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We use the term ‘solution provider’ a lot in the channel. Despite it being a slightly nebulous description, many partners identify with the term over reseller, for example. It implies they hold the solutions to all their clients’ business problems in their hands.
However, it was suggested this week that there are still too many ‘sales chasers’ calling themselves solution providers. Jo Dunkley, director of channel marketing firm Coterie, says solution providers can explain how they’ll make a business more efficient – but most salespeople won’t because they’ve never given it any thought.
According to Jo, few people understand what a solution provider does. The reason for this? “There is too much focus on products instead of focusing on the customers and their needs and solutions to satisfy them,” she says. “This behaviour is understandably driven by the need to meet sales or product targets.
“The way to address this gap in our experience is to align sales and marketing to really understand the customer’s needs first and then solutions to suit. This takes time and commitment and requires a change programme.”
This idea relates back to the traditional tiered status of vendor partner programmes. We’ve talked a lot about how partner programmes are slowly evolving in line with modern partnering and moving away from categorising partners solely based on revenue thresholds.
However, this is still not the case for many vendors – despite a policy of ‘flog it and forget it’ being incompatible with modern cloud computing culture.
“Everything-as-a-service partners can change vendors rapidly to suit customers’ needs. Tiers are quite structured and require a bit of investment typically and we are moving into a more fluid ecosystem model,” says Jo.
Last month we talked about the decision by infrastructure vendors such as Dell Technologies, HPE and Cisco to make the switch to as-a-service, and how they need to evolve their relationships with their channel partners in response to the changes.
This means vendors need to start to measure partners’ influence on the entire buyer’s journey and not just the transaction. For example, partners are increasingly incentivised on the entire buying lifecycle of the deal.
As such, partners want segmentation based on marketing skills mapping, and a continuous mapping process to move and adjust as end-user and partner needs change.
Jo thinks partners are crying out for a new ‘audience-first’ system of accreditation that recognises their skills and artistry, rather than their sales. She says vendors accreditation should be based on the qualities you want from a long-term partner: empathy, understanding, patience, support, trust and reliability.
The idea is that the partner sometimes may not be driving revenue, but they are innovative and meet customers’ requirements. An alternative way to segment them, therefore, should be based on skills and specialisms and support needed.
We don’t necessarily think that channel partners are using technology to bamboozle clients to maximise their invoices. However, to rate partners solely on their sales rather than their solutions, is to reward short term targets over long term relationships. And that’s something that is incompatible with the shift to as-a-service and cloud-based consumption models that are so important to the channel in 2021.
Vendors should be looking to new ways to incentivise, reward and enable their partners to become true solution providers for their customers.
Author: Christine Horton
Publish Date: 18/06/2021 15:00
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