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Who's in Charge?

As I spend more and more time with channel partners, it is becoming evident that they are leveraging their relationships with end customers to deliver more and more value.  In some cases, people leading channels for technology vendors are helping to enable this and investing in programs to educate and nurture their channels—but not all.  When the partner is in charge at the point of the customer, what does it mean to the vendor behind them?

Let’s take the oft-hyped move to the cloud that many channel partners currently are navigating. (There is so much hype around this, our company decided to transform its fall trade show to “Cloud Partners, a Channel Partners event,” to help folks cut through the noise.)  As partners go through this shift to the cloud there are a few key things that the best VARs, SIs and Agents are doing—and all of it revolves around taking charge with the customer.

First, the best partners are evolving their discussions with customers from technology or service to business need, time to implementation and impact of cloud services on business processes.  This is not an easy conversation, and it is often going beyond the IT manager or even the CIO to permeate board meetings.  So as business managers (C-Suite or line of business) are getting involved, channel partners are becoming more than resellers or  “solution providers,” they become business enablers.  This is key because the people that enable an end customers’ businesses are the ones that scale sales of your products/services. They are literally in charge.

Second, the best partners have the guts to really think in the context of their customers, defining what works best in the cloud -- and, quite frankly, what doesn’t -- based on the needs of the organization they are selling to.  In many cases, the right cloud services really can offer a cost-effective path for customers around their biggest cost center (IT and Communications), but not always.  Sometimes the best solution is a true hybrid environment where a portion of the systems run on-site and a portion run in the cloud. Does your channel understand this reality?  If they do, they have the ability to be in charge; if they do not, they have the potential of being escorted out of the conference/board room where they are presenting.  What are you doing to enable this?

Last, the best channel partners understand how to navigate discussions with their customers about opex vs. capex, explaining the impact of aligning service offerings to an operations budget rather than  on-site technology to a capital expense budget.  Why is this important?  Well, a capex budget is fixed and an opex budget is significantly more flexible and agile.  That agility is a very important thing for  business owners, enabling them to scale their opex budget as the business scales.  So, if a channel partner selling cloud solutions has the right people in the room, understands the needs of the business and sees the opportunity to impact business process with the cloud service and then discusses the financial aspects of using it within the parameters of the business, then they are in charge of that customer.

Think about what your company is doing to enable this.  How are you working to empower your channel partners to take charge with the end customers purchasing your services?  What else can you do to get them there, create an even more loyal channel, and, in the end, even more loyal end customers they are selling to.

John Siefert is CEO of VIRGO, publisher of Channel Partners.

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