There’s an old “Seinfeld” episode in which George and his girlfriend are breaking up. “It’s not you; it’s me!”, both claim. George gets angry. “I invented, “It’s not you, it’s me!”, he insists. Then, the girlfriend stares at him blankly and concedes. “Yes, George. It’s you.”
“Breaking up” with your channel partner doesn’t need to be anywhere near that dysfunctional. But a little bit of consideration and tact can go a long way towards making the transition easier. And I’m not saying that from the perspective of a touchy-feely California guy. I’m saying that because there is a lot that the outgoing partner can do to disrupt your business continuity. And you don’t want that!There are basically two reasons to change channel partners. The first reason is that the partner is somehow not getting the job done. The second reason is that someone else has come along who is just head-and-shoulders above the incumbent.
In the case of the D-minus partner, I suggest you approach the situation in the same way you might approach a good-employee-gone-bad. Sit down with them and explain the situation. Be specific about where things have gone bad, and set benchmarks for improvement. Very often, putting a partner on notice in this manner can go a long way towards restoring good performance. If not, it might be time to move on down the road.
It’s best to use an incremental approach whenever possible. Remember that nobody likes to lose a client, but there are also significant matters around things like references and customer sat scores. So unless you can’t look at the partner without curling your lip, the partner will likely see the obvious value in exiting with full professionalism.
Begin the breakup process by asking the incoming partner to do an audit of your complete IT infrastructure. I’m not talking about an audit that focuses on what to buy next. I’m talking about an audit that determines the extent to which the outgoing partner holds the keys to your kingdom. You might try to do this yourself, but the incoming partner should play a key role because it’s amazing what can slip through the cracks in terms of network passwords, codes, data access, data locations, and a host of other variables that can come back to haunt you if things get tense.
Once this process is complete, it’s going to become impossible to conceal your intentions from the outgoing partner. So it’s time to come clean. Explain what you are doing and why. It’s often a good idea to have the incoming partner in that meeting to help mediate Mr. Outgoing’s protests that this is going to be a lot more difficult than you think. There’s not much you can do to keep the outgoing partner from feeling like they are on the wrong end of a Mafia Wars hit job, but life does have it’s unpleasant moments, ya’ know. If it’s possible to give the outgoing partner a good reference on some limited thing they did well, this would be an opportune time to put that on the table.
Keep accurate notes and records of the whole transition process, just in case you wind up discussing this transition in front of somebody named Your Honor. Not that this is particularly likely to happen, but it pays to have your ducks in a row.
What makes this different from most things that happen in IT is the human component; the bruised egos combined with the exposure to potential malfeasance, or unprofessionalism… But with good communication and a little bit of extra caution, there’s no reason why this move wouldn’t go smoothly.
Ken Presti has extensive experience in channel program analysis and development. He is the founder of Presti Research. His company focuses on channel and go-to-market programs and strategies in order to help our clients build successful and profitable partnerships with compatible companies.