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August 23, 2021
By Bob Lamendola
COVID-19 has forced organizations to accelerate their digital transformation and adoption of new technology. Although digital transformation activities started before 2020, the pace and urgency of implementing them has quickly risen to the top of the priority list. As such, IT organizations have adopted new technology, new ways of working and new thinking about their relationships with technology companies.
Some best practices have and will always hold true. Others are now more important than ever. Here are a few recommendations for how to identify the best partners for your organization and how to be the best channel partner you can possibly be in the post-pandemic world.
Bundle what you can. The future of the workplace will inevitably consist of a more diverse, separated and distributed remote workforce than ever before. As such, it will be crucial to offer more packaged solutions and services that can easily be procured, deployed and consumed. Packaged solutions enable agile organizations and meet the growing needs of their increasingly remote and hybrid workforce. Consider partners that not only prioritize solution development based on a thorough understanding of customer challenges and needs, but that take a centralized approach to management, incubation, R&D and operationalization that drives agility and efficiency for increased innovation.
Take a comprehensive approach. It’s important to think all inclusively. Value-added resellers (VARs), managed service providers (MSPs) and channel service providers can effectively choose their partners by taking a holistic approach to portfolio alignment and go-to-market strategy. Start by identifying potential solutions across several technology partners, and thoroughly evaluate solution capabilities, features, pricing, profitability and partner incentives. This mutually beneficial relationship enables both stakeholders to add and take advantage of value cohesively.
Take as many test drives as you need. It’s imperative to execute proof-of-concept testing on the leading options to confirm that the solutions function successfully and are viable before moving forward with any partnership. When developing agile processes — which, as mentioned, is a critical step in the post-pandemic world — build toward specific customer needs. Partnerships that engage in co-development activities and appreciate this type of intentional life cycle development are typically the most successful.
Identify the right criteria. To be successful, VARs, MSPs and channel service providers should work to ensure that they have a clearly defined sales and go-to-market strategy, market coverage or presence, reputation and current portfolio to present to their channel partners. These criteria help define what your partnership will entail and frame a reciprocal understanding about working together, as well as shared objectives and goals. Organizations that make an upfront investment in developing a common vision of success and goals over time — and understand whether those priorities have shifted or changed because of the pandemic — will likely result in a positive experience.
Remember who comes first. It’s important to understand the competitive landscape to avoid partnering with providers that operate in a limited or saturated market; that have vision or strategies that do not align with your own; or are solely transactional in nature. This is true in any market, but particularly important in the post-pandemic world where customer-centricity is more important – and expected – than ever. Today, customers are uniquely poised to bargain to win given the newfound consumerization of everything. And, while we know that the customer sits at the crux of all we do, if there is one thing the pandemic has shown us, it’s that they could be sitting anywhere. Partner with organizations that share this customer-first mindset and have a similar desire to meet their customers at their immediate point of need.
Similarly, it’s also wise to avoid closely affiliating with organizations that don’t have a partner alliance team or dedicated resource that will be available to work with you to build the relationship and drive success for your solution. You want to ensure that …
… there is a strong commitment to and investment in the resources required for the effort, and a sense that all parties will collectively succeed as a strategic unit with fully aligned goals and resources.
Ask the right questions. To purchase the most appropriate solution, channel partners should ask for marketing content, campaign materials, sales leads and incentives, such as marketing development funds (MDFs) or rebates when certain sales goals are achieved to help drive opportunities. In channel-to-channel scenarios when purchasing services, ask about the ability to collaborate on go-to-market promotional and demand-generation activity.
Know what to look for in short- and long-term partners. The benefits to be had in choosing a short-term or long-term partner are determined case-by-case based on specific customer needs. Long-term partnerships are generally preferred, but a short-term partner can appropriately fill an immediate customer need in a timelier way that serves your purpose.
Observe key partner strategies. There are three key things to look for when choosing short-term partners: ease of deployment, high-level support and an exit strategy. When you’re making a near-term investment, your goal is to maximize efficiencies, increase automation and have a common understanding to drive profit margin. For long-term relationships, it’s a little different. You may sacrifice profit margins early on; and as the relationship evolves, grows and improves over time, margins, automation capabilities, portfolio awareness and comfort with the sales structure are likely to improve.
Offer a complete service package. Channel providers can broaden the partner relationship beyond just OEMing a technical offering to create an ongoing partnership experience that incorporates software upgrades, services, maintenance and technical training. Explore operational integration options and collaboratively develop annual plans with partners that highlight activities and future goals to provide both parties a clear understanding of expectations and allocated resources. You can also engage in partner co-development to leverage the best of both organizations and build more long-term value than you would by simply embedding each other’s capabilities into your own individual solutions.
Remember that price should never be your primary decision maker; in fact, there is tremendous risk with focusing on price as the primary decision factor. Understand the market, ensure that when comparative shopping you fully understand the scope of services, require that service level objectives be incorporated into the agreement and do not focus solely on price. There will always be someone who will offer the service at a lower price, but that doesn’t mean it’s best for you.
Go with your gut, at the end of the day. Deciding whom to partner with is ultimately a judgment call and a strategic decision that requires an organized approach, clearly defined objectives and an understanding of the desired outcome. It also requires some level of trust and an organizational fit for the comfort and support of everyone involved.
The pandemic has taught us all how to collaborate better and leverage the tools at our disposal, and this culture of collaboration will inform our business relationships and the people and organizations we choose to work with. After all, people remain at the core of the digital transformation life cycle, and partner relationships will always be critical.
Bob Lamendola is senior vice president, technology, and head of digital services center for Ricoh North America. He is responsible for creating a clear strategy and identity for Ricoh’s Digital Services portfolio, with a customer-centric focus. Prior to this role, Lamendola served as vice president of infrastructure and engineering services, a group focused on providing technology leadership and escalation support across Ricoh’s Services portfolio. Lamendola has led all aspects of Ricoh’s IT Services infrastructure – from engineering and design to the daily operations of those environments. Previously, he was vice president of information technology at an international semiconductor manufacturer. You may follow him on LinkedIn or @RicohTweets on Twitter.
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