In an ideal world, the partnership delivers a result that’s greater than the sum of its parts – after all that’s the whole point of the channel. A successful partnership should mean that customers benefit from outstanding technology, service and support, which in turn brings the partners sustained revenues and opportunities to grow sales. So often, however, partner selection is rushed and it’s unclear how the businesses will work to align their expertise and create a genuinely compelling proposition for customers.
Ineffective partnerships are a real threat to success, and that’s why we’re seeing a real push among Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) towards strategies to empower the channel and recognition that the first steps are selecting the right partners, followed by proactive investment in the ongoing relationship.
Why strong partnerships matter when it comes to delivering cloud solutions
When customers turn to a managed service provider (MSP) to deliver digital transformation, migrating infrastructure and mission critical workloads to the cloud is a central undertaking. Customers can be nervous about this transformative step, despite knowing that it’s essential if they are going to stay competitive. This puts pressure on the MSP, who owns the customer relationship, to be confident in the solution they are proposing and capable of reassuring tentative customers that they’ll get the results they’re looking for. That confidence can only come from having a close and trusted relationship with the CSP and the ability to draw on their expertise throughout the migration process and beyond.
Attracting the right partners
Establishing a sound rationale for building a partnership is an important step. That could start out with identifying areas of specialism common to both CSP and channel partner. Perhaps the MSP has a strong presence in highly regulated industries, such as finance, government or healthcare. A CSP with highly compliant solutions that are designed for these sectors is going to prove a better partner for the MSP than a more generalist provider.
That said, while the CSP needs to demonstrate a commitment to delivering added value to the MSP to improve success in existing target areas, they also need to show how forming a partnership will help expand the business opportunity and create propositions for new sectors.
By exploring the future roadmaps of prospective partners, both parties can ascertain where synergies lie. This kind of intelligent partnering at the outset has a greater chance of success.
Effective onboarding - knowledge is empowerment
The start of a channel relationship sets the tone for the engagement. CSPs need to be offering an outstanding service to channel partners during onboarding, building strong relationships and delivering the right training so that teams have complete knowledge of what the CSP can deliver, how to scope the customer environment using CSP-provided tools, what customer options are available and how the environment is managed and monitored.
In devising a joint go-to-market strategy, it’s important to undertake a knowledge swap to maximise opportunities. The CSP can offer insight into its typical customers, their pain points and the drivers behind their purchase, so that customer personas and targeted marketing messages can be developed.
Similarly, the MSP should share insights into its own customers and what they need from a CSP. As the partnership matures, this can even extend to the MSP suggesting new features that the CSP could offer to meet a market need and therefore provide more sales opportunities.
Maintaining the relationship – building trust
As the partnership matures, CSPs need to commit to working closely with their partners to become an integral part of their offering. This means recognising that each partner is different and one-size-fits-all support won’t deliver the results that either party is hoping for.
CSPs need to be proactive in helping to identify and scope opportunities, shortening the sales cycle and ensuring that the customer on-boarding process is as painless as possible. Regular reviews of opportunities, contract wins and reasons for losses helps to refine the partnership and identify what can be improved.
It goes without saying that technical support needs to be top-notch and monitoring of the environment straightforward and transparent. This means partners can be confident in offering high service level agreements and cost certainty to customers.
Regular updates and training are another key to a successful relationship. There is no point in investing in new features and functionality if the sales, pre-sales and operations teams within the channel partner aren’t aware of them and confident about explaining their benefits to prospects. It’s only by maintaining active relationships in this way that trust is built over time.
What are the rewards for CSPs and channel partners that get this right?
Many cloud service providers have historically sold direct, but this is changing. Analysts Canalys recently predicted that "the share of cloud business handled by or with channel partners [will] increase in 2019".
As customers get on board with the as-a-service economy, they’re looking for partners that can offer the whole suite of technology services from the ground up, and that’s where channel partners have the edge. They can build cloud services into their wider portfolio, bringing CSPs a more diverse range of business opportunities and expanding their own customer base and service offering.
That’s why it’s essential that as CSPs we focus on empowering our partners and delivering as much value as we can to help them explore new markets and consolidate existing areas of strength. Getting it right means more opportunities, more sales and more success in a dynamic market.