The channel has largely taken over from direct sales as the best way for IT vendors to sell their wares. Particularly when it comes to cybersecurity, the as-a-service market is booming. Managed service providers (MSPs) and managed security service providers (MSSPs) are steadily taking up more and more market share.
Many IT vendors have launched their own subscription services in an attempt to safeguard market share. But that is far from enough. They must augment their direct sales efforts with a strong channel presence.
However, anecdotal evidence suggests that IT vendors attract less than 20% of their partners through their own portals. “That number is consistent with what I’ve seen at Thrive and with competitors,” said John P. Holland, chief revenue officer at Thrive Networks.
The question then is, how can IT vendors increase their partnering effectiveness?
“IT vendors must work hard to get in front of the right audience,” said Mike Day, channel chief at GoTo.
Here are a few tips on how to find that audience and broaden your channel presence.
Traditionally, attending industry shows, symposiums, IT workshops, and other events provides plenty of opportunities to interface with MSPs and solution providers and showcase capabilities.
“We find events to be very effective, but would advise IT vendors to be very selective; ensure that the event is channel-exclusive, or at least channel-centric; and that it targets the right audience in terms of size, geography, and services offered,” said Yoel Platt, vice president of partnerships and business development at virtual CISO platform provider Cynomi.
Platt added that it is wise to pay close attention to the engagement mechanisms the various events provide to ensure they cater to a provider’s needs — booths, pre-scheduled one-on-one meetings, and boardroom presentations fulfill different needs.
“Events that have guaranteed one-on-one meetings or boardroom presentations with guaranteed attendees are the most effective in efforts to recruit new partners,” said Platt.
Day concurred. He prefers to attend events that partners attend. Now that many events have returned to in-person settings, it’s the perfect opportunity to get to know partners or potential customers on a deeper level and build relationships.
Webinars and Virtual Events
Due to COVID-19, in-person events are fewer than they used to be. That may be gradually changing. Nevertheless, a hybrid approach should combine some in-person events along with webinars and virtual events.
A well-targeted virtual event may not attract a ton of attendees, but it should attract the right ones. Make sure it’s focused on your target market’s needs — and make sure they get more than just a sales pitch, like solutions to problems they face.
Also read: Making Event Marketing Work for You
Creating content is another way to drive business to a partner portal or IT vendor website. By demonstrating thought leadership and creating helpful content, partners gain material they can use to generate more leads.
“Great content will help bring value to your products and educate the market on why they will solve the problem or problems at hand,” said Day.
Case study and PR collaboration also works well. Versa Networks, for example, rolled out initiatives to enable partners to create joint case studies and collaborate in PR and social media amplification activities.
Training and certification, either for free or at reasonable rates, is another way to help partners generate more revenue. But flexibility is key. Take the case of the Versa Academy. This learning portal provides sales and technical training and certification tracks. Training sessions are delivered in-person as well as being virtual instructor-led.
“Providing this level of flexibility to partners has energized our ecosystem,” said John Atchison, head of global channel marketing & programs at Versa Networks.
And at a time of global IT talent shortages, sharing your own internal training with your customers can be a great perk that inspires customer loyalty.
Another strong approach is working with channel communities and accountability groups, said Gareth Case, chief marketing officer for AI-based security vendor Redstor.
“MSPs and MSSPs will share their satisfaction with others in the group about the solutions providers they work with,” said Case. “But that can work against them if there is an unsatisfactory experience.”
Case said the number one source of new business for MSPs is a referral from an existing client. This, he said, also applies to solution providers who receive high praise from an MSP, which can bring referrals to other MSPs.
“Thrive receives most of its customers through referrals from existing clients, organizations within the specific vertical they are members of, and the IT vendors they are working with,” said Holland.
A lot of the attention from IT vendors is on how they can obtain business from channel partners. But it is very much a two-way street. If a vendor puts in the effort to seal a partnership and then sits back expecting floods of business, trouble is certain.
Just as the vendor needs to see results from its channel partners, so do those partners expect to see the vendor going to great lengths to generate sales. Providing MSPs and MSSPs with end-user leads is the best way to demonstrate the vendor side of the deal.
Redstor, for example, has an end-user onboarding process that feeds leads to channel partners and provides them with new business opportunities.
Strong Partner Portals
Many of the actions covered here aim to drive attention to the partner portal. Therefore, although it may not directly hook channel partners and be the trigger that gets them to consider a partnership, the portal is the website and associated tools that demonstrate credibility.
“If you do not have a strong website, it can kill a deal,” said Case.
In other words, if marketing and sales efforts are successful, the next step is due diligence that begins by looking at the solution provider’s website. That means messaging specifics to MSPs that are clear and simple and providing a frictionless onboarding experience to maximize conversions through the website.
Further reading: A Good Partner Portal is Key to Channel Sales