There’s No Substitute for a Good Ecosystem Experience
Although we are still in the early phases of the ecosystem era, tech companies of all kinds are reaching into their partner bases to come up with creative combinations of technologies and services that produce some even more dynamic outcomes for clients. Whether it’s cruise lines offering embedded insurance, insurance providers devising new warranties for smartphones, or smart home sensors helping to monitor for water leaks, customers are reaping the benefits when tech vendors, integrators, distributors, managed service providers (MSPs), and resellers shift on a dime to whip up new offerings.
These use cases came to light as part of ASAP’s latest webinar, “Partner Ecosystems and the Customer Experience,” and four ecosystem leaders joined moderator Nancy Ridge, president and founder of Ridge Innovative, to share some of the innovative new ways of engaging with partners that are required to help clients meet business challenges.
Navigators and Orchestrators of Excellent Adventures
Cassie Jeppsen, director of North America channel programs and operations at Lenovo, viewed her partners as “navigators” of the customer journey; they not only have direct knowledge of clients’ needs but they also aggregate technology solutions and pull in resellers, distributors, affiliates, integrators, and other partners as necessary to meet each customer’s unique requirements.
“No two customers are the same. They truly don’t have exactly the same needs,” said Jepsen. “Each [partner] plays such a unique role in creating that adventure or journey for the customer.”
Lisa Walsh, group vice president of global alliances at Guidewire, a property and casualty insurance software company, saw her partners as “orchestrators,” as many of the consultants who work with the company put together roadmaps that help clients understand the possibilities presented by Guidewire’s ecosystem. For example, some of these consultants have deployed predictive analytics algorithms on weather and claims data to produce insights that can help insurers more accurately underwrite risk associated with climate change–related weather in regions that see heavy amounts of wind and rainstorms.
“We are the end consumers of this. If something is better priced, it’s good for society,” she said.
Walsh also spoke at length about Guidewire’s “specializations” program, through which consulting partners can earn special designations highlighting a specific skill or capability by submitting three customer references and employing a minimum number of consultants in those competency areas. (Guidewire was recently recognized with a 2023 ASAP Alliance Excellence Award for this program, which we profiled last month.)
The company isn’t alone in helping partners distinguish their specific value propositions.
“Accreditations are a great way to identify whom should be included in a particular engagement, as well as looking at those customer testimonials and proven results and experiences,” said Jepsen.
Accelerating Toward a Customer Solution
For global consulting firm Protiviti, a subsidiary of talent management firm Robert Half, the challenge isn’t just illuminating partner capabilities for customers; the company’s alliance leadership team must vigilantly educate their own solutions and sales personnel on the ecosystem’s collective technology offerings. The company is creating a “repository” of its partners’ “accelerators,” defined as “high-demand” capabilities by Claudia Kuzma, CA-AM, the company’s managing director and global ecosystem program leader.
“What accelerators have been built? What’s the business case around it? What problem is it solving?” said Kuzma. Account leaders and managers from sales, marketing, and other corners of the organization can sort partner products and services by industry or technology area and see all that the Protiviti ecosystem has to offer laid bare. “It takes the pressure off of somebody trying to understand what are all of the capabilities we [bring] to bear and marry that to what are the buying behaviors. Where are our stakeholders spending money?”
Having that information at one’s fingertips makes everyone’s job easier, and make no mistake, it’s almost impossible to keep all partners’ strengths and specialties in one’s head.
“As we grow and proliferate, it’s really hard to keep our arms around it all [and provide] the right information—pitching the right product to the right person at the right time, so to say, based on buying behaviors,” Kuzma added.
Pilot, Pilot, Pilot: Strip It to the Studs, Launch, and Learn
Jeff Mattan, vice president of global partner programs and operations at BeyondTrust, went into great detail about how his company manages its ecosystem, which he described as a three-pronged challenge involving systems, enablement, and culture—all of which were created around the direct sales model, which doesn’t fully highlight partners’ all-important role in advancing BeyondTrust’s and its clients’ business objectives. He and his team are in the process of “stripping down our whole go-to-market motion to the studs,” as he described it, illustrating part of this effort with an anecdote about how the company recently tripled the length of a document that details the sales life cycle when it added information about the partner’s role to each stage. The process is still in its “infancy,” according to Mattan.
“You just have to pilot, pilot, pilot. Whatever works, it’s just launch and learn,” he added.
Hot Topic: The Rise of Partner NPS
Mattan also detailed the technology investment his company has made into delivering a better partner experience, citing solutions that make the contract process easier by automating many facets of it—“no more redlines,” he said—as well as functionality from partner software vendor PartnerTap, which helps partners map sales teams and unearth overlapping activity within particular customer/prospect accounts.
But the most important technology purchase, according to Mattan, is BeyondTrust’s repurposing of customer insight software from Gainsight to measure partner “NPS”—or “net promoter score”—in an effort to crystallize partners’ contribution to the success of each client relationship and the company as a whole using insights gathered through surveys of customers and the supervising employees from BeyondTrust’s professional services organization involved in their implementations and ongoing support.
“It’s not cheap, but we made the investment because we know it’s important. It all comes back to, Did the customer get what they wanted? Because they don’t really care about how anymore. It’s who can do this, and does it work faster and better?” said Mattan, before qualifying that these insights still represent somewhat of a qualitative metric. “It’s never going to be [tied to] a hard revenue number. It’s always going to be the seller marked it as ‘influence,’ but we can add it up and [determine that] we influenced this much revenue.”
Jepsen said her company has also constructed its own version of partner NPS that similarly layers in operational satisfaction scores and relies heavily on “anecdotal feedback.” She relayed that partners are contributing to a 28 percent customer satisfaction rate, 25 percent in cost reduction, a 24 percent increase in customer lifetime value, and a 19 percent increase in customer cross-sell/upsell opportunities.
“ROI is always a hot topic,” she said.
(We will be delving deeper into the subject of partner attribution, the efforts to quantify partners’ contribution to sales and customer success in the upcoming Q4 edition of Strategic Alliance Quarterly.)
“The Opportunities Are Endless”
And we have only scratched the surface, in Jepsen’s estimation. There is still so much untapped potential in the combinations of technologies and services that can be assembled using various parts of the ecosystem.
“The opportunities are endless,” she said. “It definitely takes a village, and I believe that’s what the ecosystem allows us to cultivate.”
“Partner Ecosystems and the Customer Experience” will soon be added to the ASAP Content Hub. Replay the webinar for even more insights, including why Jepsen equates the challenges of ecosystem orchestration to “eating an elephant one bite at a time.”