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Can You Hear Me Now? NetApp’s Partners Say, “Yes!”

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 3/6/2013

One of the most critical challenges faced by alliance management practices today is to implement effective partner listening programs and turn the feedback into meaningful action. In their presentation “Voice of the Partner: Can You Hear Me Now?,” Seema Kohli, senior manager of partner loyalty at NetApp, and Ramesh Subramaniam, CA-AM, chief strategist at alliance consultancy Alliancesphere, demonstrated how the two companies collaborated to develop their own mechanism to ensure that NetApp listened to and acted on its partners'—and customers'—concerns.

Kohli began by asking who of the audience had served as a subject of a customer/partner survey. Several hands went up. She followed up by asking whether they felt their customer feedback was heard. Fewer hands went up. Was action eventually taken? The initial sea of hands had shrunk to a small puddle.

Kohli then asked if anyone in the room was tying together feedback from both partner and customer listening surveys. Only one confirmed his company did.

With that, the two speakers walked through the evolution of NetApp’s partner listening program. Subramaniam outlined five tenets of a successful feedback program: 1) one common framework; 2) data delineated into a reasonable amount of actionable intelligence (i.e., not an overwhelming amount of information); 3) integration of multiple viewpoints—customers, distributors, resellers, and alliances; 4) governance structure with well-established cadence to ensure stakeholders derive consistent value and processes are efficient; and 5) recognition that it’s a long journey. (NetApp’s program took three years to develop, which was two years ahead of schedule, according to Kohli.)

The NetApp-Alliancesphere team set out to gather a variety of partner perspectives from obvious places such as formal surveys as well as feedback from other not-so-obvious sources such as summits, events, quarterly business reviews, and other sources.

“Qualitative data is just as important [as quantitative],” said Subramaniam.

From there, Alliancesphere and NetApp synthesized a wide range of inputs into information on year-on-year trending, comparisons versus benchmark, and stats on closed-end questions as well as open-ended comments, and streamlined them into two categories: 1) viewpoints that affected broad strategy, and 2) responses pertaining to specific aspects of the alliance. This enabled NetApp to stratify the top few things the company’s C-Suite, geo/regional leader–level executives, and core alliance management team needed to know about their partners—and ultimately their customers.

To close the loops with partners, NetApp conveyed the feedback that was provided to them, the actions the company would take in response, and when partners could expect to see said changes.

With feedback from customers, distributors, resellers, and partners all woven into one, NetApp's allies had actionable feedback that was unparalleled in its depth. NetApp and its partners knew more than just how stakeholders felt about the relationship; they had detailed information on what each aforementioned group thought they needed to take to market—intelligence NetApp’s sales and alliance people could take to their planning sessions.

Moreover, the Voice of the Partner exercise distinguished NetApp in the eyes of its partners.

“It established NetApp as a leader,” said Kohli. “Our partners kept telling us that nobody else is doing this for them.”

The partner listening exercise has also created so much value for the stakeholders within NetApp who touch alliances that they are clamoring for more insight. Kohli and her team are happy to commit to the extra workload that comes from these demands.

“We're seeing a pull across company—account teams, strategy planning office, and other parts of the organization,” she said. “They want this information.”

Subramaniam also mentioned that feedback was provided to individual alliance managers as well.

“Not just the feedback of the partner, but the customer as well,” he said. ”One-to-one feedback is helpful, but integrated feedback is exponentially beneficial.”

Across NetApp, the message is heard loud and clear.

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