Need proof that today’s companies consider customer experience (CX) the be-all and end-all? Look no further than e-commerce titan Amazon, which has practically spun up a cottage industry around anticipating customer needs and desires.
Or witness the popularity of business strategist Fred Riechheld’s Net Promoter Score (NPS). Used by more than two-thirds of today’s Fortune 500 companies, NPS is a key way of measuring customer satisfaction, and by extension, loyalty, by asking users how likely buyers would be to recommend a particular brand or company to a colleague or friend.
Heightened competition compels companies of every ilk, including solution providers, to expend resources on enhancing CX. Winning customers isn’t enough; retaining them is paramount. And that means keeping them satisfied in every facet of the relationship. But in focusing so much effort on end users, solution providers might be giving short shrift to another constituency that’s equally important to their profitability: vendors.
In today’s technology and business climate, dominated by digital transformation and the cloud, the partner-vendor dynamic continues to change. Recurring revenue models have increased interdependency between vendors and channel partners. Partner success hinges on vendor success and vice versa. When it comes to cloud deployments, vendors and partners often share accountability for customer satisfaction, so working together ensures things run smoothly.
Even in legacy-style relationships, where the partner resells and deploys product procured from the vendor, it’s important for partners not to take a set-it-and-forget-it attitude. In some markets, competition runs high among partners for vendor resources, leaving channel players to vie for the attention and mindshare of vendors. That’s why solution providers that put their vendor relationships on auto-pilot are doing themselves a great disservice.
Partners should consider the following best practices in working with vendors:
Know your vendors. It’s not enough to be able to spout off a list of vendors whose products and services populate your portfolio. Nor is it adequate to simply have technical expertise around those vendors’ offerings. Partners should know each vendor’s business objectives as well as their own role in a vendor’s go-to-market strategy. When it comes to cloud solutions, partners should gain as much visibility into the vendor’s processes and infrastructure as possible. That way, when questions arise about a given solution – about performance, pricing, security or something else – the partner is more likely to have the insight needed to provide answers and resolve issues without having to consult the vendor’s help desk.
Dedicate staff to vendor relations. If The 2112 Group’s research is any indication, channel partners are starting to see the light when it comes to managing vendor relationships. Among participants of 2112’s State of the U.S. Cloud Channel survey, almost half (47 percent) said they have vendor relationship managers on staff. Of those, two-thirds cited cloud engagement profitability in the 16% to 20% range or higher. It’s just plain smart to employ at least one person whose job responsibility consists primarily of cultivating relationships with vendors and acting as their main point-of-contact at your organization. Having one person – or multiple people – in that role allows a partner to plan and assess its vendor relationship management efforts and ensure accountability.
Ask for what you need. As solution providers continue their transition to the recurring revenue model, they require more guidance and resources from vendors than ever before. Vendors can provide the tools and training partners need to master the cloud paradigm, sell solutions and provide ongoing support to customers. Partners shouldn’t be afraid to be the proverbial squeaky wheel and boldly request their fair share of resources from vendors.
Be proactive about communicating. In the past, communicating with vendors intermittently, and merely in the context of a specific transaction or end user, may have been sufficient. But today, engaging with vendors regularly can mean the difference between just getting by and achieving profitability or between being an underperformer and being a valuable contributor to a vendor’s channel ecosystem. Partners and vendors should maintain an open line of communication, and that includes getting together for joint business planning, periodic business reviews and joint marketing to ensure alignment of their goals and expectations.
Find your niche. Being a generalist won’t take you far in the IT or cloud space. By specializing in a vertical market or technical domain, partners can create, maintain or restore a balance of power in their relationships with vendors. With specialized expertise, partners can truly add value to vendor solutions, especially in the case of cloud deployments, by wrapping customized services around those solutions, establishing their own white-label offerings and delivering business outcomes.
In the final analysis, nobody’s telling solution providers to forget about CX. That’s obviously something they can’t do if they want to remain profitable and stay ahead of the competition. But paying inadequate attention to vendor relationships can be just as damaging as ignoring customer feedback. The key is maintaining balance in all your relationships. So instead of giving one group all the attention, share the love with everyone.
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