It’s January and you are probably making plans for the year and figuring out how you can grow your software business. This will also involve plans for the ecosystem of channel partners that help you sell your software products and deliver services and support.
As you start into the year, it might be a good time to take a closer look at your channel organization and the way you and your partners together are serving your customers. Delivering a positive end user experience and enabling partners to deliver support and services in connection with the licenses they are selling are important success factors for a channel organization.
Here are five tips that will get you there:
- Manage The Channel Organization in Your Entitlement Management System
First of all, make sure you manage your channel organization in your entitlement management system so that you can track and measure performance and manage the relationship between you as the producer, your partner ecosystem – single or multi-tier – and end customers. The structure shown in the figure is something we see quite often and obviously it gets more complex in real life.
Whether you are delivering software end entitlements directly to end customers – in a drop-ship scenario – or you are working in a stocking partner model where software and entitlements are delivered through the channel, it is crucial for you to know who owns what and who is selling to whom. Maintain this organizational information within your entitlement management system to stay in control.
- Think about the Channel Bottom-Up and not Top-Down
Many software vendors think about their channel organization top-down – from producer to distributor to reseller to customer – because this is the way they are doing business. However, if you look at the channel this way you might miss important points. A very common example is that many software vendors think about the reseller:customer relationship as a 1:n relationship (one reseller has many customers but a customer only buys from one reseller), but very often this is not true and end customers purchase licenses from different resellers or use multiple service providers.
Think about the channel bottom-up when setting up your processes. Have in mind what your customers need to do on a daily basis and what their needs are and then build up your concept from there.
- Manage Permissions for Channel Partners Diligently
Let’s stay with the example from Tip #2 and think about permissions and authorizations. One end customer could purchase from different resellers or have different partners delivering services. In such a scenario, Reseller 1 must not see any licenses that have been purchased through Reseller 2. And when sending out product notifications with the partner contact information on it, you don’t want to include Reseller 1 in a communication on anything that has been done through Reseller 2.
Enable partners to act on behalf of their customers, but connect them to entitlements (in your entitlement management system) and not to the customer. This way end customers can work with many partners without creating conflicts.
- Provide Self-Services and Enable the Channel to Act on Behalf of Their Customers
Self-services are a central component for any end customer or partner relationship and no longer a nice to have. It is important that you, your partners and your end customers have visibility on who owns what and who manages what:
- Maintain the organization hierarchy of end customers in your entitlement management system
- Add partners to end customer entitlements and enable end customers to do the same and manage permissions in self-service
- Provide a customer portal that enables end customers to get their software, activate licenses and maintain their data – or have the partner do that on their behalf
A customer portal will provide a single pane of glass for all parties, based on the same data. This drives efficiency and streamlines processes. It also enables end customers to stay in control of their data and manage permissions for the partners they are working with. By adding channel partners to end customer entitlements, you enable them to manage licenses and software activations on behalf of their customers and deliver support and services without technical hurdles blocking their way.
- Stay in touch!
Make sure you are able to reach out to end-customers directly and notify them of service packs, security patches and other critical events. This does not mean you are taking away anything from your channel partners or bypass them. Keep in mind that they are partners because they want to create revenue from licenses they sell or services they offer. Unless channel partners are incentivized this way, they will have little or no motivation to help out with day-to-day product notifications. If you, as the software producer, stay in touch with end customers you make sure they receive all notifications they should be aware of and you don’t burden your channel partners with administrative work that will have no revenue connected to it.
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