B2B partner enablement

How to Build a Trustworthy B2B Partner Program

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Authored byKrista Daly
Sean Campbell
Authored bySean Campbell
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Authored byPhilippe Boutros

B2B partner enablement programs unlock new routes to market and product synergy opportunities. Even so, they can be more trouble than they’re worth without proper management.

Over the years, we at Cascade Insights have analyzed many different types of partner enablement programs in the B2B tech industry. Based on our research, we’ve discovered several strategies for building and improving partner programs and helping partner managers achieve success.

Who Handles Post-Sale Activities?

A vendor can play a large or small role in post-sale activities.

When vendors are in charge, they provide consistent guidance and technical support, managing customers’ implementation, integration, and maintenance. In this model, customers need to be aware that the partner is merely focused on fulfillment and isn’t there to provide detailed support.

An excellent example of this is the large number of hardware reseller relationships in the technology industry. A customer may buy a laptop, monitor, server, or other hardware from an online retailer who is a member of a vendor’s partner program. However, it’s the vendor—not the partner—who answers customers’ technical questions about the hardware.

A good example of when the partner takes the lead is when a system integrator assists with deployment, maintenance, and integration concerns.

This type of partner-led post-sale activity occurs most often is when a vendor wants to show they have expertise deploying their software for specific client verticals, such as healthcare, retail, telecommunication, manufacturing, etc. The vendor may not have direct expertise in all the verticals they want to sell to, but a B2B partner enablement program focused on finding partners with deep industry experience can help bridge that knowledge gap.

How Do We Make Money?

Another big question to answer is how you and your partners will make money. This can be upfront for a fixed price offering or billed over time for service—or consumption-based models.

For example, the technology sector contains many resellers who sell everything from laptops, to servers, to mobile phones. For these resellers, profit sharing may be as simple as buying a product at X price and selling it for a higher price at Y.

Alternatively, partners can make their money off of services delivered. These services could be implementation, support, or education-focused. In any of these cases, the partner is responsible for ensuring a customer implements, deploys, and takes full advantage of a new piece of software or hardware.

Finally, there might also be a mix of hardware and services sales. For example, take a scenario where a company is looking to deploy IoT devices, edge computing resources, and cloud computing resources. In this case, the partner may be getting a cut on each piece of IoT hardware deployed, the servers and compute resources that are placed at the edge, and a slice of the services revenue for the cloud services utilized each month or quarter.

Vendors need to decide early on what role they want to play in the customer relationship and stick to it. While a vendor’s willingness to change how they make money might not be a problem, these changes can create channel churn from the end customer perspective.

One recent example of this kind of churn is when Microsoft started selling the Surface laptop. Before the launch of the Surface, Microsoft OEM partners had a straightforward relationship with Microsoft. These OEMs built laptops, and Microsoft supplied the operating system for those laptops.

However, with the release of the Surface laptop, Microsoft’s strategy shifted to direct sales for both the software and hardware. This move made Microsoft both a partner and a competitor with their channel.

Any Surprise is a Bad Surprise

“Customers don’t want surprises. Partners don’t want surprises. Nobody wants to have to drop what they’re doing and react to something.” — Scott Swigart, Cascade Insights’ Chief Research Officer

Partners are sometimes the last to know about a new product launch or a new software update. In many cases, these partners learn about these changes at the same time as the public. So, when customers turn to the partner, whom they have a relationship with, the partner has to say, “Surprise! We just heard about this today, too.”

In this scenario, customers will be upset and frustrated with the partner and any vendor working with that partner because they don’t know any more than the customer does.

A well-run B2B partner enablement program prepares the channel for customers’ questions. Providing even basic boilerplate talking points is better than leaving your partners completely in the dark. Ideally, for every new product launch or update, partners should get access to information before the general public.

Other surprises to avoid include changes to pricing, support, or licensing models. All of which are often sprung on partners with little or no warning.

How a partner enablement program handles changes like the above is very telling. As a vendor, are you communicating important information in advance? Do you give your partners any sort of guidance to ensure a smooth transition? Have you explained the value of every new solution?

How Do We Share Insights?

To stay on top of the trends happening in the market, partner managers have to do a lot of research. This future-oriented research is the same research individual channel partners typically don’t have the budget to commission themselves.

“To the extent that they can keep their partner oriented towards the future, it’s worth it for them.” — Scott Swigart

Partners appreciate getting industry information customized for their needs. Providing whitepapers on industry trends, overviews of the competitive landscape, and competitive comparisons can make it easy for your partner to meet their sales goals.

Trust or Distrust: There is No In-Between

Prospective partners need to know that an investment in your partner program will lead to new sources of revenue. And that you won’t make it hard for them to gain access to these new opportunities.

In essence, these partners are trying to decide whether they can trust you.

A partnership with you not only needs to yield results; it needs to deliver unfaltering support. B2B partner enablement programs that provide clear communication, crisp rules of engagement, and solid revenue opportunities will succeed.

Those that fail to do one or more of these things will sow distrust among potential partners as time passes.

Do you know if you’re successfully hitting all these key points? If you’re not sure about your partner’s level of trust, contact our team at Cascade Insights. Whether you have a specific question or are considering B2B Partner Enablement Research, we can help you build a partner enablement program that can make your partners and customers happy to do business with you.

With 15 years of experience in the B2B technology sector, Cascade Insights can help you build lasting partner enablement programs based on sound strategies. Learn more about our B2B partner enablement research here.

Special thanks to CEO Sean Campbell, Chief Research Officer Scott Swigart, and Chief of Staff Philippe Boutros for advising on this piece. 


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