Channel Partners: Evolve or Go Extinct

Could vendors go to market successfully without the channel? That was one of the thought-provoking questions posed July 18 by participants of a Channel Pulse Webinar titled “Achieving Partner Success.”

While nobody on the panel actually believes we’ll be in a position to find out the answer, they did all concede that significant transformation is afoot within today’s dynamic, diverse ecosystem of partners.

Webinar participants – The 2112 Group’s Larry Walsh, Infoblox’s Lori Cornmesser, SAP’s Meaghan Sullivan, and 360insights’ Steven Kellam – seized the opportunity to engage in a lively discussion about how the importance of the customer experience is driving change among vendors and their channel partners.

Against the backdrop of Channel Chief Meet-Up West in Napa Valley, California, panelists addressed the issue of achieving balance with partners – spurring them to change while maintaining enough foundational elements in partner programs to avoid overwhelming them.

“There’s a time and place for being disruptive and innovative,” said Cornmesser. Added Kellam: “Exactly when and where that is we’re not sure.”

For partners’ part, it’s important to realize that focus and specialization are key, not trying to be all things to all end users. “There’s no one company that can satisfy all customer needs,” said Walsh. “The one-stop shop is a unicorn; it doesn’t exist. If we built cars the way we build IT solutions, nobody could drive.” Cornmesser agreed, saying that Infoblox has found success with its channel partners by getting them to do “just a few things very well.”

To help partners give customers the high-caliber experience they crave and demand, vendors need to do the same thing; that is, they need to focus and customize their partner enablement efforts, leveraging different partners for different things and avoiding the temptation to put all partners under one umbrella. The old-fashioned one-size-fits-all approach to channel partners and programs doesn’t work anymore; partners are too diverse a lot.

“We don’t even call it a channel anymore,” said Sullivan. “We call it an ecosystem. And we use different parts of that ecosystem for different aspects of our business.”

Ultimately, the indirect-sales channel – or ecosystem, if you will – isn’t going away anytime soon. But partners are being forced to evolve. Those who don’t do so face the very real risk of going extinct.