As tricky as CRM seems, it’s nothing compared to managing relationships with indirect channel partners. I often joke that it’s CRM to the second power: You must not only manage the CRM tasks you always needed to do to create a relationship with end customers, but also enable partners to sell, service and support on your behalf.
When it comes to selling, reseller partners are motivated. Dollars speak a language all their own, and once a reseller sees that a vendor is easy to work with and that the vendor’s products are in demand and bring a good return, that message is heard loud and clear.
The Telephone Game Effect
However, service is a tougher nut to crack. By adding channel partners, you’re not just expanding your sales force — you’re also asking partners to assume some of the support burden as well.
That’s a real challenge. Many vendors can’t get their heads around providing service to direct customers. Now imagine those vendors trying to explain to a partner how to provide service to a customer.
If you do it wrong, providing support through an indirect channel is like a game of telephone: As messages are passed from you (the vendor) to a partner to a customer, they can become garbled. And if they get garbled, you could wind up with a disgruntled customer — either an end customer or, worse, a reseller.
It’s repeatedly been said that service is the secret to loyalty. Most of the time, that’s said in reference to direct customers — but it applies even more so to the indirect channel. A vendor’s effectiveness in understanding its service processes, as well as translating those processes into a trainable curriculum for partners, is the key to long-term partner loyalty.
4 Steps to Happy Customers
That implies some important things.
First, it suggests that the vendor understands how much information is important in order to train its own people. In organizations that excel in service and support, that’s generally “a lot.” There’s an understanding that knowledge allows support staff to get through calls faster, deliver better support, and recognize outlying situations that need escalation quicker. Does your organization value training in its service organization to this degree?
Second, if you’re going to train your partners to deliver service comparable to what’s provided by your own in-house staff, you need to be able to articulate that knowledge in the form of training — preferably in an online format that allows partners to train people on their own timelines and enables you to track, score and certify their ability to perform service. Such an automated format would get partners up and running as quickly as possible and save you from a serious administrative headache.
Third, you need to plan to keep iterating — your products and services don’t stay static, and neither will the knowledge needed to provide service for them. At the same time, you can predict there will be turnover in your support staff, and that you’ll need to have an on-boarding process for new staff. The same goes for your partners, so provide tools for them to replicate your service training experience.
Fourth, realize that since you pay your direct service staff, you can dictate what they do. You can’t control your partners’ employees — and they may face the challenge of learning service processes and knowledge from other vendors, some of which may be your direct competitors. Find ways to incentivize them to engage with training — through something as simple as gamification or more traditional, such as bonuses or other motivation tools. For your partner’s staff, these may mean the difference between becoming experts about your products and becoming experts on a competitor’s products.
Doing these things will help your partners keep their customers happy — and happy customers lead to return sales and happy partners.