Editor’s note: Terri Grauer is a consultant and writer specializing in the application of network technologies to business challenges.In my career I’ve worked for the Fortune 500 as an employee and as a consultant. I’ve been privy to strategy sessions for the forthcoming year ‘go to market’ planning and sales tactics of large and small organizations. I’ve enjoyed the ‘behind the closed door’ look at some of the most brilliant technical minds in the industry as they’ve planned their next product release or software upgrade.

But honestly, of all of these strategic sessions, probably the most interesting with have been the channel expansion or partner growth strategy plans for these organizations.

Here’s the partnering equation; the organization wants to grow quickly, massively, fruitfully, inexpensively without giving away much or risking anything too valuable.

The potential partner wants to do business with the organization to gain instant credibility in the marketplace, gain access to the product at a reduced price, gain access to the organizations’ resources and or their customer base.

Fuzzy Math

Everyone on both sides of the equation seems happy to do the math and play their part in order to get the deal done, initially. The problems with the math start when partner “A” finds out there are other partners involved with the organization that do the same thing, offer the same services, and have the same skills sets as partner “A”.

Somebody is going to get jealous, it is human nature and chalking it up to “it’s just business’ isn’t going to smooth out the ruffled feathers.

Back to the drawing board and the new mathematical equation of ‘preferred partner’ status.We’ve all seen this on major Fortune 500 websites, a list of 20 Partners and some are listed as “Preferred” or “Platinum” or “Gold”.

So what does that mean? Usually the preferred status is granted based upon a sales performance achieved, or a in some cases the number of mutual customers the partner has brought to the organization. It does not typically imply that the organization places a greater trust or respect in this partner to handle its customers more than any of its other partners. Even if the prospect may interpret it to mean just exactly that.

Let’s face it the channel partner distribution model will always exist in business. It’s how small companies become large companies. It’s how small products become global products. This is the “Carnegie Method” at its best, “Get 1% of 100 peoples’ effort rather than 100% of 1 persons’ effort”.

I am all for good solid economic partnerships with one slight change. Here’s the slant on the usual ‘channel plan’ as I propose it. Build an ecosystem of partners instead of distribution channels.

The first difference is to understand each others strengths and weaknesses.

Next is to build the partnership on trust and the reality of needing each other to survive and thrive. Last is to forge the relationship with respect as the metal and a win-win mentality at the core for everyone involved. Sounds like what we’ve been doing but it is not even close.

“What you want, Baby, I got!
What you need, You know I got it!
All I’m asking for is for a little respect!

Find out what it means to me
Take care, TCB.”

– Aretha Franklin

Counting the Reasons for Disrespect

The lack of respect for the downstream partners in these relationships is baffling. Large organizations have spent millions of dollars recruiting channel partners only to turn around and treat them as if they were un-welcomed ex-relatives who were asking for money during the holidays.

Where did the relationship take this bad turn? How did the partner get on the “not worth the time of day” list or even worse, the “Don’t bother us, we’re busy” list? Was the partner too needy, too clingy, too slow to call back?Why not just ‘break up’ with the partner instead of stringing them along, wasting everyone’s time and misleading the customers via the partner page on the website?

Why? Why not?

It’s easier to just let these things run their natural course than it is to actually manage partnerships.

It’s a lot of work to actually build trust, understand strengths, create win-win situations and respect the people who you work with and who are helping you build your organization internally and externally, especially if you are not in charge of the partner program.

Here’s a small suggestion, next time you’re tasked to deal with someone from a ‘partner’ organization why don’t you simply replay the Aretha Franklin verse above before you start the conversation and realize all they want is a little R E S P E C T from you too.

Terri Grauer is a consultant and writer specializing in the application of network technologies to business challenges. She can be reached via email at terri@sandirect.com