Partners Evaluate Vendor’s Response to the COVID-19 Crisis

The author of this piece is Michelle Gunter, EVP at Partner Perspectives which is a full-service channel consulting and enablement firm which guides companies in launching channels, expanding existing ecosystems, and developing new ways to improve channel performance. She is also a member of the Impartner Channel Chief Advisory Board (CCAB). The CCAB is a group comprised of top channel thought leaders, analysts, and consultants who each have decades of channel experience and insights to contribute to channel best practice discussions.

The Missing Step
I take an agile approach to planning: analyze available data, develop a strategy, make swift decisions, and set the team in action. Missteps are not failures, but ways to learn that help to refine the strategy. As a channel sales leader, this approach has yielded strong results. It wasn’t until I led a more complex, global sales organization that I realized I was missing a step.
Even the best strategy and flawless execution can miss the mark if you can’t be clear on who you want to be before deciding what you want to do. I’m not talking about corporate values or a code of conduct but deciding on every initiative or project how you want to show up and the impact you want to have. Setting a “To Be” list before your “To Do” list creates a clear focus on the desired outcome. This simple step of aligning everyone to a single why had a powerful impact that could be felt by our employees, our clients, and our partners.

Vendors, You’re Being Graded
Right now, channel partners are grading their vendors. Many partners are currently realigning their vendor relationships and while this is in part driven by shifts in the marketplace and increased demand for security, cloud, and consumption-based solutions, this grading is also heavily influenced by how vendors showed up when the world shut down. Partners are heralding vendors who were there for them with relief programs in their time of need and re-evaluating those who were not.

What’s the Criteria?
As partners talk about moving from survival to recovery and revitalization, I was curious about what factors were given the most weight in vendor re-selection. Financial relief? Flexible payment terms? Free licenses? Relaxed revenue targets? And what about the smaller vendors who couldn’t offer relief packages quite so robust? By knowing exactly what partners valued most during the crisis, could it help vendors better understand how to support partners moving forward?

The Results are Surprising
What did grade-A vendors do that set them apart from the rest? The results were surprising.As I met with partners and scoured polls and online commentary, my focus shifted. I was originally looking for trends in what vendors did, but it was the way they showed up that seemed to resonate with partners. Partners definitely cited the tangibles like financial relief and other programs, but they also focused on how the vendor behaved and made the partners “feel.” It was the level of concern from the vendor—the sense of urgency—and how the importance of the partnership was communicated that set them apart from their lower-grade counterparts. The vendors who showed up strong did not overlook that first but crucial step.

Those companies that first decided who they wanted to be in this crisis were led by a higher purpose when deciding what they needed to do. It resonated in their communications; it showed in their relief offerings; it was reinforced at all levels within their company, from executives to reps. Early remarks from partners such as “they are there for us,” “they understand our needs” and “they are working with us” showed an increased sense of loyalty even during the height of the chaos. The following word cloud lists some of the most common words or phrases partners used to describe their perception of vendors in response to the COVID-19 crisis:
When describing the standout vendors, they used words like “sense of urgency,” “responsive,” “supportive,” “accessible” and “engaged”. Even words not usually associated with corporations like “human,” “caring” and “heart” were used to describe some vendors. While some of the likely candidates with more robust channel programs were cited, many smaller vendors who led with “heart” were mentioned as well.
Retired Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz said, “If people think they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.” The pandemic created an unprecedented moment for brands to make strong emotional connections with their customers, partners, and even employees. Those companies that connected with their partners through a shared set of values have strengthened loyalty and will be rewarded as revenues rebound.

So Now What
As partners scramble to adapt to the new normal, they are having to re-think how to sell, support, and connect with customers in a whole new way. For many partners, they are adapting to:
1. Rapid technology adoption
2. Virtual-only selling environments
3. Digital-only marketing and relationship building
4. Changing customer environments, priorities, and budgets
Vendors are simultaneously trying to adapt programs and engagement strategies to support partners in these efforts. Some vendors are providing techniques and tools that enable remote selling. Others are creating effective marketing strategies to build customer relationships virtually. Some vendors are working with partners to design an E2E customer journey without ever stepping foot on the customer’s site. The list of things vendors can do to help partners is long, but if having a clear purpose really is a key differentiator in gaining partner loyalty, vendors should seize this golden opportunity by aligning their “To Be” to their partners’ challenges.

5 Tips on leading with “Be”

  1. Create a To-Be List: A “To Be” list is not the same as your company values. It is a set intention for a specific project, initiative, or plan and describes how you want people (customers, partners, employees, community) to feel. It does not need to be a complex exercise. Start by asking, “Who do we need to be for our (partners)” and then ask, “What do we need to do to be exactly that?”
  2. Value What Your Partner Values: Align your “To Be” list with your partners’ values. If you don’t know what your partners value, ask, or let us help you distill it down.
  3. Talk About It: Be open about who you are striving “To Be” at all levels in your organization. Set the example and reinforce the message often. Openly share your list with your partners when rolling out new initiatives. What gets talked about gets done.
  4. Make it a Consistent Practice: It doesn’t take a global pandemic to adopt the attributes partners cited (e.g., quick response, flexible, open communication). If partners value these actions from vendors, showing up this way 365 days a year could be a game-changer for your channel.
  5. Let Your “To Be” List Guide: You’re in business to make money. So are your partners. Defining your “To Be” list should be the catalyst for you to create the tangible assets, benefits and support you’re going to offer your partners to set them up for success in 2H 2020 and beyond. Look at how things have changed, what needs to be adapted, and then find the greatest impact you can have to stimulate growth in their business and revenue for you.

If you’re one of the vendors who got an A from their partners, put a gold sticker on your forehead and take an extra 15-minute recess! If you’re one of the vendors who maybe didn’t get the grade, don’t worry—there’s still time to retake the test.
To Be or Not to Be……I think you know the answer. Happy Selling!
To find more content like this from our insightful Channel Chief Advisory Board members, visit the resource page on Impartner’s website.