Influence is the Future Partnership
Vendors that know how to interact with and incent influencers will have an edge over those relying only on badged resellers.
By Larry Walsh
I’ve been saying for the past couple of years that delivering an experience is more important than providing a good technology – or, customer experience is the product. Now we have evidence. According to Forbes, 86 percent of customers say they’ll pay more for a better experience with their products and services.
Think about that for a moment: Nearly 9 out of 10 people – the same ratio of dentists that recommend Trident – say they’ll put out more money to companies that make them feel good about their technologies and workloads. Pretty remarkable.
Despite this noteworthy statistic, we continue to see vendors build and operate their channel programs from a perspective of unit sales, gross revenue, and certifications. In fact, vendors often view certifications as a proxy for customer experience, believing highly trained partners will deliver better results for their mutual customers.
The market is changing rapidly. As legacy technology becomes commoditized and emerging technology comes with higher barriers to entry, partners are finding themselves on the outside looking in. Unable to make money on the sale of products with slim margins, a growing number of partners have shed their product sales in favor of professional services focused on delivering better customer experiences.
Pretty good, right? But customers still need product. Where do customers get products if partners aren’t selling?
From vendors, of course.
These services-centric partners are influencing or recommending products to customers. Customers then source product directly from the vendor or through alternate channels, and the influencing partner provides the professional, persistent engagement that results in superior experience.
Sounds like a good system. And it works. A large part of the Salesforce.com channel program is built on this premise. So, too, is the Amazon Web Services channel. And vendors in their orbit, such as Conga, have built channels around influence.
It works, but problems persist. At last week’s Channel Focus conference in San Diego, a group of such influencing partners talked about wanting to remain product-agnostic while having access to the same training, resources, and support as reselling partners. Their argument: If they’re going to make informed recommendations and provide that superior customer experience, they need the same enablement as partners that push units.
And that’s where the problem exists for the vendors: faith.
Vendors have a hard time leaving things to chance. Some companies have come to 2112 looking for help in tapping this undercurrent of influencers, believing that they’ll generate more sales and have greater predictability if they incent such partners with monetary rewards.
In other words, they want to turn them into badged resellers.
At Channel Focus, several vendors spoke about their influence programs with mixed sentiment. Some vendors said they get a lot of value from working with influencers but the returns are more opportunistic than strategic. Other vendors spoke of abandoning their influencer programs as they’re too difficult to measure and raise too many questions about compensation for hard-to-quantify contributions.
The reality: The partnership of the future is one based on influence. As customer experience trumps product acquisition, vendors will need partners that can provide the guidance and support end users need to get the most out of their technology investments. Through guided experience, partners will help ensure customers maintain alignment and affinity with vendor brands.
What will it take to build and capitalize on influencers?
1. Create a high value, extensible platform on which influencer partners can build professional services.
2. Foster market demand for your platform and the complementary products and services in its orbit.
3. Grant partners the ability to develop specialized practices that enhance your products’ value and result in an enhanced customer experience.
4. Provide influencing partners the resources and support they need to deliver customer experience on your behalf.
5. Don’t push; influencers will make their choices and standardize on the above items. Pushing them to deliver more sales will only turn them away. They have their own priorities.
Influencers will play an increasingly important role in vendors’ go-to-market strategies and customer engagement. As products become more readily available and easier to access, vendors will need partners that ensure customers get what they believe they deserve from their investments.
In a future blog, I’ll write about best practices for measuring and incenting influencing partners. Until then, please reach out if you have questions about or need support interacting with influencing partners. The 2112 Group is here to help.