Welcome back to part two of the SaaS Channel Playbook. In this installment, we will take your channel strategy to the next level by discussing the exponential value that channel ecosystems can create in your overall channel strategy.

 

Whether your company is a SaaS start-up or a complex, mature enterprise, channel ecosystems drive solutions, buyer behavior, and partner success. Your company’s maturity level can dictate the way you perceive the channel ecosystem. There are three common perspectives when considering the growth of your channel ecosystem – a flywheel, a funnel, and a symphony.

Flywheel – As a start-up, there are multiple points of alignment you need to achieve within the greater ecosystem. Start by asking, How can our company become more deeply threaded into the channel ecosystem? Then consider your focus areas such as marketing, services, implementation, etc. As you build upon each area within the flywheel, you will begin to drive greater loyalty and trust with your customers and build on your success.

Funnel – As a mid-level or higher company, focus on building your ecosystem around the customer lifecycle: from early awareness to product adoption to defining their role within your channel and alliance programs.

Consider the following example of a customer’s journey through the ecosystem funnel. At the very top of the funnel, the potential customer engages with you and other vendors to learn about all possible solutions. As they continue through the funnel, the customer takes time to understand outcomes and may engage with a Systems Integrator (SI) throughout the transaction process. As they get deeper into the funnel and begin to adopt and use the product, they may require various services and support. When building your ecosystem, clearly defining the different stages and requirements and enabling customer success or renewal agents will allow you to prioritize needs, deliver services on time, and achieve partner success.

Symphony – In advanced companies with comprehensive channel strategies and multiple partner types, the ecosystem is like a symphony orchestra where there are many different instruments, all playing their part for the success of the whole. Remember, in the end, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Now that you are familiar with the various ways to view your ecosystems, we’ll explore ecosystem best practices to help you drive revenue and delivering maximum customer and partner value.

 

Emphasize Quality over Quantity

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your ecosystem. In the beginning, emphasize quality over quantity and begin slowly. Start by investing in partner types where you have previously seen success, and then slowly replicate that process with partners within new segments. Ask: How are we driving long-term value for our customers, our partners, and our company? When done right, these first few relationships will differentiate your company from other start-ups, allowing you to gain trust and initial traction in the ecosystem.

If you’re in a growing market such as DevOps, you may be limited in your ability to focus on only a few quality partners. You may require the value-add of a large number of different partner types across various industries as you continue to build out your product lifecycle and drive decisions. If this is the case, consider splitting your partners into two separate groups – an Open Group focused on quantity, and a Strategic Group with a smaller number of partners, where you’re focused on building loyal relationships.

 

Be Selective to Stand Out from The Crowd 

These days it is not unusual to see 30 or more startups involved in one marketplace of the same category. Therefore, you must be very selective. Take the time to define your go-to-market plan and understand how you best align to solve a specific use case with those specific segments and sales teams within your channel or partner ecosystem. If you prescriptively choose and align partners with specific tasks and jobs, it helps cut down on the noise and sets clear expectations.

Along with this, don’t underestimate the importance of doing the hard work around operations and integration early. Having these processes already in place will not only make you more efficient but will also free-up valuable time to focus on other partner priorities.

 

Differentiate and Incentivize to Maximize ROI

Value Proposition: As discussed in part 1, you must differentiate between the customer value proposition and the partner value proposition. Partner and customer are not interchangeable. When building the partner value proposition, ask: Why does the partner want to do business? And how can we best leverage the partner with our customers? And then define a specific and clear partner value proposition to drive behaviors in a certain way.

Incentives: Incentivize based on the specific value the partner creates rather than issuing a blanket incentive for all partners. Consider what the partner is doing – are they helping find a new customer, assisting in a deal, fulfilling orders, attaching services, etc.? – and adjust accordingly.

Incentives can also drive partners within ecosystems to work together more efficiently and often. It’s not a linear process anymore, and you should consider the ways these programs can stimulate your ecosystem and drive behavior. Investing in a long-term, strategic relationships and customer success achieves greater returns over time.

 

Conclusion

As a SaaS company, recognizing the value of a healthy ecosystem and how you align and fit into the model will help you achieve success in your channel, driving growth and delivering customer and partner value. As we continue with this series, we’ll explore how to successfully implement MDF and the ways to turn your team into channel superstars.

A huge thank you to industry experts, Angus Robertson, Chief Marketing Officer of Chief Outsiders; Michelle Hodges, VP WW Channels, GitLab; and Thomas Spengler, SR ISV Success Manager – Startups, AWS, who we sat down with to discuss all things channel ecosystems. Click here to view the full LinkedIn Live Video Recording.

Building a channel? Learn more about AchieveUnite’s Channel Acceleration Bootcamp (CAB) designed to help you deliver a unique channel strategy that fits your business needs and drives value for your partners.