Vendor accreditation programmes – who are they really for?
2. Channel partners?
4. All three?
Why does a customer care if their supplier is accredited by the vendor of the product, solution or service?
Why does a channel partner care whether they are Bronze, Silver, or Gold certified?
Why does the vendor need to create training and certification material, courses, tests etc?
It all sounds a lot of work, so why does anyone bother?
There must be some significant value in order to motivate everyone to care enough to get engaged – so what is it?
Customers are what this is all about! Customers require good advice from well informed representatives from the channel community and the channel community cannot rely on the resources of the vendor at every engagement they have, so the channel partners need to become equally well informed – This requires training and testing, which is great for the vendor, because they end up with well informed channel partners representing them and provides the scale required to develop more market coverage. In addition, an accreditation programme usually has a volume\revenue related metric, which rewards the successful sales partner – more of a value component than a quality component and an often thorny topic for engineering heavy partners with lots of skills but not too many new sales. Customers are usually able to see for themselves what partner accreditations are for channels and select based on a value\quality blend. In reality most customers want to know they will be well looked after rather than well sold to.
For the vendor, an accreditation programme provides a sense for channel partner commitment levels and focus on their portfolio, and training enables current knowledge to be maintained and product knowledge to be broadly well ingrained. The more a channel partner commits to one vendor programme, the less time and resources they will have for competing offers – stands to reason. So vendors see this as an important dynamic for developing partner commitments. Ultimately this enables scale and quality delivery for the customers and commitment for the vendor, with the reseller having the ability to wrap services and complementary products to their solution.
In truth, it’s both. The process of a non- customer becoming a customer through their buying process, has a bucket full of potential twists and turns to arrive as a new customer to your enterprise.
The science of selling is in the planning and understanding of how to get from where you are, to where you want to be. How you reach your target audience and what will attract them to your online presence (the NEW Shop window). The art component is to do with your engagement with the potential customer.
However you consider customer acquisition, you need to attract or find new ones and take care of and nurture the ones you already have. Rest assured that someone will be trying to lure your customers away from you, just as you are attempting to encourage new customers into your care.
The one universal truth is that this does all take some time, so do not expect to have orders rolling in because you have launched your web site or because you have received 3 inquires this week. Building your business is a long game, so stay ambitious but realistic and keep trusting the process, and above all be persistent and professional.
I was musing language (as I often do) again today and thinking about the initial engagement in any situation, but probably I was thinking mostly about the very first engagement in a sales situation. This could be a conversation, either by phone or face to face, or more often these days, an email or other form of non-real time communication. Whatever the channel, I was considering the impact of language and in particular the meaning that the recipient makes of the words and structure of those critical first few phrases. I am a firm believer that the conversation needs to be about “the client” and not about me and more importantly what the purpose of the contact is! This thought process led me to consider the positioning of the potential relationship and the consideration from the recipient’s perspective as to whether this was at all important at this early stage, or actually at all.
Inevitably when language becomes mainstream, or commonplace, it loses some of its caché and “advantage” (if it ever had any), and can become almost counter-productive as we see it as “hackneyed” or over-used, and this could be the case if positioning yourself as a partner – rather than just another supplier.
I like to seek out relationships whereby my value can be of real benefit to a client and that is all about “valuing the difference”. In this case the difference is the particular skills and knowledge I have acquired over many years in the telecoms and Unified Communications space, and that which can be of use to the client. I might frame this as me being a “partner” rather than a supplier, i.e. my value is not about a race to provide the lowest cost items, but about taking the stress out of understanding the options and possibilities as well as the unique aims and business values the client holds dear. Marrying these pieces together and considering the real business value of the solutions available merits additional value, which is often unappreciated. My view – for what it’s worth is that if you are investing in a technology that is dynamically changing and evolving, and competitive with multiple strong vendors in the race, then looking way beyond the investment is critical and a trusted advisor relationship is definitely desirable – But what do I know
What’s in it for me? And What are you going to do to help me? These are just two of the key questions any potential channel partner will be asking, presupposing that you can get an invitation to meet in the first place. How quickly can the new partner generate profitable revenues, and who will assist them to price, win and implement their initial sales? Next steps are to really build a significant revenue stream together and manage the support issues and obvious cash management challenges, notwithstanding the “hygiene” factors of ongoing training and relationship- building ongoing trust and goodwill. It is a worthwhile journey if you are committed to this path. One word of caution- don’t do this if investing is something you are trying to avoid – you can’t build success by “allowing” partners just to have access to your offering. You may make a few opportunistic sales, but you won’t build a business.
I watched C4’s Gerry’s Big Decision last week and was hooked – for the uninitiated Sir Gerry Robinson takes a detailed look at failing businesses around the country with a view to potentially investing his own money and helping the business to survive and thrive. The two businesses Gerry looked at last week were an old family furniture business in Lancashire that was on its knees and a small pie making business in the south west. The interesting thing for me was that both businesses were suffering the same issue – NOT ENOUGH SALES. The furniture business had issues with poor communication and relationship between the owner and the Managing Director, and I observed a lack of sales focus generally – for example there was no incentive in place for the sales people to grow/develop the business.
Both businesses appeared to have good products which were saleable, yet as we all know nothing will happen until a sale is made. I don’t believe for a minute that this is in any way unique, and indeed why there is a need to ensure that you have an effective (and integrated) sales and marketing plan that covers the basics such as
Having the right sales people in the team representing you
An effective customer segmentation map
A clear customer contact strategy
A clear “value proposition” for the product – a good example of this was the furniture manufacturer was not crisp about the product guarantees which could be deal maker/breakers
Finally the only sales people we saw was the one representing the pie manufacturer, who to be blunt was a square peg in a round hole and had very little idea what his approach should be and who his customers would be and I guess sales in general. His approach was at best parochial and he was not considering where the product could be sold. As Donald Trump says – “If you’re going to be thinking, you may as well think big.”