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Fall Channel To-Dos: Build a Partner Ecosystem and Hire a CPO

For as long as I can remember, whenever we in the channel have talked about "P2P" or simply "partnering," we were referring to transactions that either went in a single direction (as is the case with resellers) or a bi-directional flow of deals.

Nowadays, however, people are talking about "ecosystems." What is an ecosystem of partners? As a Microsoft partner, we are all part of a worldwide ecosystem that circles around the concept of doing business with Microsoft and using Microsoft technology. But inside this ecosystem of more than half a million companies. There are smaller ecosystems that circle around either a geographical area, an industry/vertical, a technology, a type of practice or something else.

This is where the path to success lies -- being part of a smaller ecosystem. Unlike the ecosystems in nature, a partner ecosystem is not a food chain, where the stronger eats the weaker. Instead, a partner ecosystem should be about companies that enjoy working together and that see a positive financial outcome doing so.

A partner ecosystem is often built organically. There might be both active and inactive participants. Most of the business (i.e., revenue) will, over time, be handled between the ones that trust each other the most and where the involved parties earn the most money with the least effort.

But what vendors are really dreaming about is building a channel and to be the center of their own sub-ecosystem.

I see a shift in the market where we see a newly found interest for indirect business models. Some of the larger vendors have understood that the cost for selling direct is much higher than when building a healthy channel of partners that acts as either resellers, agents or ambassadors. The knowledge and market contacts that partners got are crucial for success and is hard to replicate. Recent announcements from Dell and others are just the beginning of this trend.

I also see a big increase in support within our ecosystem. Like mushrooms popping up in the woods, there are more communities and boutique firms than ever that are offering help to partners trying to build their channels. We see networks like the well-established International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP), a couple of highly active networks for women, networks for African Americans, dedicated learning companies providing training, podcasters, advisory boutique firms and members-only communities that run their own conferences.

The demand for help is high and there is business for everyone; the tide lifts all boats. Lots of the DIY advice is free or comes at a minimal cost, but if you want someone to do it for you, you'll pay for the gig. I see a newly found willingness to pay for these services, and this itself is proof that the level of interest in building a channel is high.

We've also started to talk more seriously about the need for CPOs, or chief partner (or partnership) officers, as a way to give more weight to the strategic endeavors of working with partners. In many organizations, the task of partnering falls under the VP of sales, but perhaps elevating it to a separate CPO role makes sense if you're really serious about it. Alliance managers should report to CPOs. In my mind, this will be a  highly sought-after role given the impact it has. Recruiters have probably already started to look for savvy CPOs as it seems to be this year's hottest new position.

As we enter fall, it's certainly springtime for ecosystems of partners and for CPOs.

Posted by Per Werngren on September 11, 2023


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