How to create a partner support program

Business men in a hurry run & walk on time clocks

The blog has discussed in the past some aspects of partner eco-systems on support, mostly focused on the motivations of the two sides and the business relations between them. Recently I had the opportunity to discuss support oriented partner programs and the basic building blocks that make them successful. This post, therefore, will focus more on the operational sides of creating a partner program

Companies have different classes of 3rd parties acting as intermediaries between them and some, or all, of their customers. These 3rd parties are sometimes called distributors, OEMs, channel partners, VARs, and more. From a support perspective, however, we are mostly interested in two classes of partners – those who support their own customers and those who do not. In this post we’ll focus on the first group, and we’ll use the term partners for simplicity

Building a successful partner support program requires consideration of four specific points:

  • Which partners should participate – entry criteria
  • What does the company require from the partners
  • what does the company provide to partners in the program
  • What does the company do to ensure partners continue to deliver and what to do if they do not

To join the support program, partners should qualify in several levels:

  • Infrastructure – having a case tracking system, or using the company’s system. Phone access to support staff, ability to recreate customer problems, etc.
  • People – the partner must have dedicated, well trained people to address customer cases. Routing customer calls to services or pre-sales staff in the field is not an acceptable substitute

Members of the partners support program should be expected to provide a certain level of technical expertise and deflect a considerable number of cases before escalating the balance to the vendor’s support organization. It is important to remember that some cases might slip through the net. But, overall the proportion of simple cases that can be resolved via the knowledge base, problem recreation and other relatively simple activities should be much lower than those received from direct customers

Partners are an extension of the company’s support organization and as such their ability to successfully support their customers is key to their customers’ satisfaction with the products as well as propensity to renew their support and maintenance contracts. The company must therefore ensure partners have access to as many information resources as possible, from internal and external knowledge bases through customer cases all the way to training and more. When given access to customer cases then customer identity should not be shown to the partner staff

To ensure that partners continue to deliver the expected service levels to their customers, companies must think of developing a relationship that borrows some elements from the customer success discipline. For example, a periodic business review, where metrics are reviewed and an open discussion of what works and what doesn’t, and most importantly, how to capitalize on the positives and fix the negatives

In short, a successful partner program treats the partners as an extension of the company to ensure its success rather than ignore them, or even worse, create an adversarial relationship

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