The Partner Enablement Journey: Enjoy the Ride!

Posted By: Michael Burke ASAP Publications, ASAP Webinar,

If there’s one theme that’s been resonating with ASAP’s tech partnering community of late, it’s this: Treat your partner like a customer. A November ASAP webinar hammered this home in its title: “PX = CX = Revenue,” in which PX and CX stand for partner experience and customer experience, respectively. In that presentation Norma Watenpaugh, CSAP, founding principal of Phoenix Consulting Group, and Nancy Ridge, president of Ridge Innovative, emphasized that what your partner experiences with you influences what the customer experiences and perceives, so if you screw up with the partner, you may have lost forever the chance to reach the end customer—who, after all, is likely a whole lot closer to the partner than to you.

Another ASAP webinar just last week made a similar point—plus a few more—from a slightly different angle. “Adventures in Partner Enablement” was a fascinating panel discussion involving Mark Rogers, senior vice president of strategic accounts and alliances at Impartner; Celio Rosa, worldwide senior director of partner program and sales centers at Blue Yonder; and Bill Thomas, CA-AM, vice president of global alliances at Genpact. The webinar was moderated by my colleague and ASAP staff writer Jon Lavietes, and was inspired by his article “Self-Guided Tours in Partnerland,” which appeared in the Q3 2021 issue of Strategic Alliance Quarterly.

There are some new developments in partner enablement—or, as Lavietes remarked in introducing the webinar panelists, “If you’re doing what you were doing 20 years ago, what you might find today is that you’re falling behind and really failing to optimize both your channel partnerships and your strategic alliances.”

Yesterday’s News and Today’s “Tinder Game”

Rogers made the CX/PX connection right from the outset.

“Often I think we forget that partners are customers,” Rogers said. “They will leave [us] just as quickly as a customer will if in those moments of truth when we engage with them, we blow it, and we lose their trust.

"The first focus is making our partners successful in the process we engage in, and getting to results as fast as possible. A lot of this…is making everything as easy as possible: ease of consumption, ease of use, ease of implementation, ease of acquisition. [It’s about] simplifying, accelerating, and enhancing everything we do around enablement. Too often we try to do one-size-fits-all, and that just is yesterday’s news.”

As Lavietes noted, “gone are the days” of leaving partners on their own to search through thousands of pages of information looking for what will actually help them. Now what’s presented to them must be much more targeted, a point echoed by Rosa.

“It cannot be 45 hours of sales training, multiple exams, reporting, classes, and things like this,” Rosa stressed. “This is gone. We have to think [like] an executive from a partner that deals with a lot of customers. When they listen to the customer’s pain, they have to have the ability to immediately connect to your company, to say, ‘My partner, the vendor, has a solution for you.’ I like to say we play a Tinder game: that match is what is key for getting a partner engaged immediately.”

Fun and Games—and Snacks—Encouraged

Thomas observed that recent trends in partner enablement have only been accelerated by the pandemic.

“As a discipline of strategic alliances, we were already heading down a path of treating partners much more like customers: thinking about journeys, portals, making information and training available and easier to use,” he said. “That was all happening before COVID hit. Obviously the disruption of the pandemic has been a great motivator for people because it’s changed the way a lot of folks have worked. You really had to rethink how you engage your partners and how you make your partners more successful in working with your team and your products. You have to focus on deploying technologies that make it easy and even fun for partners to self-enable.”

One “fun” element is what Thomas called the “gamification angle,” which uses nudges, incentives, and what Rogers referred to as “proactive notifications” to make enablement more enjoyable, understandable, manageable, and engaging as partners move from one step to the next.

“If you’re working from home, how you divide your day is very different,” Thomas explained. “A lot of us always worked long hours, but now sometimes you’re putting the kids to bed, then back at the computer for a few hours. So you need things that are what I would call ‘snackable,’ bite-sized.”

It also helps to design a system that remembers where you are in the process, like a Netflix program, Thomas said. That way, partners have confidence that they can come back to it and get through the training they need, and know where to go from there. But how do you set up such a system? How do you design partner journeys that have just the right degrees of automation and specificity?

Stealing, Stickiness, and Success

“It’s so easy for us to think that we have all the answers, but there’s nothing wrong with just shamelessly stealing best practices,” said Rogers. “What I would strongly recommend is that you start and end with your partners. You’ve got to be able to listen to them. It’s all about creating the optimal partner experience. It gives you the competitive edge, and will make you sticky to those partners you’re recruiting. How do you get them to come to you? You’ve got to make the experience compelling.”

Incentives are one way to do it, whether badges, certificates, Amazon gift cards, or what have you. Another way is to find more targeted motivators that connect to how partners make money, according to Rosa.

“What we are trying to focus on is incentives on the business, especially lead source, prospects that we encourage them to register,” Rosa said. “It’s a behavior change. We’re trying to make sure that if they want to have some financial incentives, they have to register the leads, they have to be the father of the baby, let’s say, and nourish that baby to grow into a real opportunity. And when that happens, we want to reward the partner. We want partners who don’t just disappear—do a project and then move on to the next customer. They should remain with that customer, and that’s why we’re providing incentives for them to do so, so they can expand the business.”

And while systems, processes, automation, and incentives are all important, effective partner enablement still comes down to the human element—in other words, alliance managers, according to Thomas.

“So much is demanded of alliance managers nowadays; it’s not contracts and cocktails anymore,” he said. “There’s much more of a holistic, 360 view of success, taking the end customer into consideration in how we jointly deliver a great experience. You really have to think what skill sets you’re hiring for in alliance management: things like empathy, demonstrated aptitude, curiosity, broad-based business skills.

“It’s really important to create a culture in your organization that not just helps [alliance managers] succeed but finds the right people [who] get up every day and say, ‘How am I going to make my partner more successful?’ Not ‘How am I going to help them fit into the box I created with my program?’ The programs and the technologies provide great structure and they’ve done amazing things to help us, but a lot of times, a great partnership can be ruined with the wrong person managing it, and a bad program can be made a whole lot better if you’ve got the right person managing it. We’ve always known those two things to be true.”

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