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Digital Digital Strategy
6 minute read

Partnerships in the Digital Age

Learn how channel partner relationships are transforming in this new era.

In This Article

For the past few decades, the partnership model among technology players has often looked something like this: 

  • Channel partner buys technology from manufacturer at a wholesale price
  • Channel partner then resells manufacturer technology to end customer, with an additional margin added on.
  • Channel partner looks to also sell additional “value-added services” to end customer, including implementation and support.
  • A manufacturer may provide an advertising/marketing budget to assist channel partner in further sales of manufacturer products.

This model was started at a time when solution procurement was primarily hardware-based and allowed for many OEMs (Sun, Oracle, IBM) to gain a foothold in corporate America during the advent of the Internet. For its time, this model allowed for the rapid proliferation of technology in the workplace and made sense, as it mirrored many other industries (automotive, photocopiers, etc.) with a proven path to success.

Consumers often looked to agencies such as channel partners to educate them on the benefits of specific technologies, and capital budgets were built with the expectation of large hardware purchases to be refreshed every three years.  

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A new look for partnerships

As we moved into the back half of the 2020, a movement that first gained significant market attention via Salesforce is taking place. Hardware purchases are more and more moving to SaaS (software as a service) and PaaS (platform as a service) based offerings. The OEM is being replaced by a nimble platform approach, which is focused on the ecosystem rather than the traditional integration model.

Consumers are becoming increasingly educated, with traditional insight-providers such as Gartner and Forrester covering a variety of software, while new crowd-sourced tools like G2Crowd and TrustRadius are allowing end users to come to the table in a much more informed manner.

What does this mean for the partner universe?  From a starting point, it means that partners are becoming more collaborative than ever and working together in a seamless manner, much more so than the traditional “assembly line” approach.  Tools such as Crossbeam  are allowing partners to share not only target accounts, but to break out existing business, new opportunities and verticals into a real-time single environment, allowing for a lockstep approach to business development and marketing. Impartner  and PartnerStack  are shaping the PRM marketplace, bringing a whole new level of KPI and data-driven insights into partner campaigns.  

WWT is taking this approach in MarTech by integrating a technology approach into a Golden Stack, allowing for multiple partners (Amplitude, Segment, etc.) to act as part of one uninterrupted solution.

It also means partnerships will continue to evolve in form and function. Today we are seeing partners move beyond the traditional channel partner relationship into a wholly new approach. Traditional channel partner relationships would be measured on metrics such as revenue, margin or generated leads. The main purpose of these relationships is to help businesses scale without a direct workforce having to do incremental work.  

For example, 95 percent of Microsoft’s revenue is through channel partners. More recently, we are seeing organizations move into technology partnerships. Products are becoming natively integrated through APIs and connectors built at the core code level. Looking at the MarTech example mentioned previously, an organization may have its client’s data flowing through a CDP, or customer data platform. That CDP is then potentially linked to any variety of data sources. It may interface with your CRM (client relationship management software), to then pass customer information to your engagement layer/mobile marketing platform, which then ties back to your analytics engine to provide additional customer insights.  

All of this results in what is ultimately a platform at the technology level, made up of a variety of different providers. The providers are tightly integrated with one another, which then allows the organization to tune the technology mix and function based on the use-case scenario. 

Finally, we are seeing the move across many organizations to the strategic partner level. This goes beyond any campaign or business development effort and moves into the realm of a long-term commitment to combined strategy across multiple organizations. There may even be a bundling of technology, branding and budget across partners, generally with executive-level sponsorship of the programs. Sales and technology resources are often dedicated to partner efforts, including go-to-market investment in filling a corresponding need within one another’s companies. 

So how do organizations execute these partner strategies? Generally, a “crawl, walk, run” approach leads to the most success and ability to measure that success. For example, when it comes to co-marketing and co-selling efforts, an approach may follow this sample roadmap.  

  • Crawl: LinkedIn and Twitter posts, corporate blog entries and general client communication mentions.
  • Walk – Account mapping and lead sharing, co-branded web presence, press releases and dedicated business development.
  • Run – Case studies, executive briefings, keynote speaker events and conferences. The key to this approach is that it allows both organizations to get comfortable with one another, while also avoiding any over-promise/under-deliver scenarios.

At the end of the day, as with any good partnership, it ultimately comes down to the relationship.  Even in our current 100 percent remote environment and for whatever our “next normal” brings us, the key is that at the end of all of these programs are people. That makes partnership motions complex, but also extremely fulfilling. 

 As with any relationship, no two are alike — while you may feel you have a bullet-proof process for identifying and onboarding partners, remember that all of these partnerships will be individual relationships and will require an individual touch. Finally: the opportunity to learn and grow not only as an organization but also as an individual has never been higher or more accessible in this time period, as we transition from the information age to the imagination age. 

Use this opportunity to gain a deep understanding of the partner ecosystem you support, as it will make you, your organization and your clients stronger for it. Feel free to leave your comments and questions in the comment section below, and reach out to us directly to start the conversation about your organization's needs.