Partner Success programs are relatively new to the Customer Success world. Software as a Service (SaaS) companies are big trendsetters in CS. Their subscription business model has taken root across a spectrum of services in our daily lives, and its popularity is only growing. Customer Success evolved out of the need for more dynamic, forward-thinking relationships with customers who purchase these subscriptions. But most of these early CS pioneers didn’t sell through a channel. It’s only recently that the concept of adopting CS for partner relationships has taken hold. As more traditional on-prem OEMs pivot into subscription offerings and join the CS revolution, Partner Success programs (and how to do them right) are stepping into the spotlight.
We’ve talked about the difference between success for your partners versus through your partners. The distinction is important because you need to have a clear understanding of your goals before you build out a Partner Success program. Once you know what you want for your partners and what you want for your end-users, you can then plan and implement your own Partner Success strategy. Here are a few of the most critical elements to keep in mind to build a healthy Partner Success program.
1. Data for one, data for all
Nearly 70% of OEMs share product information with their partners. Still, only around 30% are willing to share customer health scores, according to a TSIA survey on delivering Customer Success via partners. If you want to foster a relationship of mutual benefit with your partners, you’ve got to ensure the exchange of critical customer data and analytics. This means setting up clear paths of communication with your channel partners – both for giving and receiving customer information. When there are knowledge gaps between you and your partners, the customer experience suffers.
Everyone should be on the same page and know exactly what customer data is expected to be collected and shared. Whether that’s done through a regular cadence of shared reports, or even by both OEM and partner utilizing the same CS platform, you need to break open that two-way communication channel when it comes to data.
2. Let’s get together – yeah, yeah, yeah
By the time you’re ready to start building a Partner Success program, you probably already have a solid roadmap for your own Customer Success organization. Now is not the time to throw all that work out the window, leaving your partners to implement CS on their own with your shared end-users. Partner Success is all about teamwork. Forge a joint approach to CS with your partners.
Work with them to create the best possible customer experience. You may have partners that need extra assistance training end-users. Or, you might have partners who have processes of their own already in place. Learn from each other, and help out directly where you can. You don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, so get that input from your partners to land on the best strategy for everyone involved.
3. Don’t lose sight of your value
When you sell directly to your customers, you have complete control over their experience. When you sell through the channel, there may be many other variables at play that you do not control. Take the time to investigate your end user’s experience through the channel. There could be hidden opportunities for providing them with additional value in ways you never knew.
Providing your users with a higher level of value, even if they purchased through the channel, will increase their brand loyalty. Again, collaboration with your partners is key here. You don’t want to go around them for this, and they’ll help you identify these opportunities. Learn how to provide and communicate value to your customers, and you’ll both benefit.
4. Lend a helping hand to your channel partners
Make a plan for your partner’s success. It’s called a Partner Success program, so you’d think this one is a no-brainer. It’s not! It’s easy to get so lost in the details that your partner’s actual needs get overlooked. In the same way, you should work with your partners to build the program, you should also integrate extra steps specifically focused on enabling their long-term success.
If your partner base is large enough, consider dedicating a few of your own Customer Success Managers (CSMs) to your partners, or add a new role of Partner Success Manager (PSM). They’ll perform regular check-ins with your channel partners and keep lines of communication open. Make sure your partners have training materials, marketing collateral, and playbooks for CS. TSIA’s 2020 Capabilities Heatmap lists working through channel partners as a top business challenge for 2020 and beyond. Get ahead of the curve by considering your partner’s success at the outset.
5. What’s in it for them?
Align partner program incentives with the Customer Success achievements you want to see. Easier said than done, I know. If you have a broad base of partners, you might want to segment them, just like you do with your customers. Each segment should be consulted about their specific needs and goals to build the right motivators for them into your Partner Success program. They will have metrics you want them to reach, but a partnership is all about give and take.
Include metrics that your team should be hitting as well. Incorporate regular meetings between your team and your partner to foster that back and forth communication. Don’t set yourself up to wait around for them to tell you if something is off. If something is off, be sure your partners have a clear path to let your team know and encourage them to share helpful feedback with you.
Just as there is no “I” in team (groan!), there is no “I” in partnership. Okay, I know there actually is an “I” – but you get where I’m going here! Designing a thriving Partner Success program is all about communication and collaboration. Some trial and error is to be expected in these early stages. But if you keep your channel partners in the loop, you’ll be much closer to getting it right the first time around.