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How channel partners can ensure their vendor relationships thrive during challenging times

How channel partners can ensure their vendor relationships thrive during challenging times

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Being part of an agile, adaptable and collaborative ecosystem is more critical than ever. Bill Cate, Vice President, Regional Marketing and Channel Strategy, Zebra Technologies, on how channel partners can maintain healthy vendor alliances in tough times.

No event in recent history can match the disruptive scale of the COVID-19 pandemic. Around the world, organisations of all types and sizes were shuttered, schools and universities were closed, events were cancelled and once-bustling city centres were deserted. Now, as the world gradually transitions to the ‘next normal,’ business leaders are busy identifying best practices and making the necessary adjustments to prepare their operations for an uncertain future that demands heightened awareness of potential threats and a new state of constant preparedness. Within the context of a channel ecosystem, the global health crisis has underscored how important it is for resellers, distributors, integrated software vendors and other solution partners to align themselves with manufacturers that are agile, adaptable and collaborative.

Agility ensures a swift and adequate response

Experience shows that the organisations that best withstood COVID-19 were those that responded swiftly and adequately to the evolving situation. For example, Zebra Technologies focused on communications to maintain our partner relationships, shifting from face-to-face meetings to virtual experiences, including training. Channel vendors that quickly and seamlessly shifted to a virtual format for partner training, events and communication found it easier to sustain a strong channel programme to the benefit of partners and customers. And those with policies flexible enough to handle rapid responses understood that it would be in the best interest of its partners to place a temporary hold on compliance certification or sales performance reviews. If your business is thinking about joining a channel programme, look for agile vendors that can recognise market disruptions early and take immediate, even proactive, steps to protect its partners.

Adaptability makes operational continuity possible

While it is tempting to believe that the pandemic was an exceptional, once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, there is evidence to show otherwise. Disruptive events, whether natural, digital, economic, public health or any other, are a given. Individuals and organisations alike must be sufficiently prepared to adapt business activities so when disaster strikes, they can effectively help partners to adapt their businesses to develop and add value to customers. Zebra’s channel programme is constantly evolving. The creation of new tracks varies to adapt Zebra’s channel programme to the regional needs and market maturity. For example, two partner programme specialisations in RFID and Healthcare were developed in 2020, giving opportunities to partners to differentiate themselves. COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for vendors and partners to test the resilience of the channel ecosystem as everyone pivoted to a working-from-home model. Did vendors communicate in a reassuring and informative way? Did they adopt marketing and sales methods that are compliant with health measures and help partners do the same? Have vendors’ channel operations even be able to continue? Or did partners find themselves left to figure everything out on their own?

Collaboration fuels mutually beneficial growth

No organisation can thrive on its own. By joining forces, vendors and partners can achieve far more than they ever could separately. Moreover, in today’s connected world, collaboration that reaches across continents, languages and cultures is both possible and expected. A global audience demands a global network of partners capable of delivering the right solutions. But what does true collaboration entail? Like any strong personal relationship, strong collaboration between channel partners and vendors requires transparency, consistency and mutual respect. Both must benefit equally from the relationship: vendors should provide quality products and a reputable brand name as well as clear rules of engagement that establish trust. For their part, channel partners should contribute to the vendor’s operations and add value to mutual customers, whether through product availability, competitive pricing, frictionless transactions, expertise or a combination thereof. Strong collaboration also requires partner support, such as access to the vendor’s resources and expertise, training opportunities, business, and marketing plans and more. The independent software vendor (ISV) community has an important role to play in Zebra’s partner ecosystem, for example and through Zebra’s developer portal, ISVs can access software development tools and resources. Finally, a collaborative relationship requires nurturing and attention. This means active partner engagement, with a focus on fluid communication, partner events and feedback that is sought, received and integrated for ongoing programme improvement.

A healthy channel ecosystem fosters a win-win-win relationship

The ideal channel engagement and collaboration is one that is part of a larger partner ecosystem comprising multiple partner communities with different business models that allow the vendor to reach its customers. As in all ecosystems, the key to harmony is balance: partners believe in the vendor’s offerings, invest themselves in sales and receive a competitive return on their investments. But the vendor-partner relationship is ultimately about meeting customers’ needs and providing them with the added value they seek. A truly agile, adaptable, collaborative channel ecosystem is beneficial to all—vendors, partners and customers.

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