Developing Systems Integrator Partners
To date I’ve focused mostly on web, cloud, and on-premise software companies and how they develop partnerships with other software companies, developers, and platform vendors. Today well look at managing systems integrators (from the perspective of a software company). The Advise, Acclimate, Activate, & Accelerate stages of the Partner Strategy Framework remain relevant for this partner type.
SI Partner Management
Most software companies seek to maximize the software part of their business due to higher margins. However, it is usually important to have implementation services available either as part of your company offering and/or provided by affiliated services partners. The prior posts about partner programs and tiers is relevant, but let’s revisit the process for developing Managed SI partners in context of a new product release.
During the beta stages of your product development, you’ll want to engage target SIs in joint business planning. Plan to provide training as a series of physical events, supplemented by periodic webcast product updates by the product team. Support during the pre-release stage might consist of a private Q&A forum or knowledgebase, email support, and/or direct product group support. You’ll also want to set expectations for joint marketing and event support to ensure the SI expertise makes it out of the lab.
The participating SIs should commit to technical readiness (# of staff trained), customer engagement (# of pilot customers sponsored), and demand-generation marketing (# of customer events with attendance targets). This should be structured as a formal joint business plan and both parties should work from that common agreement.
There are inherent challenges to developing managed SIs and realizing in-market success from early adoption activities:
SIs don’t commit to technology readiness before customer demand requires them to do so. It is more efficient for them to learn just-in-time and/or catch up than invest in training across numerous technologies.
SIs are less likely to propose what the customer doesn’t already know they need. If the current or N-1 generation of technology is sufficient to achieve the business outcome, the SI will be reluctant to complicate their services sale by introducing a new technology.
New technology risks (e.g., security, bugs, retraining) are legitimate customer concerns and SIs often aren’t equipped to address those objections.
Your sales organization may get confused on which SI partners to promote for which scenarios, especially where well-entrenched but slower adoption SI partners have mindshare. Trust and expectations have to mature as partners’ willingness to lead with new releases and stay true to your offering is tested in the face of customer pushback.
A successful managed SI adoption process yields:
trained services organizations that add scale to your customer service capability,
amplified marketing messages that generates customer demand,
new partnerships surfaced and deepened commitment and relationships with existing partners, and
broader industry coverage (if you can guide partners to target specific verticals in the business planning process).
Breadth SI Enablement
Enabling breadth SIs occurs a little later in the product cycle and lends itself to a more program-driven approach. Communicate product and customer benefits to breadth partners through partner program communications. Encourage them to educate themselves via online training and product information, and recruit them into early adoption programs that nurture their progress. This includes tracking their stage of development, providing incentives for progress (e.g., online catalog listings for competencies demonstrated or customer references achieved), and providing marketing messaging around launch.
Consider engaging key markets through periodic roadshows. These demonstrate your connection and commitment to the local community. Content typically includes product and roadmap updates and programs & incentives overviews. The types of companies that turn out for these types of events are usually more small-business oriented who will value SMB customer-oriented messaging, positioning & marketing templates, and configurable solutions that they can easily adapt.
The end result is you’ll have a breadth partner community that can sell into customer segments you can’t address yourself (providing scale) and support your brand and product messaging.