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Customer Success through Channel Partners

By Jay Nathan

A comprehensive “partner success” strategy can help overcome challenges and significantly decrease the failure rate of reseller alliances.

It’s difficult to find reliable statistics on the failure rate of business partnerships. However, a CMO Council study from back in 2014 reported that as many as 60% of strategic alliances fail. Other sources report failure rates as high as 80% within the first 2 years of the partnership.

Despite the failure rates, B2B SaaS companies are often compelled by investors to identify and execute on strategic reseller partnerships. After all, partners can drive capital-efficient growth, and often become strategic acquirers.

So how do we balance, the potential benefits of a partnership with the opportunity cost presented by a failed alliance?

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that we believe customer success strategy plays a big role.

To understand why, think about all of the things that have to be done correctly to create a happy, loyal customers:

  1. Find appropriate target customers
  2. Convince them to buy your product
  3. Ensure proper positioning and value proposition
  4. Onboard customers in a timely fashion
  5. Educate customers on how to get the most value from your products
  6. Monitor customer health and react accordingly
  7. Measure and drive adoption
  8. Provide service and support
  9. Drive renewals
  10. Identify and execute upsell opportunities
  11. And the list goes on…

Now, consider delegating all of these responsibilities to an outside party. Furthermore, to that outside party, your product represents only a fraction of what they are focused on.

Is it any wonder that B2B SaaS reseller partnerships fail?

A comprehensive “partner success” strategy can help overcome these challenges and significantly decrease the failure rate of reseller alliances.

Our goal is to ensure all of the processes listed above (and more) are executed well and to do so through a layer of indirection. The partner success playbook is comprised of three types of activities:

  1. Relationship Management
  2. Go to Market Enablement
  3. Technical Enablement

Relationship Management

It starts at the top. Any strategic alliance needs direct oversight and engagement by executives. Engaged executive sponsors – C-level executives – on both sides of the alliance must invest time reviewing performance, issues and opportunities present within the relationship.

Both parties have to receive measurable value from the partnership or it’ll be difficult to justify the effort.

Go to Market Enablement

Anyone who has worked in Product Marketing or sales enablement knows how difficult it can be to keep reps on-message and within the boundaries of reality (God bless my Sales brethren, nothing happens in business until a sale is made).

Now magnify those issues because a sales team over which you have no control now owns positioning your product. The antidote is a well-defined customer journey and packaging structure.

The companies who do customer success well design proactive paths, guided experiences, and packaged offerings that map to the customer’s profile and journey stage. Not only is it critical to use the same techniques in a partner success model, the fidelity of said resources and processes must be much higher.

Operational Enablement

Like with direct business, the reactive activities such as customer support, data integrations and administration of the solution must be executed well.

Once a partnership agreement is inked, it’s often handed off to operations. The relationship is passed from business sponsors to operational contacts on either side who focus on the day-to-day activities needed to keep operations afloat.

Partner Success

Sales penetration, messaging and refinement of service delivery packaging and delivery approach must be constantly monitored. Customer Success is all about creating mutual creation of value between vendors and customers. By focusing on all three areas listed above an alliance creates value for vendor, partner and customer.

Given the rate of failure, no alliance is worth investing in if we’re not prepared to make substantial, ongoing investments into the relationship, joint go to market plans and operations. Just like we do with customer success in the direct sales channel.

Published August 24, 2018
About the Author

I've spent my career working in technology companies to build customer-centric teams, processes and technology platforms. In 2017, I founded Customer Imperative, a consulting firm that helps fast-growing B2B SaaS companies improve renewals, increase expansion sales and scale customer engagement. See full bio ›

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