For many companies, partners are their life blood. Partners drive sales and generate new opportunities, yet their needs are often overlooked.
With that in mind, I want to walk through a series of questions designed to help partner-led organizations better understand the partners they have today.
1. How should you keep your partners appropriately informed?
This article is based on a “B2B Market Research” podcast episode. If you would rather listen to the podcast episode. You can do so below.
Partners often want to know everything. Unfortunately, you can’t tell them everything because sensitive information might leak. You don’t want to give them a glimpse of your road map only to have them show it to their customer a week later to help close a deal.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t chat with your partners about your plans.
Ask your partners how they want to be informed. Find out if they would prefer a portal or a push, pull, or just-in-time model, etc.
Also, what type of content do they want to see when they’re being informed about your product roadmap?
2. How can you best educate partners on rapidly changing features?
Beyond informing your partners, you sometimes need to train them. For our clients, this is becoming an increasing pain point.
Ten years ago, you had a product launch for a piece of software once every 2-3 years (or once a year if you were Apple). With that cadence, you could build up assets in advance and launch training initiatives, run road shows and the like. This approach helped to ensure that your partners were ready to talk up and implement your solutions with their customers from Day 1.
Now things are very different. Whether it’s software as a service or it’s more of an infrastructure play, services are constantly evolving. New features are always being added. So, how can you best educate partners if you’re offering a service? That’s a key question you should be asking today.
3. Which partners are driving the largest amount of revenue for you?
Not all of your partners are equal. Sales will vary across customer segments (SMB, Enterprise, Vertical specific, etc.) and/or regions (US, EMEA, APAC, etc.). If you do your homework, you’re likely to find certain partners who are driving the bulk of your sales and others who are just waiting for leads and handouts.
Once you identify the partners who are driving the most revenue for you, show them the most love. Keep in mind that your best partners may not necessarily be the companies with the broadest brand recognition. In fact, they’re more likely to be second tier players who are well-known in their niche.
4. How many of your partners are running with the enemy?
It’s just a fact that your partners are probably working with the enemy. It’s to be expected. No matter how big your software or hardware platform is, you can’t possibly provide everything a partner’s target customer might need. However, you want to minimize the number of times a partner has to look outside the bubble of your products and services. In addition, when they do look outside, you want to know why that is. Don’t be shy about asking your partners what other partner relationships they have.
Also, ask them whether you generate the bulk of their revenue. If not, who does?
5. Which partners are good co-creation partners?
Some of your partners create unique offerings that you might be able to co-sell. Perhaps they have an add-on to an existing solution. Maybe they have a product that extends your solution into a new market or an industry. These folks can expand your reach. Find them. (It may even be strategic for you to buy them. Then you can directly offer what they’ve created.)
6. What should you beg, borrow, or steal from competing partner programs?
This is a tricky one to go after. You might hear that someone else’s partners really like a certain program benefit that your competitor offers. Understandably, you may then be tempted to provide that same benefit to your own partner community. However, your partner community could be very different in temperament, organization size, and capabilities. Your partner community may not receive the program benefit in the same way.
Benchmarking best of breed is fine, but make sure it’s wise and worth it before you start drastically changing your partner program.
7. What do your partners really think about your products?
As your partner, they are already a fan of your offerings (at least to some degree). On the other hand, they may have implemented your offering across an array of different customers. Or, if they are a boutique firm, they may be experts on a single type of client and really understand deployments in the public sector, oil and gas, healthcare, etc.
You can learn a lot from their observations of their clients’ experiences with your product.
Perhaps your product is really good for 90 percent of the customers that your company interacts with. As for that other 10 percent, a partner who sells to healthcare would be able to tell you if it does a poor job working in that particular sector.
8. When do your partners need support and how do they want to access it?
There are limits to what you can provide, of course, but you do want to enable your partners to be successful with their deployments. Probe not just on what they want for support, but how they want it delivered, and how quickly they expect to receive that support.
9. How do vendors want to hear about new opportunities?
This is one of the most obvious questions but I saved it for last because it needs to be asked in just the right way.You’re never going to be able to give partners as many leads as they want, but you do want to ask whether the leads you are giving them are valuable.
Perhaps there is a certain type of lead that you could be providing more of. Maybe your partners feel disappointed when they work with you on large deals, but are pleased when you work with them on smaller deals.
Again, you’ll have to balance out the leads they want with what you can reasonably provide.
These questions are designed to open the door to a better partner program. With a greater understanding of your partners, you may discover new opportunities for visibility for your products and services. In turn, your partners may be more willing to facilitate that visibility and drive more sales for both of you.
This podcast is brought to you by Cascade Insights. We specialize in market research and competitive intelligence for B2B technology companies. Our focus allows us to deliver detailed insights that generalist firms simply can’t match. Check out our podcast for more B2B Market Research episodes and articles.
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