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Partner-to-partner: Teaming with peers to grow a channel business

If you want to meet customer needs and grow your channel company, partnering with other partners is the way to go.

That’s the message from Tiffani Bova, global customer growth and innovation evangelist at Salesforce, a company that has been encouraging partner-to-partner (P2P) interaction within its cloud ecosystem. Bova, who shared her views at CompTIA’s recent ChannelCon event, cited a couple of factors behind the need for P2P. For one, high-growth areas such as mobile, social and cloud can’t be reduced to SKUs that a channel partner can sell to a customer. Instead, mobile, social and cloud call for “a more integrated solution” in which the partner must determine how to pull various components together, according to Bova.

In addition, customers aren’t eager to purchase discrete technologies; they are, first and foremost, looking to solve business problems, Bova noted. The antidote for those business problems may well encompass a range of services and technologies — at least some of which the partner won’t possess in house.

In Bova’s view, P2P provides the best avenue for assembling an integrated offering that addresses a customer’s business challenges.

“The only way to get there is to partner,” she said.

Getting there is a multi-step process that begins with the customer. Partners, Bova said, should be selling innovation and change, rather than technology. And today, innovation is becoming more of a customer-centric activity, rather than something a partner dreams up in isolation.

Here are the action items Bova suggested for partners interested in pursuing the P2P route:

  1. Conduct a listening tour to gain insight into customers’ most pressing problems. The listening tour should aim to get unfiltered, candid feedback from customers. Bova advised channel partners not to assign the task to sales reps, who might report back with an overly rosy view.
  2. Gain feedback from all parts of an organization, not just the IT department.
  3. Prepare to work within an extended network: Integrated offerings will require new capabilities, so partners will need to collaborate with customers and other partners to get the job done. Bova suggested using the listening tour to identify potential partners. “Ask who customers are using in their broader partner network to uncover who to partner with,” she said.
  4. Develop a gap analysis: That is, determine what you can do, what you need to do and where you need to partner. For example, customer projects may call for user experience (UX) expertise and the ability to develop APIs to linkup different elements of an integrated offering. If a partner lacks those skills, it will need to “find partners who fly in the orbit of those kinds of technologies,” Bova explained. That could mean partnering with a UI/UX consultant or an independent software vendor.

P2P partnering requires a shift in thinking for channel partners, particularly for those that have made account control a priority. Bova said concerns over who owns the customer relationship have held back the promise of P2P collaboration over the years. She said the attitude among some partners is that they own the customer and won’t introduce another company into the account.

Bova suggested the obsession over account ownership is outdated.

“The only person who owns the customer is the customer,” she said. “You are not the only bill they get.”

Instead of taking an insular approach, partners should work toward mutually beneficial partnering arrangements that revolve around a shared set of goals, according to Bova.

“We can’t think company-centric,” she said. “If growth is your goal, you have to start thinking a lot differently about how you are going to get there.”

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