By Pete Engler
Participating in a partner program with a technology vendor opens the door to an important relationship that can be mutually beneficial, particularly when the program is geared for maximum loyalty and sales potential. Most channel programs offer different partner levels to best match a reseller’s interest and capability. Going for the gold, or that highest partner level offered, may seem like the best answer, but it’s important to fully understand both the expectations and the benefits of the higher partner level before making a commitment.
When considering a vendor’s strength as a strategic partner for your business, you want to evaluate several factors, such as their product and technical support reputation; whether the company provides sales and marketing support; financial incentives for selling products and services; and having a thorough and supported distribution channel. Once you have decided to partner with a vendor the relationship is dependent on your commitment level within their partner program. Lower levels typically provide fewer incentives and discounts than higher levels. Deciding to move up to a higher partner level may mean access to more benefits and vendor support, but it also requires that you make a significantly higher monthly or yearly sales commitment.
What can you expect from a higher partner program level? The answer isn’t always the same with every vendor but there are some benefits that are common with most channel programs. The first and possibly the most coveted is more margin. Vendors typically give their higher program level partners more discount due to the higher volume of products sold. Accessing more discount certainly has a positive effect on your profit and competitiveness against other vendors. In turn, that extra margin may also help you continue performing at an increased level of sales which is required to remain at the higher partner level.
Top-tier partners are usually further assisted in the sales process via access to dedicated sales support from the vendor. Top partners routinely will be assisted by an account manager or sales team with sales calls, demos or other sales related support. Leads can also be provided and are typically funneled to top producing partners. Vendor leads are often qualified prior to being distributed, which may translate into a shorter sales cycle for the partner to win the deal.
A vendor’s marketing support is another critical component of partner support. Top-tier programs typically offer dedicated marketing or co-marketing activities in their higher partner levels. Marketing development funds (MDF) may also be available for partners to offset customer acquisition costs. MDF funds may be used toward participation in activities such as trade shows, communications campaigns (email or snail mail), in-person events (lunch and learns, road shows), and many other end-user marketing activities.
Premier technical support is another vendor asset that is often reserved for the highest tier partners. While support exists for all paying customers, if a top producing partner needs an issue worked immediately, vendors can provide these top partners with immediate help. It likely goes without saying that escalated support access is a distinct advantage for the partner if they can resolve their customers’ issues quickly.
For any vendor, feedback from the customer base is essential to maintaining a quality product and service. Partner advisory boards are filled with the top producing partners who provide market and customer insight that is extremely valuable. These partners are often the first to hear about products being developed and the first to be able to test before the products go to market. Advisory council participation allows a partner to shape the product direction in the best way to maximize sales and market leadership.
When reselling products and services, it is always important to choose your vendor carefully. The perks that companies provide top producing partners are invaluable to giving an edge in the marketplace. Using one vendor for each technology solution offered to customers may help in bringing the sales up to a level that will earn a place in the top tiers of vendor partner programs. This loyalty and increased sales volumes will help against competitors in the marketplace and help make closing sales easier.
Pete Engler is the channel marketing manager at Digium, a business communications company based in Huntsville, Ala., that delivers enterprise-class Unified Communications.