Maximizing Channel Partnerships in the Post-COVID World

Find flexible partners who can adapt quickly and collaborate for the long term.

September 13, 2021

5 Min Read
Pre- and Post-Coronavirus

By Shannon Sbar


Shannon Sbar

There’s no doubt the way we work and how industries operate have changed in the wake of the pandemic. In fact, it’s likely the market will continue to shift and the norms that businesses operate under today will be different 12, 24 and 36 months from now.

As noted by Forrester Analyst Jay McBain, “The output of this will be a remote (or residential) topology that will require new levels of service, support, infrastructure, security, compliance, and continuity.” A new set of standards and best practices are being ushered in that define a successful relationship between vendors, managed service providers (MSPs) and end users. Moving forward, it will be important for end users to identify partners that have the flexibility to adapt with their business and to do it quickly. This means partners will look for vendors who can provide continuous support, collaboration and engagement for long-term success.

Getting the Most from Partnerships

When it comes to maximizing partnerships in the post-pandemic world, vendors, MSPs and end users will have different, but complementary priorities. Partnerships are most successful when it becomes a true collaboration between the end user, the partner and the vendor to jointly solve the business problem.

For a vendor, the MSP needs to be top of mind at every stage, from product development and presale all the way through the sale and post-sale. At each point, collaboration is important to ensuring the MSP understands the offer’s value proposition, the resources available for them to incorporate the offer and the support they’ll receive to successfully market the offer. From there the partner can scale faster without incurring additional sales investment costs to identify new opportunities.

Not only will MSPs enjoy exposure to new opportunities and resulting revenue, but they’ll also gain access to more data to provide a holistic view of customer environments and drive future sales. To get to this point vendors need to ensure the end customer’s interests are represented in the offer’s value proposition and recommend best practices and sales tactics for MSPs that will resonate with end users. A support model around the full offer life cycle also aids in bringing full value to the MSP’s business and the customer experience.

For the end-users, agreement on the plan and business goals are most critical. They must understand where gaps in the plan exist, determine what points to manage internally and what can be managed through MSPs. They need partners they can trust to ensure alignment of the goals, timelines and deliverables. As businesses evolve rapidly, it’s important for customers to track measurable outcomes and ensure the MSP is providing the type of service required to meet business objectives. Customers can then focus on their own business and doing what they do best while outsourcing the challenge to an expert who can address it without disrupting their core business.

The Most Important MSP Attributes

To position themselves well in the post-pandemic market, MSPs need to focus on two core attributes: competency and business alignment. MSPs want to align with their customers’ business needs and understand how their offer fills in gaps and meets customer expectations.

The customer needs to feel confident that the partner can …

… deliver so they can focus on providing the experience their own customers want. The vendor needs to be hyper-focused on providing the tools and support the partner needs to be successful, profitable and efficient. Finally, the MSPs need vendors that augment their business and provide sustainable solutions which allow them to expand into areas they don’t typically play in (with minimum investment) to drive growth.

Making Successful Channel Partnerships a Reality

While the strategies and attributes outlined above are essential to the ultimate success of a channel partnership, they don’t mean much without a strong contract in place that will enable the partnership to flourish. This is where negotiating a successful, sustainable and mutually beneficial master service agreement comes into play.

Successful partners will have a strong understanding of their customer’s costs – both currently incurred costs and their opportunity costs by outsourcing – to negotiate value that maximizes their return. To drive additional cost out of their business model, MSPs can help customers explore other potential benefits of outsourcing, including the additional capabilities they can provide, economies of scale and best practices for other engagements.

Additionally, the vendor needs to provide the supporting documentation to enable the MSP to build a mutually beneficial service agreement with their customer. The partner will be on the hook to provide the expected service levels the customer requires, and their reputation will be at stake. Therefore, it’s important for vendors to provide MSPs with the support, resources and tools to help them build and establish a successful managed services practice.

With so much change in the business world thanks to the events of the last year, the means to achieve a successful channel partnership will continue to evolve. The organizations on both sides of the equation that will thrive and find the most value from their partnerships will be those that embrace open communication, flexibility and a willingness to ensure their customer’s needs are prioritized at the same level they’d want their own to be. From this starting point of reciprocity, a mutually beneficial and sustainable partnership can emerge.

Shannon Sbar is vice president of the IT Solutions Business Division at Schneider Electric. Prior to joining Schneider in 2007, she worked at Philips Consumer Electronics, where she was recognized with its 2005 Channel Excellence Award, and previously was a national account director at Vivendi Universal. She has been a panelist on the Cisco House Women’s Leadership Forum, Tech Data’s Channel Link “Women of the Channel” Event, and CDW’s Women Opportunity Network. She is committed to helping women in the channel succeed and lead in business. You may follow her on LinkedIn or @SchneiderNA on Twitter.

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