I attended a conference about 10 years ago where Tiffani Bova, then of Gartner, was presenting and she put up a slide that said, “The 1990’s called, and they want their program back.”  At the time, aside from the comic relief, it was a wakeup call for many program owners.  It was time to start thinking about partner programs in a different way.  We are at another turning point in the evolution of partner programming and it’s “The 2010’s called, and they would like their tiers back.”

When tech companies engage with us to accelerate their channel program success, the first step we do is counsel them to think about what really matters most about working with partners.  When they strip away the fancy portals, MDF programs, and deal registration policies, what is it that really matters?  The answers usually boil down to two things: Make money and have loyal partners.  Interestingly, that is basically all that matters to Partners, too, except they want loyal customers. So, if profitability and loyalty are the two main categories, why are we trying to create partner programs that involve 100 other things?

We partnered with CompTIA earlier this year to conduct research around The Partner Experience, and the results are very telling:

  • Partners are looking for enablement to sell and support solutions (we coined this the “New Currency”),
  • Vendors are no longer in the power position,
  • and Trust is the foundation for everything.

There was nothing in the study about program tiers, programs, benefits, requirements, spiffs, MDF, Deal Registration, business planning, portals, or anything else in your Partner Program.  Just Enablement and Trust, with the Partner in the co-pilot seat, next to the Customer.  So, if these are the important elements for a Partner, our programs should be reflective of this current time.

I know most people feel a sense of comfort looking at a matrix of benefits and requirements down the side and tiers across the top.  We are conditioned to understand that the top partners get the most benefits, the smaller/newer partners get the least, and the more line items we can list and show different check marks in each column the better.  But actually, who is that for?  When Partners just want Enablement and Trust, maybe that is what we should give them. That is why I say, “Tiers are Dead”!

What if you could wipe away your current program and start fresh?  Start with Enablement and Competency as the foundation.  Do away with jumping through hoops and tracking every activity a partner could do to.  Make it simple to understand, communicate, enable, transact.  Now, I realize that all partners aren’t created equal, and that each Vendor will have to segment the partners somehow, but what if vendors could just look at the Partner Journey and enable the journey as best as they could?  What would that program look like?

From our research and experience helping to build so many channel programs, that program is competency centric. It places value in a truly skilled and knowledgeable partner (the “New Currency” for partners).  It fosters transparency and simplicity and focuses on the partner’s business.  It rewards the partners that are fully competent with a high degree of profitability and allows all partners to participate in the program benefits to build their business and be just like the big ones.  It allows for different sales models to work within the same program, removing complexity, and gives distinctions to partners who are fully trained and skilled on your solution.  And, more importantly, it stays away from confining partners to a “Gold, Silver, Bronze” matrix, which, to the outside world, means nothing.

So go ahead, give yourself permission. Give the complex, tiered, red-taped, convoluted, laborious program a nice eulogy.  Get a blank piece of paper and craft a program that will focus on what matters to your Partners and their customers.  Map out a journey for all partners and what you get may surprise you.  And if you want help, we are ready to help you assess, then build the journey for your partners that gives them the Enablement and Trust they want. We’re happy to talk anytime.