The big rise in explicit mentions of the word "customer" was very noticeable in the results of Gartner’s latest CEO survey.
CEOs are concerned about improving customer service, relationship and satisfaction levels. In short, driving positive customer experience is now seen as a winning strategy.
As your customers and prospects push for improved customer experience in their own business, they expect the same of technology suppliers (by "suppliers," we mean technology providers and their channel partners).
In 2017, technology providers need to develop or recruit capability within their indirect channel to better meet the changing needs of the customer.
Top areas to focus on
You may say that customer experience has always been of the agenda, but what makes it so important now is that the buyer is in control.
In a subscription pricing world, poor customer experience means buyers won’t renew leading to loss of income for resellers. So customer experience means:
- Aligning the buying and owning cycle to the expectations of the customer
- Aligning technology purchase with the business outcomes the customer wants to achieve. In other words proving the technology has made a positive impact on the customers’ business
- Making it easier for the buyer to choose between one supplier and another by clear differentiation through marketing
If interactions with the channel meet or exceed customer expectations, it will directly impact win rates, sales cycles, customer retention and profit.
Technology providers and their channel must:
1 - Improve partner marketing and help partners reach and keep the customer
This means marketing plays an important role in customer experience and can no longer be seen as separate to the sales process.
Partners often need help with positioning and messaging to differentiate themselves and demonstrate value-add to customers, with a particular focus on the target customer’s industry sector.
Together, you need to create compelling stories that allow the buyer to understand the value-add that the combination of the partner and vendor provides, so the buyer understand why the solution should be purchased from that particular partner.
Partners also need help with digital marketing and content. With buyers spending an increasing amount of time using the web and digital content to gain information on products, services and suppliers, it is essential that technology providers and their partners have broad and deep presence on the sites buyers go to.
Some large technology providers have even subsidised digital marketing agencies to assist partners.
2 - Improve presales customer experience
The change in the buying cycle, customer expectations of suppliers and the increasing complexity of solutions required to deliver digital transformation require a thorough evaluation of sales resources and procedures.
Technology providers will need to evaluate support to partners in three areas:
Bid support - Technology providers must give partners full support to respond to bids, RFPs and pricing quickly and accurately. Failure to do this will mean prospects may drop you and your partner's solution from the favourite list.
Presales technical and industry support - As customers now do more independent research, when suppliers do get the call from prospects, the sort of questions they will ask will not be answered with basic information.
The lack of presales technical resources within partners has often been a source of frustration for technology providers. However, not providing presales technical assistance to partners will be a short-sighted strategy.
Co-selling and ecosystem development - Technology providers need to lead complex solution sales and form the ecosystem of partners required to deliver the whole product to the customer.
3 - Retain the customer
Customer experience has had increasing focus from technology providers since the introduction of cloud services. Subscription pricing for cloud services has meant technology providers and their partners need to continually monitor lifetime value and customer acquisition costs, alongside net-new revenue.
The key to a profitable business is customer retention. High customer churn rates erode or eliminate profit margins.
Working together, technology providers and their channel partners need to improve customer experience or face irrelevance from competition that has adapted.
Mark Paine is a Research Director in Gartner’s Technology & Service Provider research group, advising clients on global and regional channel strategy, channel programs, through and to partner marketing, new market entry and channel sales.