How To Ask Your Tech Partners the Right Questions To Secure Your SMB Sales

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IT solution providers want to increase their sales to small and midsize business, and SMBs are starting to open their wallets. To offer those customers the best selection, solution providers need to pick the best tech suppliers. Here, Rajiah, VP Worldwide Channel Sales, who took over from Robert Fuller as Rackspace channel chief in December, outlines the types of questions you should ask partners to be certain they can satisfy your business needs. —Jennifer Bosavage

Small and midsize business IT spending is growing. SMB will lay out record levels of money for technology in 2012, according to IDC research, providing a significant opportunity, as well as a challenge, for channel partners. With the need for smart technology applications greater than ever, there will be a corresponding anxiety on the part of SMBs that they are being presented with the right options and making intelligent choices. Given this environment, channel partners need to ask their prospective and current technology providers for clear and credible answers to enduring questions.

A channel partner needs its technology provider to commit to making it as easy as possible for the solution provider to offer end-user clients with not just great product, but also to provide the partner outstanding support and service. That way, the VAR can focus on creating value added services on top of the technology provider’s offering and monetize those value-added partner-led services. Channel partners should also want to know whether their technology providers are constantly developing not just useful applications, but also comprehensive, easy-to-use technology platforms through which to manage those applications. When a technology provider offers a superior portal, partners are able to track leads, find out about sales commissions, and read trouble tickets all in one place.

[Related: How To Select a SaaS Provider]

Another issue for channel partners is having the reassurance that technology providers will assist them in quickly implementing hosting and cloud-based services for their customers. That requires not just a close partnership, but good, clear business processes defining each other’s roles and responsibilities that can easily be shared and understood.

Further, it is good for a channel partner to establish whether the technology provider offers easily accessible certification programs and eLearning tools, so that channel partners can provide the best service to their end-users. When we at Rackspace look back at 2011, we were constantly getting feedback from channel partners regarding their needs around education and training. As a result, Rackspace developed Cloud University, a vendor-neutral, cloud education curriculum focused on providing timely and relevant information and developing technical skills related to cloud computing. Education and training is something that any technology vendor should be focused on intently as the cloud computing industry moves forward.

Channel partners should also emphasize working with those technology providers that maintain a high Net Promoter Score (NPS), as this provides a strong indication of how loyal customers are to the company and how likely they are to recommend the provider to others. The technology providers that can most effectively develop an “Army of Promoters” are those that prioritize providing quality customer support. When it comes to customer support, the responsiveness of the technology provider is key. A well thought-out and intuitive customer support system can mean the difference between a one-time sale and an enduring relationship between the technology provider, the channel partner and their client.

As part of the relationship, partners should also look to the technology provider to deliver a comprehensive set of marketing tools and services. White papers, microsites, landing pages, joint solution playboxes, and co-branded collateral materials are a few that should be readily available for partners to leverage.

Lastly, breadth of applications is very important. Getting a wide choice of add-on technologies from the original technology vendor is a growing and significant trend. At Rackspace, for example, we offer packages that include Microsoft Sharepoint, Hosted Virtual desktops through our VDI partners, backup and recovery services through our Alliance partnerships with EMC, NetApp and many more tech companies. Rackspace, in other words, through its own “channel” agreements becomes a go-to platform that can give a huge advantage to channel partners making fresh sales or expanding existing business relationships. I believe it’s important for vendors to offer aggregated solution sets, or bundles, that partners can sell and consume both horizontally and vertically, whether it's targeting digital media or hybrid product combinations like Rackconnect in the E-commerce space.

Our experience at Rackspace is that by catering to our partners’ needs over the last two years, we have started to see channel partners influence an increasing amount of our new business. It makes sense that technology providers across the board should really hone in on the needs of channel partners and build solutions and programs specific to their needs. In turn, channel partners have the opportunity to demand greater consideration and enhanced partner program benefits. This is your time.

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