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Partners, like candidates, know all the typical questions they’ll be encountering in the interview, and all the right answers to them. But what if you stopped asking questions? What if you turned the meeting around and asked the prospective partner what they want from their relationship with you? What questions do you think they’d ask? You’ll be surprised when you realize just how much their questions tell you.

“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question,” said twentieth century playwright Eugene Ionesco.

It’s a safe bet that most of your channel colleagues ask many of the same questions as you when interviewing a potential new partner. What most manufacturers and software providers want from their partners is similar, if not the same.

This also means, however, that the channel partner you’re interviewing has probably heard your questions many times before and is totally aware of the answer you’re seeking. Kind of renders those questions pretty useless, right? So what can you do to learn what you need to know before accepting them into your channel program?

Let Prospective Channel Partners Interview You

Have the prospective channel partner ask you some questions. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn. For example, if their first question is “How much margin can I achieve on your product?” what do you learn?

The first thing you learn is that either that partner exec has been living under a rock for several decades or they’ve never worked in the IT channel. Otherwise they’d know their competition will discount any margin you cite out of existence, so why even ask the question?

They might ask which distributors they can source your product from. A valid, pragmatic question, but if it’s the first question they ask it may mean they’re little more than a peddler, an order taker.

A partner who inquires about available training early in the interview is someone you’ll probably want to look more closely at.

Will They Be Respectable Representatives for Your Company?

Enlightened managers will want to know about your company’s core values. They want to work with someone whose integrity rivals their own. A partner who doesn’t lie or exaggerate. They may pose situational questions to see how you’d handle various scenarios that could challenge your veracity. They’ll be looking for your courage to do the right thing. Not only is that a quality partner, they’ll probably also be a valued confidant and consultant.

Partners who have successfully made the transition from “reseller” to “service provider” will ask you what kinds of services your products will require. Do they need to be provisioned? Configured? Integrated? Monitored? Maintained? Service providers look for products they can wrap service offerings around because they know that’s where they’re primary profit will come from.

It’s also where your ability to obtain customer satisfaction lives. No matter how valuable, how high-quality your product is it will be worth nothing or even worse than nothing if it’s not implemented effectively and properly maintained. Your best choice of channel partner is the one who will passionately protect your product’s reputation.

How Shall We Go to Market?

If a candidate asks no questions about marketing, it probably means they don’t recognize the importance and the value it provides. Since they will be as much a marketing arm for your company as a sales arm and a service delivery arm, this is not a good sign.

Perhaps the best phrasing for a question that would indicate a channel partner with the right ideas about marketing would be, “How does your co-operative marketing program help me promote the customer-value of what I can do with your products and my services?”

Other marketing-focused questions might include, “are you willing to invest in marketing activities we propose that will benefit both of us?”

In It for the Long Run

Some channel partners are opportunistic, only applying for partnership to obtain a discount on your product to fulfill a particular sales opportunity – which can be a waste of your time.

Some partners may ask, in the first interview, about the levels of your partner program. How do they earn elevation from the bottom of your program to the top? What advantages will they earn for making the investments required to get there?

Going further, they may even ask whether or not you conduct regular partner council meetings. This question signals their desire for a long-term relationship in which they can contribute their ideas and their input into your planning and decision-making processes. Ultimately, this is the kind of partner that benefits your company best over the long run.

We’re Getting Closer to Real Partnership

It really is no longer enough to have channel members fill out an online form to get rubber-stamped into your program. As we move forward, vendors and software providers need channel partners more than ever before, approaching the point where the level of need is completely mutual. At that point, the use of the word “partner” becomes more valid and meaningful than ever.

The questions your candidates ask let you know how much they’re thinking, what they’re thinking about, how innovative they can be, and what their values are – all great criteria for such an important decision.

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