How to Turn Your Channel Into a Competitive Advantage

A healthy partner-supplier relationship is more than the sum of its parts.

December 6, 2017

5 Min Read
Competitive advantage


Tim Maloney

By Tim Maloney, SVP Worldwide Channels, Lifesize

In my 20-plus years in business, I have found that there is only one constant regarding your success — it is rarely accomplished alone.

Often, organizations rush into channel partnerships thinking only of short-term gain; however, when a business puts the appropriate time and energy into understanding what it takes to develop mutually beneficial relationships – both before and after a deal is closed – that insight can lead to channel partners becoming a competitive advantage. Businesses that fail at this create an environment where the customer can get lost in the equation, and the equation is supposed to be about the customer.

To ensure the opportunity for growth and scale for both parties, I focus on three core elements to build strong, symbiotic relationships. Suppliers, are you doing these things regularly? Partners, are you choosing vendors that invest the proper time, money and thought into your relationship?

Pick the right partners: This sounds obvious, I know, but there are fundamental attributes that a partner must have in order to be a right fit. Those include being focused on the right market, having a quality customer base, and aligning revenue. In the initial stages of a partnership, I always ask myself a few simple questions to make sure our business is on the right path. Why are we interested in this partnership? Do we get access to new markets or new dollars? Is it incremental? What is the unique value that this partnership allows us to offer? Are we a good fit for each other?

The answers to these questions help align go-to-market strategies and tactics.

While both sides most likely share the goal of making a profit, there are other intangible elements in play, which is why the best business partners also align their values. For example, at my company, Lifesize, we have a goal to “act with integrity and authenticity,” so we look for like-minded partners who operate in a moral and ethical way. To do this, we evaluate the health of the partner’s business and research both its approach and reputation before signing on the dotted line. We hold our channel partners to the same level of standards that we hold our own business, and expect them to do the same in return.

This is also the case in how we treat of our customers. (See our CEO’s take on “customer obsession.”) We believe in delivering truly exceptional customer service from every department throughout our business. We look for channel partners that live by this same mantra because this is the only way to provide a stellar customer experience before, during and long after the point of sale.

Be partner-obsessed: In most cases, the channel partners in our industry don’t have the manpower to lead significant marketing efforts or communicate changes around a new product at the drop of a hat. And they shouldn’t, since that isn’t their core value proposition. As vendors, we need to arm them with …

… the tools and information they need to be successful and provide the best support possible. We must work to create a holistic, positive experience that extends support throughout the lifetime of a relationship.

Here are a couple of ways to make this a priority:

  • Keep lines of communication open and honest: All communication should be meaningful and provide helpful and actionable information. Oversaturation can happen quickly in the channel, so it is important to be aware of the tempo and tenor of change and prioritize the information you send.

  • Be prepared to educate during times of change: Change in a company is healthy and inevitable, so make sure you are bringing your partners along with you during these times. They can’t be ambassadors for your company if they don’t have the latest information and vision. Being consistent in times of change and keeping surprises at bay will help the channel plan with you and build trust for future growth.

Grow together or not at all: As a business grows, it can be easy to lose sight of the full team. In a recent Channel Partners article, our CEO Craig Malloy discusses the importance of evolving together or risking failure separately. I agree with Craig’s points, and I also find two words to be key to a strong channel partnership that stands the test of time: “with thought.” If, as a vendor, you are thoughtful in how you approach the channel and understand how your changes affect your entire ecosystem, partners will appreciate your effort and stay when times are tough. Trust is built without a hidden agenda and when everyone has a vote. Channel partners are not franchisees and should not be treated as such.

There is no way around it — building successful business partnerships can be difficult. But if you focus on developing trust, being accountable and thoughtful, these relationships can become a strong, competitive advantage for your company. Knowing you can be successful together, sharing collective knowledge and having faith in the solid foundation you’ve established, both parties will maintain a thriving relationship for years to come.

Tim Maloney is senior vice president, worldwide channels, at Lifesize. With over 20 years in sales operations and channel management, Tim is dedicated to leveraging a unique mix of vision, strategy, operations and analysis to bring the channel model to the next level, and has been doing just that at Lifesize since joining in 2017.

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