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3 steps to blazing a trail to a better partner experience

A strong vendor-channel partnership is essential to sustained business success in IT, and channel partners have the leverage. Here are the essential steps to creating it.

As the purchasing habits of buyers become more sophisticated and demanding, providing a positive customer experience (CX) has become mandatory for any business. But despite all the CX innovations and investments, there's still a big gap in the experience that businesses provide and the one that customers expect. A recent PwC report noted that 32% of consumers say they'll walk away from a brand after just one bad experience, and 54% said most companies' customer experience interactions need improvement.

It's no surprise then that the improving-experiences trend has also trickled -- maybe even surged -- up the supply chain to include relationships between tech vendors and their channel partners. The so-called partner experience (PX) has become a critical component of sustained success in the IT channel.

A CompTIA report produced with AchieveUnite, "Partner Experience Trends Through the Lens of the Partner Journey," details the latest in this space, including what both vendors and channel partners can do to work better together.

Why is the partner experience important?

Providing an optimal PX is a force multiplier of success, according to Larissa Crandall, vice president of worldwide channel and alliances at Gigamon, in a CompTIA blog. She advised readers to "focus on your partners' experience … through training, enablement, and listening." When putting together campaigns, she added, it's essential to create them from the partner's perspective, producing "material that partners can actually bring to their customers."

The CompTIA report notes that channel partners' reasons to improve CX mirror the reasons to improve PX, including the following:

  • evolution of tools and engagement practices;
  • improved retention and competitive advantage efforts;
  • emergence of GenY/Gen Z buying preferences; and
  • general shifts in sales cycles.

The basis for improving PX owes its roots to a big sea change that's occurred in the IT channel over the last several years. Although big vendors once held firm control over their partners -- telling them how, where and when they were allowed to sell their products -- that's no longer the case.

Partner experience trends through the lens of the partner journey

Check out this CompTIA report and learn what's involved in the partner experience and how it's now changing.

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Today, partners have much more leverage in their relationships with manufacturers, for a few reasons. First, channel partners today focus much more on services and full solutions that solve a business problem, not a product or a vendor's line. Second, purchasing decisions at the customer level have shifted dramatically. CompTIA's study found that 55% of channel partners reported a significant shift in buying power among CMOs, CFOs and other non-traditional IT purchase centers.

"Other than on-premises hardware, much of today's technology is being consumed from the cloud, including, storage, backup and disaster recovery services, networking infrastructure and beyond," according to the report. "The customer cares mainly about what service they are being provided to solve or advance a business problem or desired outcome."

The recipe for long-term PX success

Perhaps because a focus on partner experience is newer to many vendors and solution providers, it's difficult to find an optimal template to cover all bases. Everyone has unique needs, different models and their own expectations. But commonalities emerged during interviews and other anecdotal research for the report.

The primary reason to work with a specific vendor is ease of doing business, more than either revenue- or profit-driven reasons. "Those who strip hassle and pain out of the entire process, including recruitment, onboarding, management, compensation, and other pieces of the relationship lifecycle are increasingly the go-tos," according to the report.

A successful partner experience also depends on each party -- namely vendors, distributors and partners -- contributing their share in the process. Clarity, transparency and honest communication are all keys to long-term success.

The process to developing a long-term successful partner experience can be envisioned as a three-step journey, according to the CompTIA report: consideration, conversion and commitment.

The first step -- consideration -- consists of the research, evaluation and opportunity costs involved in selecting a vendor to work with. Partners routinely ask themselves what is their revenue or growth opportunity? How will customers respond?

Conversion, the second step,  focuses on building a formal relationship -- including a trial run, onboarding, training and integrating processes. Channel partners, here, are forming important impressions of the vendor's responsiveness, clarity and ease of doing business at this stage.

The third step, commitment, includes what it takes to maintain long-term success, such as automating processes, joint selling and marketing, advanced training and measuring success metrics.

Criteria for PX success

After completing these three steps, "a partner is in a good position to rate the entire experience with the vendor and make long-term choices about the direction of the relationship," CompTIA wrote. "Many partners at this stage rate the quality and availability of advanced vendor-provided training, the success of joint selling and marketing, communications and the ease of doing business, and, of course, revenue and profitability performance."

CompTIA identified a number of criteria to measure partner experience:

  • sales and marketing engagement;
  • deal registration;
  • increased levels of support;
  • lead generation;
  • social media and digital marketing;
  • marketing platforms; and
  • shared analytics.

"Successful vendors can conduct joint planning with their partners in a seamless fashion," according to CompTIA. "They share resources with partners without borders. They look at the relationship success metrics much more holistically."

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