Has a supplier who used to be attentive stopped answering your calls?

Channel Partners

March 2, 2016

5 Min Read
3 Ways To Know If a Vendor Values Your Relationship

Andrew WoodberryBy Andrew Woodberry

The relationship between a vendor and a partner is symbiotic. Like all relationships, there will be ebbs and flows. At a certain point, though, you have to decide if a given relationship is beneficial to both parties and worth maintaining. One of the easiest ways to determine this as a partner is to ask: “Does the vendor still value me as much as when the relationship began?”

I had the good fortune of working at a company (LiveOffice) that was acquired by our main channel reseller (Symantec). Now that I can see things from the vendor perspective, I can tell you that not all channel partners are treated the same. The reasons are multi-faceted and include prior relationships with a certain partner, brand equity of the partner, headcount put toward partnership and more.

How do you know if you have most-favored partner status?

There are both subtle and not-so-subtle clues vendors give that show how invested they are in a relationship and how much they value a channel partner. Below I’ll cover three of the big ones I observed from the LiveOffice-Symantec relationship and then delve a bit into repairing relationships where the vendor isn’t fully invested.

1. Does the vendor communicate with you on a scheduled basis? (And keep to that schedule!)

Communication is obviously a huge part of any partnership. Good vendor partners will set aside a weekly or biweekly time to discuss how the relationship is going and how to improve it. If a vendor doesn’t bother to schedule a fixed time to speak with you, they’re probably not that invested in you. Perhaps they have other partners that are more important, or they’re starting to bypass channel sales for a more direct sales approach.

The other bad omen is if your account managers continually miss or push off a scheduled call. That, in many ways, is worse than having no scheduled call at all. Besides being rude, it shows that your time isn’t valuable to the vendor. If you continually find a vendor not showing up to your calls, you have to question its engagement in the partnership.

2. Does the vendor empower you with technology?

Part of the vendor-partner relationship is knowledge transfer. There are so many collaboration tools out there that can increase the efficiency of idea exchange. The company I work for now, WorkSmart.net, has seen a huge uptick in the use of our cloud document-sharing solution for creating partner portals. There are also a ton of enterprise messaging solutions that can speed up communication between partners, including well-known services like Slack and HipChat. None of these require the partner to be on the vendor’s Active Directory system, and all of them can be set up in minutes.

If a vendor cares about you, they’ll utilize these or other simple tools. They’re usually not very expensive and have a huge ROI for the partnership. The vendor that doesn’t care will simply rely on email and maybe the occasional phone call. That’s the old-school (read: lazy) way of vendor engagement with channel sales partners. If you proactively ask your vendor reps to communicate with you via a collaboration tool like Slack and they refuse, I would seriously question their investment in the partnership.

3. Does the vendor incorporate you into its marketing and sales plans?

There are certain channel-sales partnerships where you don’t necessarily want to expose to the purchaser who the vendor is. That’s understandable. But there are also many opportunities to work together to strategize on sales and marketing plans. Does your vendor invite you to sales kickoffs? Does your vendor invite your marketing team to work together with its team on customer-facing marketing materials? Have they proactively sought to work together with you at a trade show?

Again, a not-fully-invested vendor will take the easy route and skip all of these opportunities. They all require time and effort, the two things vendors put toward their most-valued partners. Sometimes the onus is on the partner to broach the subject of these collaborations, but if a vendor has no interest after being approached, you have to question the future of the partnership.

Repairing a Broken Vendor-Partner Relationship

If you answered “no” to all of the above questions, you have a broken vendor-partner relationship. That doesn’t mean the relationship can’t be repaired, though. I’m a big fan of radical honesty. Simply ask your vendor reps whether they prioritize you and what they’re doing to further the relationship. If they assure you that the vendor is still committed, write down a road map of how you can more closely work together. Then make sure the vendor sticks to its word and hits the roadmap milestones.

Ultimately, it’s in everyone’s best interests to be fully committed to the vendor-partner relationship. Hopefully, having an open and honest dialogue will help you establish where you stand in the vendor’s mind. Selling is hard enough; not having a fully engaged vendor partner is a handicap that channel sales executives shouldn’t have to deal with it. So make sure to keep an eye out for early signs that a vendor might not be as into the partnership as it initially seemed.

Andrew Woodberry is a director of sales & business development with WorkSmart.net, a leading provider of cloud-based collaboration solutions. He seeks to help companies work more efficiently and effectively both internally and with their partners.

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