There has never been a “one-size-fits-all” definition for “channel partner.” Some still focus primarily on selling products to their customers. Others broker cloud and other services. Others sell and supply their own services. Some cater to the SMB market. Others only sell to Fortune companies. Even before you begin seeking, know what you’re looking for. Identify the ideal partner business model to best align with your own.

If there’s one word our channel has overused and abused, it’s “partner.”

There was a time when “partner” implied a joint financial ownership agreement, which brought with it a commitment to work together to profitably produce successful customer outcomes. More recently it conveyed membership in an exclusive organization of related businesses all creating practical solutions using a specific provider’s products.

Then it became simply anyone who sold someone else’s products or services. In this definition, the rule was “the more the merrier.”

“Associated” Suggests Aligned Interests and Intentions

By definition, we associate with others that have similar, contiguous, or adjacent interests, products, and services.

Being totally frank about what we look for in channel partners, we place high value on those who already have a large installed base of adjacent technologies and who would therefore be ideal customers for our products and services. The channel partner has already established the all-important trust relationships with these customers, so a substantial portion of the sales cycle has already been accomplished. These customers know these partners and trust them already. They are open to the introduction of anything the partner would deem worth their while.

Taking this to its logical conclusion, this means that the partners most attractive to us are those who possess the skills and knowledge to recommend, install, implement, and support technologies and strategies that are aligned to our own.

Said another way, it’s usually best to seek partners who are capable of being the installation and support arm of our organization. Sales organizations talk about revenue production. If we want our technologies to gain broader acceptance we must be far more concerned about customer success, producing very positive business outcomes for the customers our partners serve with our products and services. This is a critical value chain, from production to proposal to provisioning and on to the ongoing support that is required to earn incremental investments in the future.

Creating the Conversation – Talk Shop

The content of your prospective partner interview must change radically. It’s no longer enough to simply confirm stable financials, number of salespeople, and similar fundamentals.

The most informational interview will now be a conversation about the specific business or businesses your products and therefore your partners serve. Do they know as much as you about that business? Are they fully conversant in the financial, operational, procedural, pragmatic, and even political context of that business?

This is the fabric of today’s partnering relationship. Your mutual end-customer is also seeking a partner, a partner who fully understands and appreciates what your customers find valuable, because that’s exactly what they’ll be appealing to in all their pursuits.

This doesn’t eliminate technology from the conversation. Without a familiarity with the technologies, no partner can truly be effective. Why?

What We’re Selling Has Fundamentally Changed

To effectively create customer success, we must fundamentally change what we and our partners sell to them. It’s no longer sufficient to simply “sell tech” and compete on speeds, feeds, and performance.

Today we must be selling not the technology alone, but rather the effective, productive implementation of the technology to create successful, productive customer outcomes. We must deeply know, understand, and appreciate the intrinsic value of what these technologies do for businesses. Then we must sell that value, not the products, to our customers.

Value is at the heart of everything we sell. Not just our value or our products value but the concept of value in the customer context. What is valuable to them? How does that value serve them?

How the Context of the Customer Has Changed in the Cloud

When equipment was to be installed on customer premises, the brand of that equipment, the perception of reliability, durability, flexibility, security, and interoperability were paramount. It was the substance of almost all partner/customer conversations.

As more IT operations migrated to the cloud the actual products involved became insignificant. More often than not the customer is completely unaware of whose platforms their cloud services are being produced on. Nor do they care. They’re not paying for brands. They’re paying for the pragmatic performance of the applications. Not what it is, but what it does. How well it does it. How flexibility, how adaptably. How inexpensively.

To be able to have these conversations meaningfully requires that the channel partner you’ve enlisted have interests, practices, experience, and expertise in platforms that are aligned with these customers’ businesses.

Wonderfully, this creates the opportunity for you and your channel partners to have profound and lasting impact on customer success, and will be rewarded handsomely for doing so.