Partner marketing: how to collaborate for a win-win-win scenario

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The Marketing Practice reviews the role of partnerships by speaking to one of its clients

Partnerships can be an excellent way to expand reach, spread the load and create a more collaborative coordinated marketing approach. The Marketing Practice’s head of inside sales and data strategy Phil Jones interviews its client ServiceNow to find out how it views partnerships, and offers tips on how to cultivate a successful mutually-beneficial relationship.

When it comes to B2B routes to market in the technology sector, ‘two’s company, three’s a crowd’ couldn’t be further from the truth. Partnering up with other organizations makes sense for vendors, partner organizations and clients alike. Vendor organizations can increase revenue and market penetration and strengthen client relationships. Organizations that fall into the ‘partner’ category – which covers anything from distributors and resellers to systems integrators and consultancy firms – can offer clients a broader range of sophisticated propositions. And clients often receive a more bespoke, integrated response to the problem they’re looking to solve.

That’s not to say it’s easy. It can be challenging to coordinate teams and offerings within a global multinational – add a partner or three into the mix, and the complexity increases accordingly. So I asked Carl Shanahan, senior manager of the technology partner program at ServiceNow, to share his tips on creating and managing partnerships that add value to all parties.

Phil Jones (PJ): How do you decide which partners you need?

Carl Shanahan (CS): The customer’s always right. So, if your customer is coming to you saying I want to use your product, and I also want to use your competitor’s product, you have to figure out with partners how you do that. The partner’s job is to fill the areas that either your technology doesn’t do, your salespeople don’t cover, your services don’t provide or a vertical market in which you don’t know how to walk and talk.

Equally, you might spot a market opportunity that means you actively seek certain partners; or there may be a strategic account that you can’t crack alone.

PJ: What should the starting point be for a successful partnership?

CS: Successful partnership programs are focused on solving the customer’s biggest business challenges. They require strong cross-functional collaboration across technology, marketing and sales teams. Start building your partnership by identifying the value that you will each get out of it – which new routes to revenue does the partnership open, and what further opportunities might appear as the partnership develops?

Looking for ways to optimize the partner experience and add value should be an ‘always-on’ activity. So I look at all three steps in the partnership – technical, marketing and sales – to determine where they are getting stuck, make the program more accessible for them, and make it easier for them to raise their hand and get help.

PJ: How do you align objectives?

CS: Focus on building your offering around customer challenges. A big part is really hooking into the conversation with the partner about how they grow and expand their revenue as a company. What markets or new business opportunities can we open for them? How can your partnership open up new routes to revenue and reduce time to value?

A long-term partner of ours had customers coming to them asking for software apps and integrations. At that time, they offered implementation and wraparound services only, but we worked with them to help them develop a technology offering too. In less than a year, we’ve been able to open up a new line of business for them: now they can sell customers a great application with a services model, set it up for them, customize it as required and provide ongoing support.

PJ: How do you take a joint offering to market?

CS: Keep it simple. Limit your plan to a page with two or three goals that you decide on together. These goals can include entering a new market, targeting specific companies or growing your user base.

Focus on building your messaging and marketing where you’ve already had success, such as a particular industry or account. Sometimes partners can be resistant to a narrow focus on a few customers or markets. But that focus allows us to illustrate why customers need this proposition and, more importantly, the value the partner can offer, given its understanding of the market and the customer’s very specific business problem.

PJ: How can you anticipate and overcome challenges?

CS: Different partners have different capabilities, offer different benefits and require different levels of support. Take the time to learn how each partner operates. Research how each partner makes money, what the sales process looks like and what training or support they might need.

The people element often gets overlooked. Yes, you want to make it easy for partners to self-serve, but if partners don’t have a support system to reach out to, they will quickly become frustrated with the process and move on. In addition, since partners are often selling dozens of other products (some of which may be your competitors), you need to be proactive in understanding how you can support each partner to add value to its customers and progress joint opportunities.

PJ: How do you get sales teams onboard?

CS: Make sure sales understand the value of working with partners. Train your sales teams to identify opportunities to bring in partners to enhance each other’s portfolios, drive bigger, more strategic deals, and help them close more sales. Share stories of how the partners are helping customers realize the value of company solutions. For example, partners can provide valuable customer feedback helping to shape product roadmaps, increase speed to market and test new propositions contributing to the overall solution development.