How's your channel eco-system? What?!
Recently I was discussing with a Channel Manager some tactics to help a partner into an end-user account and I asked what their channel eco-system was like. I got a blank stare. Fair enough, so I explained what I meant. I got another blank stare. This article is about building a channel eco-system; what it is and how to use it.
Good channel managers will know everyone in the partners they are responsible for.
Great channel managers will also be advocating their partners internally and introducing people from their own company to their partners (see previous article).
Exceptional channel managers will have relationships with complementary and non-competing channel managers at other vendors, and be wired in to the channel manager eco-system.
Being part of the channel management eco-system in your area can provide you, your company and your partners with a whole host of benefits. Truth be told, not many channel managers have even considered this, let alone worked on it. There is a very important rule that you must never break however: The exchanging of confidential information, be that from your company, or your partners. A channel manager eco-system is not for the exchange of confidential information, but is to extend your reach so that it may be of use to your company and your partners.
Aside from general gossip of who is wanting to move jobs, finding out about wins that may affect your partners and the like, leveraging your contacts in other vendors also allows you to establish alliances and partnerships for specific opportunities. Those opportunities may present themselves as specific ones to individual end customers, or may be around targeting particular market segments.
Your company and one of your partners may not be having any luck getting into a particular end customer. By talking to a channel manager at a complementary vendor, there may be scope to have a two vendor, single partner proposition to take to a customer. During large formal tenders, sometimes a formal partnering arrangement where the partner takes in three complementary vendors to provide a total solution may be the ticket. I have been party to these, and have seen some wildly successful wins as a result of leveraging the channel manager eco-system.
A channel manager eco-system allows channel managers to facilitate multi-vendor solutions for partners, and can also be used to introduce partners to new vendors who are not a threat to your business. In this way, business can be built that is beneficial for all involved. If you start to think about all the complementary vendors to your company, you may be surprised at some of the leveraged opportunities that you may be able to take advantage of for your partners. This is particularly well suited between vendors that provide a physical product and others that provide a business service. When you have the partner in the middle as the solution leader you can do amazing things.
So, how is your eco-system, and how many channel managers do you catch up with, even if it is just for a coffee? You may also be able to pick up a few channel management tips and tricks along the way, and pass some of your experiences on to newer channel managers. Of course, you will come across gossip and the like. A tip on how to handle this: Hear it once, that's interesting. Hear it twice, investigate. Don't use your eco-system to get an advantage from another vendor, but use it to look for chances where everyone has a win.
Give as well as receive.
Once you are established in your local channel manager eco-system, you may be given leads or "heads ups" by other channel managers. If this occurs and leads to you and a partner winning some new business, it is important to play the favour back. An example of this may be a channel manager from another vendor mentioning that a non-competing partner and himself were discussing a solution with a customer. The customer mentioned that they couldn't look at it "now" as they had a requirement for X coming up. Eco-systems come into play when at that point, the other vendor AND other partner may ask the customer if they have a preferred supplier of X. If the customer says "No", the vendor and partner may inform the customer that they know a good vendor/partner that could have a chat to them and would they like to let them know? If the customer says "yes" then this is simply a warm referral, or a heads up and channel managers who are part of a vibrant eco-system will be involved in this "chatter" all the time.
In the same manner, if one of your partners requires the services of a non-competing partner for a skill or service they do not have, you may be able to contact a relevant channel manager and find out the name of a partner that could be mutually introduced to the first.
Business networking like this occurs everyday and there is nothing wrong with it, as long as confidential information is not being disclosed and it is being done for the right reasons.
Now that you know what a channel eco-system is, the question becomes, how is yours?
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