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On Being Partner-Centric

True partner-centric companies develop software with partner integration in mind.

From a software vendor's perspective, enabling channel success starts with having a good product that fits the partner's needs. Building a sustainable and mutually profitable relationship, however, has much more to do with alignment on the business side.

Yes, most vendors toss you leads, give you collateral and post your link on their Web site. But how much effort does the average technology partner put into understanding your go-to-market strategy? How much time does it spend with you developing a joint value proposition and account planning strategies that help put you into the best position to win?

Having a partner program too often means, "I hope you're successful, too." Being partner-centric is much more. It's a business model choice and a commitment to your business model with meaningful "skin in the game" from your vendor.

The success of any company is predicated on its ability and willingness to align resources (people, money and time) to execute approved plans as effectively as possible. To do this, strategic choices have to be made about who you are and who you are not.

Partner-centric organizations execute strategies that tie their success to the success of their partners, meaning they have a shared fate. Such vendors develop resources to effectively support the channel, tie sales compensation and internal metrics directly to partner success, and reward employees for behavior that bolsters channel satisfaction and loyalty.

A software vendor's strategy is the most transparent thing you can dig into to see how it really operates. Ask yourself: Are you or would you be fundamental to the vendor's success, or are you being accommodated to the extent of your revenue contribution last quarter?

I grew up working at 3M on the industrial side of the shop, light years from the software space. 3M's channel strategy is industry-agnostic. The company goes to market exclusively through channel partners.

Rather than compete with its distribution channel, 3M assigns dedicated resources to partners and comps its people based on channel success. Sure, the company employs a salesforce that calls directly on the end customer, but it always brings the reseller to the party. Likewise, 3M reps always show up to support a partner that has developed an opportunity on its own.

It's not simply because 3M is being nice; it's that the company is not built to support direct business with end customers. The company's supply chain infrastructure is set up to export pallets and cases of products in very large shipments. It has tractor trailers in its arsenal and lofty minimum buy requirements. End customers do not buy in such large quantities. This is a business model choice 3M has made based on a strategy that it executes against—very successfully, I might add. The success of 3M is dependent upon the success of its partners.

While it's true that empowering partners has more to do with alignment on the business side than on the product or technical side, there is a technology piece to being partner-centric in the software space—just not in the way that first comes to mind.

Beyond exemplary technical support, partner-centric software companies develop software with partner integration in mind. They pay attention to detail at the integration points and make their software development kit readily available and easy to use, so partners are empowered to take ownership of the product. While technical in nature, these issues directly impact the pocketbook of channel partners in terms of how long it takes to build out and/or integrate the product with their solution sets and how long it takes to deploy it during customer implementations.

Being partner-centric from a software vendor's perspective is tied to a well thought out strategy and requires a choice of a business model. In short, being partner-centric is in a software vendor's DNA.

About the Author

Jeffrey D. Mills is vice-president of channel development and partner enrichment at Blue-spring Software (www.bluespringsoftware.com). Jeff is a graduate of Miami University in Ohio and president of the Cincinnati chapter of the International Association of Microsoft Certified Partners.