Ecosystem. It’s quite the buzzword these days. If you are one of the many that can proudly say you have a “Partner Ecosystem”, Congratulations! You are officially keeping up with the “Jones’s”. In seriousness, while it is great to be able to check that off on your partner program, what are you doing with your ecosystem? Is it serving a business purpose for you or just marketing fodder?  

When executed correctly, ecosystems serve an important purpose in the channel world. When bad, they often wither on the vine, slowly fading away and becoming more of a nuisance than providing value. When good, they improve your overall channel health, providing value to the business and other partners alike.  

Say you are a software company. You probably have a few routes to market with your software, like resellers and distributors. Maybe even a few OEM or ISV partners as well. How are your partners doing? Do they struggle with the same things, and do you get the same feedback again and again? How about your business? Are you wishing you had some resources, but you just can’t figure out how to get it done within your business? All these challenges can be overcome by being part of a great ecosystem.

What types of partners will improve your ecosystem?

If your partners are constantly asking you for training or implementation services, then what about an ecosystem partner could help? If your business is struggling to keep up with all the API requests, or if your professional service bench is constantly tapped and you have a backlog you need to clear up, are there partners that could help? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are not only ready to simply keep up with the “Jones’s”, you are ready to be better!

An ecosystem should consist of all the pieces that make everyone successful. When looking at the challenges I outlined above, if your partners are struggling with training, find a Training Services partner. If partners need hosting or implementation services, then Service Providers and System Integrators will add to the ecosystem nicely. You get the point.

How do you support your ecosystem?

This next step is the piece that everyone forgets…or ignores! We get it; it’s hard and an area we are often asked to help programs craft a strategy around.  

Once you have decided that different partners would be best for your business and you have made a place for new partners in your ecosystem, the next step is getting everyone to work together. 

It is not a “build it and they will come” situation. It requires attention, resources, and time. All of which you won’t be able to tie an ROI to immediately. We realize this is where we often lose people’s attention: the benefits of a vibrant, successful ecosystem are not felt on your bottom line overnight. However, in the long run, they become critical to your success. 

Supporting your ecosystem of partners is critical to its success. Here are some things to keep in mind as you bring in different partners.

Purpose:  Make sure everyone knows – and agrees – why these partners are here. Everyone from your Product Management team to Sales and Marketing. Think of these partners as another resource for your business and customers. Everyone should be on board and want to engage with them.

Promote: The only way people will know about these partners is if you promote them. Find a way to introduce them to your ecosystem. Host events and let them speak, jointly publish white papers, go to the media with success stories, and prominently publish them on your website. Whatever you need to do, get them out there and exposed to the rest of the ecosystem so people know who they are, what they can do, and how to contact them.

Plan: Just like you have with the rest of your partners, you have to have a plan with these partners. The plan should be focused on how you are going to work together, how you find joint opportunities, and the rules of engagement when you do work together.  

Patience: Set the expectation that ecosystem success will not come overnight. It takes time to cultivate these relationships and get all the pieces in place. Service partners need the correct training to be successful, training partners need to master the material and schedule classes, and implementation partners need the right tools to get the job done. These all take time. Don’t rush it and miss a step.

Protect: Now that you have an ecosystem that is purposeful, engaged, and aware, you need to be sure that you protect your ecosystem with continual support. At this point you may be tempted to pull off support, thinking partners could survive in the ecosystem on their own, but they can’t. Sure, some ecosystem partners don’t deliver revenue directly to you, but they do enable revenue, and that is what you need to measure, and want to protect.

There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” That’s what ecosystems are all about. Going together and in the long run, everybody benefits from the ecosystem effort.

Take a look at your ecosystem and find the value within it. Then follow the steps above to really make your ecosystem flourish!

Ready to learn more about creating a healthy and thriving ecosystem? Check out this article ‘Healthy Channel Ecosystems: Everybody Wins’ written by our Founder and CEO, Theresa Caragol, and published on Forbes.