Partner Planning and Management
Last time I addressed the process and mechanics of business management. In this post, I’ll address partner planning. In general, partner planning is about selecting the right partners, applying the right resources, developing the right programs, and delivering the right results.
Planning is important for selecting the right strategic alliance partners and developing the right expectations with those partners. Consider the following lifecycle approach to managing strategic alliances (see the Managed Partner section of the Partner Strategy Framework for more):
Analyze and assess existing channel partners for productivity and impact as well as potential recruit targets (particularly those representing a channel to significant market impact but not currently an alliance partner). This will inform your managed partner list as well as your recruit list (which requires different account manager skills and investment).
Plan and document your joint accountabilities such that it is clear what is to be delivered by both parties (including technology adoption and support, marketing and sales activities, and overall partnership success criteria).
Train and support partners to develop their product development or integration capability (and grow their ability to support your product ongoing). There is also a coaching element at this stage to help them identify early adopter customers.
Market and drive awareness such that partners align with your marketing messages, synch with your PR timing, and fulfill marketing execution expectations.
Provide sales support in the form of pipeline review & coaching as well as appropriate collaboration with your sales teams.
Nurture the relationship to ensure a productive and satisfying alliance. Consider a net promoter score kind of measurement to ensure partner team is accountable for the quality of the relationship.
Partner selection should be an annual process (to align with your budgeting and business planning cycles and to minimize the planning overhead). Two ways to approach partner selection are 1) based on capabilities needed or 2) based on market potential.
The capabilities approach considers what competencies are needed in the ecosystem to fulfill customer demand and aligns more with VAR and SI types of partners. For example, if your product requires services partners with data scientist expertise to bring value to your big data solution, you’d prioritize sourcing partners with that expertise across the primary industries you service.
Assessing partners based on market potential lends itself to software partners. In this approach, you look at the market impact (size of the potential partner and the segment they serve), technology alignment (are they likely to pull through your current release), and strategic factors (are they a unique industry channel, do their products represent a convergence opportunity to create a new product segment).
The result of this assessment is a short list of strategic alliances. These partners receive the support of an account team and executive sponsor. Account teams should include business development and relationship management, sales & marketing collaboration, and technical advisory services and support.
Some partners may not make the cut (given the limited account team resources) but are important enough that you can’t direct to self-service partner programs. In those cases, you can get the benefit of programs enrollment and lightweight partner relationships through a call center approach. Your account executive-to-partner ratio can be much higher because call center account executives don’t travel and require simpler partner plans. This is a good place to nurture potential alliances, but not a good way to recruit competitive or strategic partners (deeper commitment including face to face engagement is required in those scenarios).
I’ve focused mostly on strategic alliance selection and management, but let’s consider the planning approach for breadth partners. I recommend starting with the addressable ecosystem of potential partners. For example, if you are looking to develop software partners at scale in the US, you can start with a guesstimate of 30,000 ISVs. Then consider how many you engage through your online and offline awareness efforts (the Advise and Acclimate steps of the Partner Strategy Framework).
How many of those engaged are recruited in your partner program and what percentage are delivering applications that integrate with your current product? If you keep this funnel perspective, starting from the potential addressable ecosystem, you’ll be less likely to become complacent with existing breadth partner recruitment.
Next time, I’ll share people management insights and challenges in leading national partner organizations.