So far, I’ve addressed Managed Partners and the Developer Ecosystem. Up next is enabling breadth partners: this is different from Ecosystem Activation in that we’re engaging our target audience as businesses not individuals.
Often partner ecosystems are represented as a pyramid: the highest value partners (directly managed) are at the top of the pyramid and there’s an incubation zone in the middle for up and coming partners (proactively managed through a call center). Breadth partners are engaged primarily through self-serve programs and reactive call centers. However, all need to be made aware of program and product advances and nurtured along to maturity.
Nurturing entails raising awareness of partnership potential (for those not already in your partner program), increasing access to product and partnership information (in exchange for contact info so you can continue communicating with them), and reducing friction to doing business with you as a partner (e.g., easy product trial access, simple go-live licensing).
Aside: partners react negatively to arbitrary program changes but favor program distinctions where they can demonstrate their competence. Carefully think through partner segmentation (credentials, technical expertise, customer references, etc.) before establishing your partner tiers.
There are numerous channels to communicate with partners and potential partners. I recommend you avoid messaging confusion by centralizing the communication responsibility. Partner marketing should own eliciting and translating product group messaging for partners (yet not be perceived as a gatekeeper). This can be tricky depending on the organization and people involved. Example communication channels include:
Partner Portal: a simple, easy to discover “how to partner with us” segment of your web site. Centralize your partner profiling and use that data to personalize your communications (by role and partner type) across your online channels.
Monthly Email Newsletter: a regular drumbeat of communication through old-school monthly email. This isn’t exclusive of RSS pull mechanisms, but has higher probability of being seen.
Social Media: your content will be similar, but digested more real-time (be prepared to respond to feedback quickly). Product groups may have their own support-oriented communications (e.g., product blogs) outside of the partnering channel.
3rd Party Events: recruit new partners via industry events and 3rd party advertising & sponsorship where warranted. Dial this up when competitors have a compatibility-breaking product shift or you enter a new market segment. In addition, encourage existing partners to host co-branded events (e.g., user groups) to achieve more scale.
Partner Roadshows: get out on a quarterly basis to educate and listen to your partner community (see Open Innovation post) and have an annual event where you provide perspective on industry direction, describe how you’re evolving the partnering program, recognize top partners, and update them on your product roadmaps.
In summary, the Advise stage for breadth partners is about driving awareness. Some of the communications channels will facilitate Educating them on product and partnering benefits (next post).