Channel Co. Exclusive Research: The Partner's Buying Journey Is As Big A Game-Changer As The Buyer's Journey

The buyer's journey, in which 70 percent of a buying decision is complete before a technology buyer speaks to a sales rep, is well established in the technology market.

The partner's buying journey, however, is every bit as big a game-changer and is often underestimated by technology vendors competing for the sales and technical talent of 170,000 solution providers every day, said The Channel Co. Executive Vice President Dan Dignam.

"Solution providers wake up every morning and have a choice on what to sell," said Dignam, who has helped the top technology vendors craft channel sales strategies over the past three decades. "If you understand the partner's journey, you can influence the choice that every one of those solution providers make every day on what to sell."

The partner journey research, which is based on a new The Channel Co. survey, is being presented in a six-city nationwide road show titled "Surviving & Managing The Shift To The Strategic Service Provider Model." The road show kicked off March 23 in Irvine, Calif., and concludes April 26 in Austin, Texas. In addition to the new solution provider journey research, the road show includes exclusive research on the shift to the new strategic service provider business model.

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"We want people to understand the partner's journey is every bit as powerful as the buyer's journey, which is well understood in the consumer world," said Dignam. "Our No. 1 goal is to accelerate the growth and success of the channel. That means helping vendors engage better with strategic service providers at every stage of the partner journey."

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The genesis of The Channel Co. research was aimed at determining exactly which content and influencer paths solution providers were taking as they moved to add a new technology vendor, practice or business model. "We wanted to know what partners were doing, how they were searching the Internet, what was happening before they showed up at a partner portal," said Dignam. "There is a whole decision-making process that goes on behind the scenes that technology suppliers don't see."

The partner's journey mirrors the same content and influencer paths as the buyer's journey with partners using everything from media, ads, blogs, and social media along with vendor and distributor websites as they move from awareness to consideration to the final decision on adding a new technology vendor or practice, said Dignam.

The stakes are high for vendors as they attempt to influence the buying journey of partners who are making major technology and practice area bets in the new strategic service provider era.

The Channel Co. research shows that a whopping 86 percent of solution providers are planning to add a new vendor or a new technology practice in 2016, said Dignam. He said The Channel Co. data shows that 47 percent of solution providers plan on adding a new technology practice such as cloud services in 2016, while 44 percent of solution providers plan on expanding business with existing technology suppliers. "Across the board, solution providers are exploring brand-new relationships in many different areas," he said.

Frank Vitagliano, vice president of sales and global distribution strategy for Dell, Round Rock, Texas, said the need to communicate and influence partners is more important than ever as solution providers shift to the strategic service provider business model. "Any vendor that has been paying attention to the market recognizes that solution providers have tons of choices," he said. "There aren't any vendors that have the luxury of being the de facto pick of partners. You have to work at it."

Vitagliano said taking advantage of the partner's journey dynamics is "critical" to getting partners to add a new product or service or expand an existing relationship. "Vendors need to take partners along on that journey and tell them what we are doing, how we are doing it, and what matters," he said. "It's all part of how a solution provider decides who to partner with."

The difference in the buyer's journey versus the partner's journey lies in where partners find the content and influencers along the path to discover and explore new technology, brand or business models, said Dignam.

"Some vendors think the partner's journey begins and ends when they sign up at an online partner portal," said Dignam. "What they fail to look at is how did the partner get to that portal? How did the partner hear about the vendor and decide to go to the partner portal? There is a whole journey that happens before a partner signs up for a new service or product that a technology supplier can influence."

The Channel Co. research shows that partners' primary source in the "awareness" stage as they set out to discover and explore new technologies and practice areas was third-party independent websites and magazines. In fact, Dignam said, 74 percent of partners cited third-party websites and magazines as their primary source in finding new technologies, brands and business models in the awareness stage.

Independent technology events and distributor websites were tied, cited by 58 percent for each, said Dignam. He said independent events are key in targeting solution providers who are making new technology or practice choices.

Technology supplier websites were fourth in the awareness stage, cited by 52 percent, followed by distributor events at 51 percent, co-workers at 50 percent, technology supplier and distribution sales reps at 48 percent, and other solution providers at 41 percent, said Dignam.

In the consideration stage, where a partner already has shown an interest in a new technology or business model and is now considering adopting it, the No. 1 source again was third-party websites and magazines. The consideration stage begins once a partner has taken an interest in a particular technology or practice and is doing additional research.

"Vendors need to get much deeper in the consideration stage," said Dignam."The conversation with partners needs to be much more detailed and deeper at this stage with case studies, webcasts, live events. Showing how your technology or solution solves a business problem is best done at the consideration stage."

In the consideration stage, 70 percent cited third-party websites and magazines, followed by solution provider peers at 61 percent, technology supplier websites at 58 percent, co-workers at 57 percent, and technology supplier sales reps at 55 percent.

In the final decision stage, where a partner compiles a short list of possible suppliers, the No. 1 source was co-workers at 41 percent, followed by technology supplier sales reps at 38 percent, technology supplier websites at 35 percent, solution provider peers at 29 percent, distribution sales reps at 27 percent, independent technology events at 26 percent, distribution websites at 25 percent, and third-party websites and magazines at 24 percent, said Dignam.

Dignam said that those vendors that understand the partner's journey and take advantage of the opportunity to communicate with partners at every stage from awareness to consideration to decision are poised to drive sales growth in the strategic service provider era.

"If you participate in the partner's journey you can influence the choice that partners make every day to sell your product or service," he said.

Technology vendors interested in attending the "Surviving & Managing The Shift To The Strategic Service Provider Model" road show must register due to limited space. In addition to an in-depth review of the strategic service provider and partner’s journey research, vendors will learn what will be important in building a bridge from today’s channel model to the future.