Ensuring a Successful Ecosystem
In a recent post, we discussed the steps to building a channel partner ecosystem. In this post, I’d like to focus on how to ensure your channel ecosystem works smoothly to convert opportunities into deals, strengthen customer relationships, and up-sell and cross-sell effectively. Selling in the business to business (B2B) space is becoming more and more complex. Simply calling someone a partner isn’t enough.
Challenges to Your Partner Ecosystem
In a recent Forbes article entitled, “Enabling Your Partners to Sell More,” the author discusses some of the pitfalls of channel marketing. Primarily, they revolve around the lack of a consistent customer value strategy.
Some example include:
- Partners not being able to get a reliable handle on margins due to “off-invoice” costs such as freight, services, etc.
- Internal sales teams not having visibility into opportunities involving partners across regions, product/service lines, etc.
- Unstructured discounting practices that do not factor in the stage of relationship with the customer or past transactions and may end up costing the enterprise the sale or margins.
- Limitations in strategically differentiating key value and long-tail items due to visibility at a granular level.
So how do you overcome these challenges?
Managing Your Channel Ecosystem Dynamics
Business leaders must manage the dynamics within the enterprise sales ecosystem more effectively, thereby ensuring that the ecosystem performs like a well-oiled engine.
Some guidelines include:
- Adopt and implement a consistently-applied ecosystem-wide quoting and pricing policy by documenting and disseminating guidelines. Build a central repository for all such information and ensure that partners rely only on this system.
- Provide visibility into opportunities to avoid the risk of multiple quotes being sent in response to the same opportunity, as well as the risk of undercutting. This, in turn, can reduce unhealthy competition and the risk of cannibalization within the ecosystem.
- Offer a data-driven approval matrix that expedites approval lifecycles. Consider the example of discounts based on expected order size and create a system wherein the approval matrix changes dynamically based on the discount and order size.
- Enable objective, transparent and data-driven assessments of partners so that incentives are awarded as per policies.
- Envision strong partner retention initiatives — for example, training on best practices and leading industry trends, early access to the latest products, references, co-selling on big-ticket opportunities and, above all, improved margins for top performers to keep partners excited about selling.
The key is to make members of the partner sales team feel like they are truly an extended arm of the enterprise sales team. This means giving all of them access to the latest information at the same time; clearly delimiting territories so that even inadvertently, partners do not step into each other’s areas; and minimizing the need for them to seek approvals from the enterprise on matters of pricing, configuration and terms.
The need to streamline and synergize collaborative sales capabilities within the extended sales ecosystem becomes even more critical in the context of new revenue streams such as subscriptions, which are gaining popularity even in the B2B world. But the emergence of subscription-based sales does not mean that other forms will cease to exist.
Businesses must ensure that their sales enablement systems support all different revenue streams — and, more importantly, make it easy for partners to pursue all of them with equal ease, efficiency and effectiveness.
Don’t Forget Your Partner Incentive Program
No channel marketing ecosystem works well without a well-oiled channel partner incentive program. Your program also needs to be totally equitable, completely consistent and easily accessible by all your partners. That’s where we come in. Give us a call.