated by partners looking for new vendors: looking for the next great thing (less than 30 percent); specific request from a customer for that company (20 percent); output of consulting or advisory services (approximately 15 percent); and dissatisfied with current vendor (less than 5 percent).
Vendors will be happy to hear that 90 percent of solution-provider respondents indicated that they’re likely or very likely to add new technology from a new vendor in 2018. The fact that a meager 2.5 percent said they’re looking for a new vendor because they’re dissatisfied with an existing one, is also good news for vendors; however, vendors need to know that the survey showed solution providers trim their vendor partners at about 10 percent per year.
In the second stage of the partner journey – consideration – partners are evaluating products, technologies, brands and/or companies. Similar to how customers look for vendors and partners, solution providers also know whom they’re looking at before they get to the consideration stage. They tend to focus on two to three vendors, on average, as potential choices.
“Sixty percent of solution providers already know what technology and vendor they’re looking for before they contacted a vendor,” said Krakora. “They’re already through 60 percent of their evaluation and that’s before they hit the vendor’s website to look at their partner program.”
What’s important to partners at this stage in their journey? They’re prioritizing availability of support and pricing in their consideration of potential technologies or vendors, according to the survey. Additional considerations: product functionality and compatibility with existing solutions.
In the decision stage, the partner selects the technology and product to move forward with. Survey respondents noted that the sales team and the CEO tend to wield the most influence in the decision-making process. Other players who are influential: systems engineer, solutions architect, chief technology officer, practice manager of technology sector, vice president of technology sector and support team — in order of influence.
“There’s a lot of investment on the part of the solution provider in terms of training and getting enabled so they have to get their weight behind a particular technology and vendor,” Krakora said.
At the experience stage, partners are engaged in a relationship with the vendor — on-boarding, initial communications, training and introduction to field sales teams. But that’s just the beginning. The experience stage also includes the ongoing interactions beyond the initial one — say the next two or three months, or the honeymoon period.
In fact, the experience stage is critical to a partner deciding which vendors they’ll grow with.
Partners ranked, from most to least important, six elements in how they affect their overall experience with a vendor: people, such as channel managers and support teams; infrastructure, or systems and tools; enablement, such as on-boarding and training; engagement options, such as resell, refer and bundle; program policies such as deal registration and MDF; and performance metrics, such as scorecards and dashboards.
PartnerPath expands on the partner experience in “The 6 Pillars of the Partner Experience.”
Finally, partners reach the growth stage. Here, success is achieved – or not – and the partner decides whether to continue to invest in the relationship.
“They go back around to the awareness stage and continue to invest in the vendor relation — or they back out,” Krakora said.
How do partners measure growth? Today, in the digital age, partners have better tools, systems and reports to monitor growth with their vendor partners. Partners look at profit, as well as whether they’re getting the technology, experience, success and growth potential they expected from their investment in a vendor.
“Today, partners can quickly see if a vendor is adding to their bottom line,” said Krakora.
PartnerPath asked how partners decide which of their current vendors to continue to invest in. Partner responses, ranked from most important to least important: ease of doing business, such as ordering and provisioning; relationship, such as limited channel conflict and local relationships; financial reward, product margins and services opportunity; market demand, such as brand recognition and product strength; enablement, such as sales and technical training; and human resources, such as technical, sales, marketing support and field mentoring.
On average, partners work with five top vendors, 15 secondary vendors and a bunch of tertiary vendors.
In the digital age, vendors need to be more aware of the partner journey.
“We think vendors may want to be a little nicer,” said Krakora.
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