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Suppliers and Partners: Evolve Together or Fail Separately

- Blog

Craig MalloyBy Craig Malloy

When a supplier’s business undergoes significant change, it’s important that all sides consider the impact this may have on the channel ecosystem. Take a critical look: Can partner relationships evolve alongside the supplier? Who are your partners? How are you supporting them? How can you capitalize on mutual strengths to grow to scale?

From day one, our channel partners have been a fundamental piece of our videoconferencing business. As such, we invested significant amounts of time and energy into building collaborative, authentic relationships. But, as the market shifted and our business evolved, we had to reevaluate how best to enable our channel partners.

At first, we were building servers and dedicated on-premises appliances — an operating model perfectly suited for a healthy channel relationship. The market, however, took a turn; as we continued to manufacture and sell high-end custom conference rooms and on-premises video communications products and infrastructure, the world around us began to move to the cloud. So in 2014, we initiated a complete reinvention of our business to a cloud service delivery platform coupled with our flagship HD camera and phone systems for conference rooms.

The software-as-a-service (SaaS) model was driving different expectations for our prospective buyers, however, which meant we had to adjust our course, as did our partners. Looking back at lessons learned, two important pillars stand out in navigating channel relationships through a transition.

1. Shift the Relationship and Take Ownership

To ensure opportunity for growth and scale, vendors and partners alike need to be open to evaluating and evolving their relationship to better enable success.

For example, in most cases, partners will not have the manpower to engage in vast marketing efforts around a new product. That’s OK. Suppliers should allow partners to focus on their core values, while they provide the solution and positioning and drive customer expectations. Building customer loyalty should not fall on your partners’ shoulders, so take ownership of this. Enabling prospective buyers to understand why your product is the best in its field will allow your partners to have more meaningful (and successful) conversations during sales.

2. Take a Holistic Approach to the Customer Experience

This strategy ultimately means taking an all-inclusive approach to the customer life cycle. This is not just a selling relationship — it’s a complete customer experience relationship that enables the best support possible.

Why does this matter?

In short: growth. Success as a company — particularly as a SaaS provider — is dependent on being able to maximize retention to continue to grow annual recurring revenue (ARR). That’s also a critical goal for partners. One of the best ways to achieve that is to work together to create a holistic, positive experience that extends throughout the customer life cycle — starting at the brand promise, through the sales process and continuing long after. This philosophy, which is aptly dubbed customer obsession, sets a new bar for customer service. For companies like ours, it is deeply intertwined with channel relationships. When a supplier and its partners are running full steam ahead on two separate tracks, customers feel it — and not in a positive way.

Channel relationships should be based on a relationship, not a loosely structured agreement. When the channel succeeds, the supplier succeeds – and vice versa.

For partners, that means:

  1. Look for supplier partners that work hard to be in step and that enable you as much as possible to exceed expectations at every stage of the customer relationship. This enablement should include deep conversations about the relationship structure, thorough education about the product, an online repository of tools and training, and – most importantly — a commitment to being a partner to you as much as you are to them.
  2. Constantly assess the stability of relationships when a business undergoes change. After all, these relationships enable your ability to engage directly with buyers. As a partner, you’re the “boots on the ground" in times of challenge and success, so evaluate carefully how both parties can play their roles effectively and come out on top.

Craig Malloy is CEO of Lifesize and is on a mission to reinvent the video communications industry. Malloy started Lifesize in 2003, oversaw its acquisition by Logitech in 2009 and served as CEO until 2012. Drawn back by his unceasing passion for the industry and reinventing video technology, he returned to Lifesize in 2014.

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