My Love/Hate Relationship with Partner Programsoriginally published on LinkedIn
I love Partner programs. You know, those business opportunities to get involved with a product or solution and earn revenue selling it to your customers. Particularly when the opportunity is attached to something you already do for a living, a partner program can represent a way to gain new competencies, new customers, and new revenue streams. Then again, I hate partner programs just a little bit, too.
When a business becomes a business partner, there’s an expectation that something will occur that benefits both participants (hence the word “partner”). Each side is supposed to benefit in some manner from the relationship. In the case of the partner program, the expectation is that the partner will sell the product or service to customers and gets compensation on sold deals in return. There may be marketing, lead generation, reseller pricing, training and other elements involved, but the relationship is generally one of “you sell my stuff and I’ll comp you for it”. The manufacturer gets more sales, and the partner gets products that customers buy, meaning revenue for the partner and the manufacturer. Sounds like a good deal.
Here’s why I hate partner programs at times: they tend to shift the focus from what a customer needs to what the partner can earn revenue on selling. For a product or solution-based business, this may not be a bad thing, as the business is in the business of selling product. For a consulting business, however, it can be quite problematic if the consulting team isn’t clearly focused on meeting the customer need rather than pushing product.
There’s an old saying that “if all you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail”. Some consulting firms inadvertently fall into this situation, where they have their favored solutions (perhaps solutions they earn revenue from selling), and they automatically try to apply that solution to each and every customer engagement, whether it makes sense or not.
This happens time and again and not just with consultants, but also with accounting and bookkeeping professionals. Having developed an understanding for, and processes and procedures for working with, a particular business accounting product, the firm tends to make that product a standard recommendation for all clients. In this case the firm may not be literally reselling the solution for revenue, but has certainly “partnered” with the solution in the context that their ability to earn revenue becomes directly tied to the solution they want their client to purchase.
Partner programs can be hugely valuable to both the manufacturer and to the partner channel, and the value of having skilled “feet in the street” supporting and promoting the solution has been proven many times over. But accounting professionals and business consultants should take care when considering their possible participation in these types of programs, and be realistic about how that relationship fits in to the nature and quality of the service delivered to customers. The program may fit well with the needs of the practice, driving new revenue opportunities in new or existing areas of business. On the other hand, it may end up being a distraction, turning the focus from providing great client service and satisfaction to selling a product or solution just to earn an additional buck on the deal.