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Working with Multiple Channel Partners

February 22, 2011 - 1 Comment

Guest Post by Contributing Author Ken Presti

It doesn’t happen every day, but every now and then, small businesses find themselves working with more than one channel partner at the same time. At first glance, this might not appear to be a big deal, but whenever you’ve got two people, or two groups, or two companies working so closely, things can easily get a little gummed up. Often there are battles (or, perhaps, cold wars) over control, access, control, responsibility, and control.

Did I mention control? When things are going right, everybody wants to demonstrate that they have it. When things are going wrong, control is something that has always been in the other camp.

But working with more than one channel partner is not necessarily a bad thing if the circumstances are right and the framework is properly set up. The key is to have clearly defined demarcations around whom is responsible for what. Two partners with the same expertise trying to work together within a limited context is almost always a recipe for disaster. But if one partner is an expert in a particular technology category, and the other partner has different responsibilities, then there is a better than even chance that they will be able to work together effectively.

For example, you might know a channel partner who can blow everyone’s doors off when it comes to security, or unified communications, or any of a handful of other clearly specialized disciplines. Meanwhile, your other partner might be particularly well suited to your particular industry, or perhaps you’ve been working with them since Ethernet was a cutting-edge buzzword, and they know more about your IT setup than anyone else on the planet. These are two fish that might be able to swim in the same tank!

Or sometimes you might be able to segment the responsibility be geography. If you have offices in London, Paris, and Boise, you might be hard-pressed to find a channel partner operating in all three locales. In this case, the segmentation sort of resolves itself.

In either case, it is usually more manageable and cost effective to have a prime contractor-sub-contractor arrangement. More often than not, one bigger project can be less expensive than two smaller ones. Plus, prime-sub has a tendency to minimize the finger-pointing because, at the end of the day, the prime contractor is almost always responsible for the ultimate success of the project. Of course, when you go this route, the customer often loses some of the control over who the sub-contractors will be. And that’s not too surprising. After all, if I’m going to be responsible for the things that will be done by somebody else, I’m going to want to hand pick the people who will be doing it.

The common denominator is around accountability and clarity. And it will be your job as the customer to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Others may claim that they can offload that from you. But ultimately, it’s your business and its your project, so the true burden of oversight remains at home. But with due diligence and good communication, working with multiple channel partners can often achieve higher outcomes than working with a single partner trying to work beyond their normal range.

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  1. Working with multiple channel partners can either have good or bad outcomes. Indeed good communication and diligence can work things out. But I say understanding and cooperation are also some important keys.