Building Blocks of Partner Success: For Partners vs. Through Partners

July 22, 2020

Marley Wagner

Category: Customer Adoption, Customer Experience, Customer Retention, Customer Success as a Service, Customer Success Strategy, Partner Success

As companies perfect their Customer Success strategies, they look ahead to the next phase of scaling CS – Partner Success programs. According to TSIA, 70-80% of all technology is sold through the channel. How does CS factor into that huge percentage? You didn’t pour your blood, sweat, and tears into building a robust, proactive Customer Success organization only to have it drop by the wayside if your solution is sold through the channel. No way! Once you’ve built your internal CS framework, the next move is to furnish your partners with those same methodologies, education, and materials to ensure their success and, ultimately, the success of your shared customers.

Our own Megan Macaluso, VP of Customer Success and Operations at ESG, spoke with Jay Nathan on a recent episode of the Gain Grow Retain podcast about creating channel and Partner Success programs. “I look at partners the way I look at Customer Success,” she explained. “You need to make your partners successful. You need to think of them the same way you do your customers. This means enabling them with all the training, with all the material, with the stuff they need to go and do their job as a partner of yours.”

Though these programs are still in their early stages within most companies, we believe they are the next step of Customer Success development. So, where do you begin building a robust Partner Success program? Start by defining what exactly it is that you’re trying to accomplish. Let’s take a look at what it means to have “success” both for your partners and through your partners.

I get by with a little help from my friends

When we talk about Partner Success, the lines between success for end-users and success for your channel partners blur. So, what do we really mean when we talk about making sure your partners are successful?

One key observation made during a TSIA survey on scaling CS via partners was that partners and OEMs often lack alignment on customer objectives. Everyone wants to enable their partners with CS. Still, conflict over who owns the customer relationship results in a disconnect of information and responsibility. Few OEMs share adoption information with their partners and vice versa. OEMs believe the primary responsibility for customer adoption success lies with the partner who sold to the customer, but the partner may see it differently—this disorganization and breakdown in communication results in lost opportunity for both sides.

71% of OEMs surveyed said they don’t provide Customer Success training or certification for their partner community. However, TSIA found that the OEMs who do provide CS training to their partners experienced an 11-point increase in growth compared to those who don’t. When you foster success in your partner community, everyone wins.

It almost goes without saying – the relationship you have with your partners should be mutually beneficial. They likely provide services for their customers above and beyond your product offering. They own the relationship with the end-user. Their success is your success. You want to equip them with the product knowledge, customer data, and implementation practices necessary to capture and expand relationships with your end-users.

It’s all about the customer

When you sell through a channel, Customer Success gets a little tricky. You don’t want to go around your partner and work directly with a customer if that relationship isn’t clearly defined. You could end up stepping on your partner’s toes. On the other hand, if your partner needs your assistance to provide that excellent customer experience, you want to be able to extend that to your customers. Without a framework for Customer Success through the channel in place, no one knows who is supposed to be doing what, and the customer suffers.

You’ve established your Customer Success program. Naturally, you want all of your customers to benefit from it, regardless of who managed the paperwork to bring them onboard. And you want to benefit from all the juicy data and intelligence CS has to offer. The trick becomes working through the channel so that everyone (you, your customers, and your partners) benefits. That’s what it means to have success through the channel.

Each of your partners will have their own way of doing things. That’s ok! Work with your partner constituency to find the right mix of capabilities and incentives to drive CS best practices down the chain to the end-users. It helps if you begin building out dedicated Partner Success plans in the same way you did for Customer Success. Segment your partners into distinct tiers. Create incentives that work best for each tier. Enable your partners with CS resources for your customers. Share your playbooks and data. Work with them so they can share end-user data with you. Communication is key. It’s all in the name of helping your customers. And when your customers win, everybody wins.

Looking ahead: Partner Success programs

The term Partner Success is often used to describe both the methodology behind making channel partners successful and driving CS through your partner channel for the benefit of end-users. These are two distinct facets of the term, requiring different considerations. You need them both to have an effective Partner Success Program. The next phase of scaling Customer Success is taking all the incredible work you’ve done and making it work for your channel partners.