What Solution Providers Want

Today's solution providers aren't looking for the same cookie-cutter partner programs that vendors and suppliers have had in place for years. As solution providers make the pivot toward services-based offerings, channel programs need to follow suit and reward partners.

At the Women of the Channel West event, Calista Roussos, director of marketing and vendor strategy for Tampa, Fla.-based Vology, boiled down the features that partners appreciate from their vendors.

During a panel at the event held in Napa, Calif., and hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company, Roussos shared five strategies that vendors can use to transform their channel programs.

For more on this topic, check out the rest of the panel's discussion on the partner's journey.

Strategy 1: Encourage The 'Value Of Tomorrow'

Partner programs need to reward for today while encouraging the value of tomorrow, according to Roussos. Many solution providers still operate on a transactional business model and get paid in one-time, up-front payouts.

While compensation models should still support transactional sales, partners also need compensation to acknowledge the shift in favor of services because making the move can be risky and costly, Roussos said.

"We need the compensation models to address how our company is trying to make the transition in the industry to support the [recurring revenue] model. … What we need from our vendors is [for them] to understand our partner journey," she said.

Strategy 2: Build Technology Alliances

No solution provider can do everything in the IT industry by itself, Roussos said.

Solution providers should strive to build an ecosystem of suppliers and vendors with which they work well. Vology, Roussos said, has many relationships and alliances with other companies that can deliver services or provide a value-add to its customer base that Vology might not be able to provide on its own.

"Who you play well with in the sandbox is really important to us as a partner," she said. "As a solution provider, being able to work with multiple manufacturers to provide whatever that solution might be is very important and helps us put the customer first."

Strategy 3: Training Enablement

To elaborate on her stance on the importance of technology partnerships, Roussos said that training is one of the most critical things Vology does for its internal sales and technical organizations. However, vendors and solution providers need to evolve their training strategies, she said.

"The way [vendors and suppliers] used to train us and enable us through programs is not the way we are going to be successful in addressing our customers' needs as we move forward," Roussos said.

Addressing customer needs from a vendor-agnostic approach requires a sales organization to have a different conversation. It's no longer about speeds and feeds -- it's about understanding where customers are in their IT life cycle, what they would like to offload, and what their business plans are, she said.

"Our sales reps aren't even going in by themselves," Roussos said. "They are bringing in engineers, a technology specialist, and someone from our services [unit] to drive that conversation. Whether you are doing managed services or not, building client loyalty is very important," Roussos said.

Strategy 4: Pilot Programs

Vendors need solution providers to help drive growth around new product lines -- this is where pilot programs that are unique to specific partners come in.

Roussos gave the example of a pilot program that Vology was involved in when one of its vendors wanted to break into mobility. The vendor chose about 20 solution providers with a mobility practice to see if any of them could help build momentum around the new business line. The vendor also provided dedicated support and marketing dollars for three months.

"We are juggling a lot of things in the air trying to make this shift [to services] work, so pilot programs are great," she said. "This vendor wasn't looking for immediate results and understood there was a ramp-up, and we were very successful with it. It really helped align us with that vendor, too."

Strategy 5: Be More Strategic With Marketing Funds

Tying in the location of the Women in the Channel event in Napa, Roussos encouraged attendees to have "more red wine, and less red tape" when it comes to marketing dollars.

"Every partner knows that every marketing dollar you get has about 20 stipulations on how you can spend it -- who you can spend it with, what you can spend it on, whatever it might be. And then when you go to claim it, it's ten times worse," she said.

There has to be more of a middle ground, Roussos said. Vendors need to find a way to work with partners to give them more flexibility on how they want to use the money, and both companies can commit to an acceptable outcome, she said.

"You might actually see more results this way," Roussos added.

One Size Doesn't Fit All

Every vendor is at a different point, but paying attention to the partner's journey is just as important as considering the buyer's journey, Roussos said. Understanding where your partners are at and what is important to their business will help a channel ecosystem be successful, she said.

"That partner's journey is really important," she said. "We started at different places but we are going to pretty much the same place, though we might take a different way to get there."