Partner Success is still a relatively new concept in a fairly new industry. More and more, larger enterprises are taking a look at their successful CS efforts and wondering, “Can I apply this to my channel partner relationships?” The answer is yes! But just how to go about applying Customer Success best practices to Partner Success has yet to be fully defined. Every company is different, and, much like Customer Success, you need to figure out what works best for your business, your partners, and your end-users. Luckily, we’ve got some advice for getting started. Sometimes, the hardest step to take is the first one, so a Partner Success Pilot Program might be just the thing for you.
What is Partner Success?
First off, because this is such a new concept and there is some nuance here, I should define exactly what I mean when I say “Partner Success.” Partner Success is about enabling your channel partners to deliver on the promises of your product for your end-users. A broad industry definition characterizes it as aligning your partners around Customer Success in order to scale your CS capabilities. Digging deeper, we know that Partner Success involves both making your channel partners successful and using CS principles to benefit your shared end users – Customer Success for partners and through partners. It’s an important distinction because you need to consider the needs of both groups to develop a Partner Success Program that will thrive.
How does a Partner Success Pilot Program work?
At ESG, we’re big on hitting the ground running, so we love using an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) approach when we test and refine new CS ideas and programs. A CS MVP helps you understand the minimum functionality needed to deliver a CS experience. There are many reasons to utilize an MVP model to develop various Customer Success strategies in general, and we’ve talked before about how best to approach the MVP process when it comes to CS. Now, we can apply this concept to Partner Success to design a pilot program that can get off the ground quickly and efficiently.
A pilot program will allow you to invite a few of your most trusted partners to test and refine your new Partner Success process. Similar to using an incubation model, a pilot enables you to discover any problems that could arise in the program, gather feedback from your partners, and make adjustments before rolling it out to the rest of your partners. Begin by defining your focus, scope, and goals. Then, outline the potential processes and choose the tools you want to try (a Customer Success platform is a must-have, for example). Finally, begin reaching out to key partners to invite them into the program, execute on your project plan, and gather partner input and advice as you go.
Remember, it’s not going to be perfect right off the bat. The whole point is to get started, make mistakes, and discover the best, most effective approach as you go along. Rather than waiting around till all your ducks are in a row, the pilot program will give you valuable data and insights as you iterate and adjust over time.
Let’s look at an example
Say we have a historically on-prem enterprise business transitioning to a SaaS model (it’s happening a lot!). Our Partner Success Pilot Program might look something like this.
For our example, let’s say that we’ve already built out a Customer Success Center of Excellence and want to roll out this functionality to our channel partners. Eventually, our goal is to have our partners categorized by tiers the same way we do our customers. Higher tier partners will have dedicated Partner Success Managers assisting our partners’ CSMs who, in turn, are the ones engaging with end-users. These partners will have their own CS platform, which will integrate with our internal CS platform to share customer data. That’s the dream.
We will provide the CS platform for a small, select group of partners in the pilot program. We invite 5-10 partners to join the pilot based on things like their location, their ability to dedicate a resource to CS activities (it could be someone from renewals, inside sales, support, or ideally, their own CSM), and that deal with a specific type, size, or number of end-users. By participating, partners gain the tools, connectivity, training, and support to become a Customer Success-driven organization.
Using our MVP methodology, we don’t focus on the entire Partner Success lifecycle. For this pilot, we focus on goals surrounding the onboarding and adoption phases of the journey. We’ll build onboarding and adoption journey maps, playbooks, and processes for our partners based on their tier. We’ll launch with the onboarding phase and gather intelligence every step of the way, surveying our partners to develop health scores and partner satisfaction ratings which we will use to go back and improve the onboarding process. Then, the partners move into the adoption phase.
If all of this sounds familiar, it should. These are the exact same steps you’ve taken when you were building out your Customer Success Program.
Just put one foot in front of the other
By the time the partners in your Partner Success Pilot Program have moved through the adoption phase, you’ll have refined the onboarding process. More partners will have entered the program and will be benefiting from the results. You’ll have learned so much, switched things up, chosen the technologies that work for you and your partners, switched things up again, and so on. You might just be ready to launch a full-fledged Partner Success Program.
Just keep in mind, while there are plenty of things to consider while building a thriving Partner Success Program, don’t get so lost in the details that you stop moving forward. You’ve got to start somewhere. A pilot program can be the perfect way to put things in motion, allowing you to hammer out the details and innovate as you go.