6 Ways To Strengthen Partner Loyalty In The Cloud Era

"Cultivating partner loyalty today is a complex, multifaceted endeavor, one that warrants a new vision incorporating new approaches to partner enablement," says the report, titled "Reinforcing Channel Partner Bonds In the Era of The Cloud," by analyst Tim Harmon.

At a time when Forrester says 12 to 15 percent of partners will go out of business, while vendors and telecom companies are looking to contract with the remaining partners, it's important for vendors to strengthen the loyalty of their partners.

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"A lot of partners grew up in the product technology world, and the cloud is new to them and they are looking to vendors to help them make the transformation," Harmon said Tuesday in an interview with CRN.

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Harmon said financial incentives alone are no longer sufficient to keep partners in the fold.

"Instead of the hard metrics of financial incentives, there are a whole slew of soft value factors that, if added together, are possibly just as important as hard metrics." he said.

He outlined six areas in which vendors can strengthen ties with partners:

1. Strength of brand: While some channel marketers would like to have partners be outbound marketers for new vendor initiatives, partners are loyal to brands their customers favor.

"Partners expect some level of demand for their products," Harmon said.

2. Design of product: Partners are eager to work with products that are well documented and provide opportunity for them to add services. Vendor marketers to the channel should participate in product management teams so that channel needs are factored into decisions on design and packaging.

"Here, vendors can include APIs and managerial tool sets that can support channel vendors so they can extend or manage the products," Harmon said.

3. Breadth of portfolio: If a partner can expand the portfolio of solutions offered from one vendor, it will help increase his ability to offer more services and thus ensure his loyalty.

"Cisco, Microsoft, HP, Dell, these are the companies that offer a wide range of products," Harmon said.

4. Quality of support/enablement: Nothing will dampen a vendor-partner relationship like weak support. It can hinder vendor-partner relationships, and offering top notch training and support goes a long way in boosting loyalty.

"This has been a key factor in vendor-partner relations for a long time," Harmon said.

5. Ease of doing business: Vendors' actions such as timely payment performance, responsiveness to questions and order management efficiency, as well as the reliability of IT systems that help partners keep costs down, all help partners operate more efficiently.

Harmon said vendors often have "woeful" systems for working with partners, including hard-to-use vendor portals.

6. Focus on relationships: Partners value attention from vendor representatives, whether they are executives, marketers, product managers, support engineers, or trainers. Vendors should make sure the partner account manager-to-partner ratio is not substandard.

"Keeping a level of personal touch on partner accounts means everything," Harmon said.