Strategy: Ask new questions to get new answers – Part 2: Partners
The majority of companies have partners for at least some of their business. The three main categories of partners available to most businesses are resellers, implementation partners, and subcontractors. The purpose of any and all business strategies is to crush your competitors and win. Your partners can help you do that. But how? And what can they do to help you win that they are not already doing? Frankly, I don’t know, but I do know how to find out. In short, to get new answers, you have to ask new questions.
This is the second in a series of articles about what I consider to be the most important aspect of strategy development: an accurate analysis of the current situation and what should be done to improve it. The first article was about customers and is here.
Some thoughts about partners
While you may have some partners that don’t work with anyone else, it is more likely that you compete for their attention. It is critical to think about partners in an ‘outside-in’ way, meaning from their perspective rather than yours. Assume they have choices. Assume that your decisions have consequences. Assume, for example, that if you pay your partners 60 days after they deliver a product or service and your competitors pay after 30 days, well, your competitors will get better service. Is the improvement in your cash flow (and deterioration in the partners’) worth it? And what happens if your procurement people go around asking all suppliers to cut prices by 15% and your competitors do not do the same thing? Think about it from the partners’ perspective. There is no single right answer. You just need to ask the right questions.
Note that if you manage a business that uses franchisees to reach end customers, you should consider franchisees to be your customers rather than your partners.
As mentioned last time, you should use a cross-functional team to agree the list of partner-related questions and then answer them. In a large company, it takes six weeks to do the situation analysis well. You should have a short progress check with your team members each week. What follows below is a suggested set of questions that concern partners. Please be clear that the list is just there to get you started. This list was developed for the creation of a customer experience strategy and most questions will apply to any type of strategy. Some will of course not be relevant to your business. And you will certainly be able to come up with additional and better questions.
Remember: Ask new questions to get new answers.
- What are the critical touchpoints between you and your resellers, implementation partners and subcontractors? How have these been changing over time? Are these three categories useful, or is there a better way to segment your partners from a partner experience perspective?
- Should the top few partners, in terms of revenue generation, be treated differently from the rest?
- How does your partners’ experience with your company compare to their experience with your traditional and emerging competitors?
- Who are your potential new partners, and why?
- Which partnerships are not producing anything useful and should be fixed or stopped?
- How do your partner marketing incentives compare to those of your competitors?
- How do your partner payment terms compare to those offered by your competitors?
- How quickly are resellers able to access any special pricing agreements you may have in place for very large customers?
- Do you compete directly with your partners?
- If you have a formal partner feedback process, what has it taught you?
Your people who manage customer or partner experience may have some relevant data. If not, you may need to set up some simple new research. If you do so, I suggest just asking partners these questions:
- How likely are they to continue to work with you? (On a zero to ten scale.)
- What should you improve?
- What do they like or dislike compared to other companies with which they work?
Ideally you would ask these questions to your largest partners face-to-face, with video conferencing / Skype a close second choice. Phone calls are better than asking by email.
The answers lead to insights
If you have asked new questions, the result will be new answers. Just a small subset of these will lead to true insights and actions about the trends in the experience you are providing customers. The concept of new or emerging partners is an important one and deserves special attention.
We have now covered two of the six dimensions of a situation analysis. Next time we will talk about competitors.
As is often the case, the above is a substantial rewrite of a chapter in one of our books; in this case Customer Experience Strategy – Design and Implementation. All of our books are available in paperback and Kindle formats from Amazon stores worldwide.