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We All Love Technology, But It's Time to Elevate the Partner Experience

By Special Guest
Ken Lienemann, Chief Revenue Officer, CoreDial

At the recent ITEXPO technology conference , I was struck by how often the term “user experience” was mentioned. It was a talking point in UCaaS sessions, contact center panel discussions, keynotes, and even during conversations revolving around the emergence of Artificial Intelligence. It became a rallying cry from vendors, channel partners, analysts and end users, all of whom cited profound benefits to business by providing intuitive capabilities to employees, customers, and other stakeholders. Improving the user experience has become the raison d’etre for many technology providers, who now see it as the fastest path for closing sales and building loyalty among customers.

There’s no doubt that elevating the user experience is an important concept that has served savvy providers well. You can’t go wrong by delivering solutions that deliver rich communications capabilities in an intuitive and efficient package. But is enhancing the user experience enough to gain traction in both UCaaS and CCaaS? And is the industry focusing its efforts on the end-user the only way to speed adoption of these technologies?

While there is no doubt that there should be an emphasis on improving the user experience, I find it curious that nobody really talks about providing similar upgrades to another critical segment of the communications sector — the channel. In many respects, improving the “partner experience” is just as important to the success of technology providers. In paying so little attention to the partners’ needs, we’re missing an opportunity to help those partners grow and develop a more astute ability to promote and deliver these solutions to the user.

Pain Points

Today’s channel partners face a daunting business environment, to say the least. There is a never ending stream of competitors vying for customers, promising new capabilities and enhanced services at can’t-miss price points. At the same time, they’re dealing with the pressure that many vendors are placing on their current partners to deliver sales numbers under an increasingly strict set of requirements. These typically take the form of increased commitments, certification requirements, reduced access to support, and cumbersome administration tools. All these issues have become serious pain points for the sales channel — and in many ways, partners have been reduced to squeezing out a living on reduced margins, smaller commissions, and compressed pricing.

Taking the channel for granted, or viewing it merely as a means to an end, seems to be the trend among technology vendors — but it’s a counterproductive and arguably short-sighted mindset. Just like improving workflows and simplifying the tools for each user on the platform, partners need specialized care — through resources, training, incentives, and support — to grow their portfolios, maintain a competitive advantage, and build profits for themselves, and for their technology providers. It’s clear that partners need improvements to their own “user experiences.”

Enhancing the partner experience isn’t just attainable — it’s mission-critical. Technology vendors who can deliver comprehensive resources that truly elevate the partner experience stand to reap major benefits from a more empowered channel. And it’s been proven that more empowered partners can more effectively promote and sell the solutions they offer. This kind of partner enablement can be accomplished by prioritizing and applying focus on core areas of the Partner Experience.

Improving the Onboarding Process

Onboarding involves specific technology and business processes that partners must undertake to properly sell private label cloud communications services. It usually incorporates many complex, time-consuming, and yes, even confusing tasks. Case in point: one typical, albeit cumbersome, process requires partners to align their back-end systems with the vendor to ensure that all end-user appropriate features are turned on, and that customers are properly billed for the services they use. For many partners, the effort and related costs that go into onboarding can be staggering.

One of the most important ways to improve the partner experience is to create a streamlined onboarding process.  Providers of advanced UCaaS and CCaaS platforms should offer embedded onboarding tools into their platforms that can substantially simplify and shorten these tasks. And while some platform providers have made strides to simplify the technical aspect of onboarding, few have paid enough attention to the billing portion. This is where the rubber meets the road. UCaaS and CCaaS providers can make partners’ lives immeasurably simpler just by automating the billing process. Tools that readily calculate minutes used, apply the appropriate taxes, and deliver this information in an easy-to-digest manner are worth their weight in gold.

Multiple Paths to Money

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that most customers are savvy when it comes to understanding how technology can improve their businesses. Even SMBs are aware of the benefits that solutions like mobility, collaboration and customer engagement can bring them. But what people tend to forget is that partners who work day-in and day-out to deliver these solutions to customers see firsthand how certain technologies can resonate. So really, it benefits vendors to ensure that the channel has access to every bell and whistle the customer can possibly desire. To provide a partner with only a subset of a solution — say, UCaaS only — undermines that partner’s ability to secure a long-term customer relationship. In effect, this gives the customer a green light to seek other solutions that may be better fit for their needs, such as a combination of unified communications and contact center services. Elevating partner experience means empowering the channel to make money, and they simply can’t do this if they’re forced to rely on a limited solutions portfolio that ties their hands behind their backs. Offering the channel reliable, flexible, scalable and complementary communications services is essential for partners to grow revenue and expand their customer base.        

Nuanced Engagement

Channel partner companies tend to be owned, run and operated by motivated, successful people who have mastered several areas, such as technology, operations, finance, human resources, economics, and engineering. They have proven their capabilities and value to their customers, resulting in contract with companies that rely on them to solve many unique organizational issues. So when partners seek guidance and support from their technology vendors, they usually do so with some trepidation. An inquiry about an implementation challenge, or about discounts and bundles to close a deal, shouldn’t be treated as an open invitation to critique that partner’s business practices or sales processes. What’s worse, some technology vendors take the opportunity to insert themselves into the existing customer dialogue. When vendors intervene in the partner-customer dynamic, things can quickly spiral out of control. Customers can become confused by the intrusion. In some instances, these interventions result in wholesale changes in proposals and financing structures — much to the partner’s frustration. All of these actions undermine the channel’s ability to sustain a high level of trust with their customers.

Vendors would be well-served to maintain a light touch with their channel. Yes, it’s important that partners know their providers have the resources and expertise to help with any sales or implementation challenges. But it’s just as vital that the partner has the latitude to pursue business opportunities that they find attractive, and engage with customers in a manner that suits their business models. It’s not a big ask, one that doesn’t hurt the provider, and at the same time, certainly engenders partner loyalty and elevates partner experience.

Conclusion

Any grumblings by the Channel, whether about feeling unloved or underserved by vendors, are both warranted and accurate. They’ve been diminished to an almost reductive state and they’re fed up. Tighter margins, burdensome backend systems, and heavy-handed oversight has taken the oxygen away from a critical revenue source for vendors.

The channel wants UCaaS and CCaaS solutions that are competitively priced, and applicable to emerging customer needs. They need easy onboarding and backend management tools. And just as importantly, they require the freedom to conduct day-to-day business as they feel appropriate — devoid of unwarranted interference from the vendor.

Creating a positive and meaningful partner experience is crucial to the channel, and ultimately to end users and vendors as well. Elevating the partner experience will achieve returns many times over in terms of sales, lower operating costs, higher customer retention, and profitability — which should motivate every vendor and channel partner.  

About the author:  Ken Lienemann is chief revenue officer at CoreDial, responsible for leading channel recruitment initiatives as well as channel on-boarding, training, support, and success. With a deep background in sales and service, Ken brings more than 20 years of experience to the position, having worked previously for telecom and software companies ranging from startups and early-stage IPOs to Fortune 500 enterprises. Prior to joining CoreDial, Ken served as senior vice president of global marketing at Tangoe, a $200M+ public SaaS company. There he built a global marketing organization including product marketing, demand generation, and marketing communications teams. Before Tangoe, he was executive vice president of global sales and service at Rivermine, a telecom expense management and managed mobility services company that specializes in managing voice, data, and wireless telecom expenses and equipment. Ken drove the company’s global sales efforts, leading to its lucrative acquisition by Emptoris and subsequently by IBM, where Ken served as general manager and senior vice president of global sales. Ken holds a BS in mechanical engineering from West Virginia University.

The growth opportunity for MSPs – including how to choose the right vendors – is at the heart of MSP Expo, part of the ITEXPO TechSuperShow.  The 2020 edition of the event recently concluded in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and the 2021 edition will take place at the brand new Miami Beach Convention Center, February 9-10, 2021.  While the Miami event will cover solutions and technologies to keep partners up-to-date on end user needs, special attention will be given to helping MSPs understand the business side, including marketing, customer acquisition, benchmarking and metrics, compliance, vendor relationships, and other key areas that drive growth. 




Edited by Erik Linask


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