March 24, 2021
By Tony Beller
Mergers and acquisitions are a common thread throughout the IT industry, but what can be a euphoric and opportunistic time for investors and technologists can often lead to a time of uncertainty and concern for channel partners. An acquisition should herald growth, an expanded portfolio to tap into, new people to deal with and even more streamlined processes. Why do they strike fear into the partner ecosystem, and how can companies manage successful channel program alignment during the transition phases?
There is often channel paralysis when shareholding is changing hands because, while companies are good at communicating to their staff and their investors what the change means to the business, they often neglect to create a clear picture for their channel ecosystem, and by this, we suggest not just resellers but also OEM, sales and even training partners.
Forthright and upfront communication needs to be delivered immediately. Your business has agreed to purchase another because its solutions add value to yours, they expand your portfolio or grow your customer base. These are positives for your channel, so getting that message into their inboxes or having these conversations with their leadership straight off the bat is critical.
Acquisitions can be process intensive, a bit like bringing together two households. Both parties have a kettle, a sofa and a set of steak knives; you now need to decide which ones are the best suited to your new home and will last the longest with the least disruption. While employees are urged to carry on business as usual, there is a deluge of technology, sales and management processes being changed in the back end.
Critically, channel integration must be as high up the value chain as payroll integration. Yes, there will likely be some channel overlap, which will make the process more straightforward. However, it’s optimistic to think you will be able to throw all partners into the same pool and business will carry on. This shift is made more accessible if the primary program that partners will be migrated to is already running like a well-oiled machine. If it’s not, you must be open to taking best practices from the business you’re merging with and marrying it to your program.
Re-Energize and Ignite
Let’s focus on the concept of being a well-oiled machine for a bit. Our business has led several acquisitions over the last few years, but instead of creating a patchwork of channel programs, we opted for a one-size-fits-all approach. It worked for a time, but over the last 18 months, as we have expanded our technologies and opted to lead with innovation, we also noticed the need to reinvent our channel program.
Talking to partners has been central to this change. All businesses profess to be customer-led, but if you execute through a channel, your partners are often the ones that own the voice of the customer. It has only been through speaking to existing partners, and those who have become part of our organization through acquisition, that we’ve gleaned better insights into how diverse and fast-growing our channel ecosystem is. The next step is taking those insights and turning them into actions.
Your channel is the link between sales and business realization. And to achieve this, you need to re-energize your existing partners and ignite confidence in your new ones. Define your program outright, offer timelines for complete onboarding and map out all the resources you will provide them with to achieve this as quickly as possible.
Put Value on Paper
Our channel mantra is to make sure we meet you where your business model is. This then translates to …
… the more you invest with us, the more we invest back into you. As much as channel programs follow tiers and frameworks, they must also be adaptable and amorphous, and they must add value. It’s no longer a ‘build it and they will come’ approach. You can be replaced by an open-source plug-in or a start-up tomorrow; the only way to circumvent this is to show value to the partner and their customer immediately.
After an acquisition, the first step to achieve this is to advise your partners on what additional value you bring to the table right off. Onboarding partners to channel-led marketing programs, sales-led incentives and activity-based marketing initiatives must happen instantly to maintain business growth. The time it takes to pull partners across into a new system should not impact the business if you build your model on scalable value realization.
Be Prepared for Shakeout
It would be naïve to think all partners will happily slide into your ecosystem, start selling your products, promote your narrative or partner with your sales team following an acquisition. Be prepared for a shakeout, but don’t be caught off guard with high-value partners leaving.
Again, communication is vital. Identify which partners are critical to the new business and establish which emerging partners can add a new dimension in the future. Then be prepared to work more closely with these partners and assign resources to manage their expectations as you work on back-end integration.
Share Your Vision
Successful channel partnerships are built on common goals. Our primary goal is customer excellence, and we go to great lengths to develop frameworks that speak to this. Bringing your partners in step with your business requires a shared vision, and this holds even more true for new partners being onboarded through an acquisition. Here you also need to be bold – some partners will fit your vision, and others will not – and this is an opportunity for them to either sign on to your vision or part ways amicably.
By their nature, channels are built on partnerships. Adding an acquisition into the mix should not upend this process; it should add value to the customer by including a new dynamic to your collective service offering. Getting the balance right is critical, making the steps you take to achieving channel harmony post-acquisition the most important steps you will take.
Tony Beller is responsible for worldwide partner ecosystems and OEM sales at Tibco. During his more than 20 years of experience in IT channels and alliances, Beller helped Anaplan build its strategic partner ecosystem, was the chief channel officer at ServiceNow and spent 10 years at Salesforce. He has also held executive positions at Taleo, Oracle, and PeopleSoft. You may follow him on LinkedIn or @TIBCO on Twitter.
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