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Channel Partners Sell to People, Too

March 13, 2017 | By Melissa Archambault

  • Customer experience has become recognized as a critical success factor for b-to-b organizations.
  • But there is still a gap in how to enable channel partners to provide that same experience with indirect and direct customers.
  • Customer engagement must be a component of channel partner enablement at the start of the relationship.

When you think about customer engagement, you can logically connect a person’s experience with a company to the associated activities that drive loyalty. But what do you think of when you hear about channel partner engagement? Often, we logically think of partner enablement. B-to-b organizations regularly focus on the readiness of partners to sell solutions, a process that traditionally consists of onboarding, enabling partners to sell on the supplier's behalf, and creating fancy co-branding of marketing materials. While these are all very important activities, what about the experience of channel partners’ customers? Remember, we are selling to people and not just other organizations. Customer engagement must be a component of channel partner enablement from the start of the relationship – and not just an afterthought.

Customer experience drives growth. SiriusDecisions research indicates that 80 percent of customers directly or indirectly selected a provider because of past customer experience. So why do we think it’s any different when we involve some form of channel partner? Still, the engagement models that suppliers have established will not miraculously go over to their channel partners – so the same rigor and dedication to implementing change management internally must be applied to partners as well. Here’s how to get started:

  • Post-sale lifecycle. SiriusDecisions has a customer lifecycle framework that is broken into four stages (Deliver/Initiate, Develop/Participate, Retain/Actualize and Growth/Advocate). These phases don’t necessarily have clean start and end dates. Rather, they represent a continuous lifecycle that should deepen the relationship by fulfilling on the brand promise. It’s important for your channel partners to understand this process so that they can help support the adoption, loyalty and growth for individual indirect or direct customers.
  • Customer roles/post-sale personas. Suppliers should have a clear definition of who they have been selling to and should have mapped the post-sale journey to customer personas. Do these definitions align to your channel partner’s ideas of who the customer is? Are different channel partners targeting different segments? Will the journey need to be different? Nuances are not bad – as long as the core of the promise is still delivered.
  • Triggers and timing. Continue the partnership and the sales enablement efforts by deepening the channel partners’ understanding of the ideal experience and explaining what activities need to be delivered during the post-sale journey with direct or indirect customers, and what the triggers are for those activities. It’s critical to think about the timing of activities in each of post-sale lifecycle stages, the level of involvement needed between, and the signal for your channel partners to directly or indirectly engage with customers. The triggers and timelines may need to be altered, but it’s critical to understand the nuances and the most interactions that your partner may be responsible for to ensure a consistent experience.
  • Infrastructure and support. Indirect customers suffer when products fail because they have to use different communication methods than those who are sold to directly. It’s important to look at the post-sale infrastructure and establish what who is better suited to interact with the customer. The supplier and partner functions may take on bigger contributions in certain stages of the post-sale lifecycle, but it’s important to map this out early to ensure readiness and consistency.

Partner is a key word. You spend time with people within your organization. Maybe you even included customers in your journey mapping. Why leave out indirect customers and channel partners? After all, for many of your indirect customers, your partners maybe THE face of your brand. Join me at the SiriusDecisions Summit in May, where I'll be highlighting customer engagement programs of the year. Spoiler alert: One of them will be excellence in customer engagement through the channel!

Melissa Archambault

Melissa is a customer experience advocate with more than 20 years of experience working in global organizations, with an emphasis on the software and telecommunications sectors. She is a thought leader and research analyst for SiriusDecisions’ Customer Engagement Strategies research and advisory service. Follow her on Twitter @Archambault_SD.

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