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Confessions of an ISV: How to Be a Good Channel Partner

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Regardless of the type of channel partner you are — a system integrator (SI), a managed service provider (MSP), or a value-added reseller (VAR) — your independent software vendor (ISV) partners are integral to your success. 

Your clients need the best software and processes to help their business scale, and if you can’t deliver that, it’s on to the next consulting firm. On top of that, you need to treat your ISV partners with respect so you’re always the one they send leads to when clients are looking for services like yours. 

But when you’re managing the majority of the sales cycle, the consultative services, and the implementation 99.9% of the time, it can be difficult to know how and when to engage your ISV partner for the best working relationship. 

Through countless interviews with partnership professionals, we’re presenting an insider’s look at what ISV partners wish you would do (without them ever needing to tell you). Below, you’ll find eight tips for maintaining a successful relationship with your ISV partner. 

What to expect: 

Tip #1: Get Certified (And Stay On Top of New Certification Courses) 

Your ISV partner will neva-eva recommend a non-certified consultancy to its end-customer. In fact, if a business has already adopted the ISV’s software and is looking for an SI or MSP to manage that software, the ISV’s account manager will advise the customer to verify a consultancy is certified before signing the contract

When the customer is using one or more products as part of software suite like Atlassian, for example, the customer needs a consultancy that’s certified for the exact product they’re using (not just claiming they’re Atlassian-certified on LinkedIn — or certified for Jira Software when the customer needs Jira Align) and the version of the product they’re using. 

Some channel partners may tell their clients they’re certified but actually aren’t certified in the exact product they’re using or up to date in that product’s certification. Don’t do that! The last thing your ISV partner wants is to start receiving support tickets from you immediately after the deal closes. Certification sets the foundation for using the product correctly for the end-customer — leading to the success of the project you’re managing and a longer customer lifecycle. 

Keep in mind: there’s also a difference between Hextall & Co. being certified (the channel partner) and Joe at Hextall & Co. being certified (the individual at the channel partner’s company managing a project for a client). As your business and team grows, make sure all of your new hires get certified and that all of your existing employees maintain their expertise in your ISV partner’s software. 

“It’s not so much that the partner is certified; it’s the people working on the project,” says an account manager at an ISV. “The partner being certified doesn’t mean anything when you actually have a team working on a project. At other companies I’ve worked at, we were hiring people every day, and those people might know the skillset but not the software.”

In SaaS, your ISV partner’s platform will always be current, so your team’s training needs to be, too! Keeping up with certification is the gateway to opening up more projects with a given client — lengthening the customer lifecycle for both you and your ISV partner.

“They’re always like, ‘I did this and it didn’t work.’ And I say, ‘Well, did you do it right?’”

Your ISV partner will be more willing to listen and support custom projects if you’ve gone through the certification courses and done all you can (without their support) first. Show your self-reliance as a partner, and the positive working relationship will follow.

Screen Shot 2021-07-19 at 10.04.01 AMVeeva Systems’ vault migration certification

Screen Shot 2021-07-19 at 10.07.07 AMCertification for a variety of use cases at Microsoft

Tip #2: Qualify Opportunities Before Handing Them Off to Your ISV Partner

If you’re handing an opportunity off to your ISV partner, it’s a much better experience all around if you qualify the opportunity first. Bringing your ISV partner dead-end leads will hurt your ISV partner’s ability to trust in you as a reliable channel partner. 

Qualifying the opportunity will: 

  • Save your partner’s sales team time they would have spent qualifying the opportunity (or learning it wasn’t worth their time) 
  • Accelerate the deal closing for both of your teams 
  • Maintain your partner’s sales team’s trust and excitement to hear from you
  • Influence your partner’s sales team’s likelihood of returning the favor and sending opportunities your way, too 
  • Help you maintain a healthy “rank” in your ISV partner’s mind against other SIs competing for the same deal 

“What’s the quality of those leads? Are we being given a ton of leads from someone who’s said, ‘Here’s the people I know, if you get anything, come back to me,’” says a partner manager at an ISV. “Versus someone who’s actually taken the time to qualify those leads and maybe only gives us 5-10 leads in a year, but each of them has been qualified and there’s real value those accounts can get from our software.”

Tip #3: Be Transparent With Your Partner About the Prospect’s Progression Through the Sales Cycle 

A deal for you is a deal for your ISV partner, too. Just as you keep your sales leaders up to date on the opportunity’s status, you should keep your ISV partner’s sales team up to date as well. After all, your partner’s account executives (AEs) and account managers (AMs) are the ones who will be sending you opportunities right back (if you have them in your best interest).

“We had twice-a-week phone calls, we shared names, we shared insights. We coordinated the role we would play when we did win the contract. With the way the particular channel partner was approaching it, we would be happy if that channel partner won the contract.”

Fill your partner’s AE in on how the account is progressing through the sales cycle, like: 

  • Buying timeline
  • Budget
  • Pain points and relevant use cases 
  • Plans for product usage 
  • Anticipate business growth and strategy changes using your ISV partner’s platform 

Your partner’s AE will appreciate having as much context about the account as possible so they have the right information to provide their sales leadership team when they ask the AE for an update. They can also provide you with additional information about the product that could help your team accelerate the deal, avoid false promises to the client, and develop the most appropriate strategy on the client’s behalf. 

Tip #4 Lend a Hand When Your ISV Partner’s Sales Team Needs Support Closing the Deal 

In most cases, you’re likely handing the opportunity off to your ISV partner during the final stages of the sales cycle and when it comes time to sign the contract. Don’t leave your partner to fend for themselves. Offer to provide your partner with additional context about the account (like other products that exist or will exist in their tech stack or details about the top stakeholder’s personality) or to team up on a call.

Additionally, take time to get to know your partner and make a good impression on the client. It’s like showing up at a wedding with a blind date to impress all your friends versus showing up with someone you’ve shared laughs and experiences with. 

“You’ve got to know each other before you get on the call with the customer. You’ve got to have a track record of success behind you. If the five people on their side and the five people on our side have never met before, you need to build a rapport and learn to anticipate what the other is going to say and how to complement the conversation. The partner you have the better rapport with, you just know it’s going to go well with that partner. It makes it easy to play favorites.”

You’ve also got to be on the same page as your ISV partner in terms of what you can and can’t deliver to the client. No over-promising!

“It’s very important to right-size the sale and understand the software adoption curve and not oversell expectations both on the delivery and the product side.The licensed sales people need to make the sale, but to be successful for renewals, that partner needs to hit it out of the park or we better have a seat at the table — or they’re not going to get the renewal.” 

Tip #5: Keep Your ISV Partner Informed About Changes in Your Clients’ Product Usage

Once you’re working with the client directly, you have the best window into that client’s usage of your ISV partner’s product. Keep your ISV partner informed about how your client is using your partner’s product so your ISV partner can: 

  • Gather information about how and why clients are using particular features and products 
  • Discuss the usage with their product team for evaluating potential feature development or integration development 
  • Consider including your client in pilot programs or as beta testers for new products and functionalities relevant to your client’s existing needs or desired functionalities for your product 
  • Anticipate potential roadblocks or issues before they happen

If you ghost your ISV partner after closing the deal and only touch base with them when something goes awry for the client, they’re going to remember. 

“It’s like, I’ll take your call because you’re a partner, but I’m not going to be as transparent with you because I know what’s going to be happening in the second or third chapter.” 

The ISV is trusting you to own the customer relationship. Reward that trust by providing intel and information better than the ISV’s internal sales team while asking for technical support when it’s needed.

Tip #6: If You’re Taking Risks on Behalf of the Client, Bring Your Partner’s Professional Services Team in To Help 

Inform your partner’s professional services team if you’re experimenting with a new strategy, trying a new functionality you’re not accustomed to implementing, or just generally taking a risk on behalf of the client.

For example, maybe you are reallocating marketing spend to an unconventional strategy that doesn’t have any existing success stories from previous clients. You’re going to want to bring your ISV partner’s professional services team in to help define the right path forward and provide insight into new app developments that could help your client excel in this new territory. It also mitigates any potential nasty surprises — like your client losing tons of marketing spend for a lack of results and the client’s leadership team growing increasingly wary of your ISV partner’s software and your services.

Your ISV partner would rather be aware of how you’re adjusting your client’s usage of the product than hear about it when there’s an issue that needs to be fixed. Your partner’s professional services team can help guide you and the client towards the best strategy, catch any mistakes before they take full effect, or just sit back with confidence that you’re doing everything right. 

Being transparent about how you’re implementing the ISV’s product will help to ensure you’re always providing the best tactics for the client. If you only reach out to your ISV partner to help fix a mistake after the fact, it’ll reflect poorly on your services, their product, and could possibly affect client retention for both of you. 

“There are some partners who will pump you for information and then leave you at the altar because they won the contract. We don’t have a good track record with those partners. The client still has our software, but from a services perspective, you’re either going to have us involved early and it’s going to be less painful or you’re going to have us involved later when your team screws up. When that happens, our response is different. We tried to help you.”

Alternatively, keeping your partner in the loop early on will establish a positive relationship with your ISV partner — and even help you outshine your channel partner competitors. 

Tip #7 Don’t Blame the ISV Partner for Delays in The Client Project 

If you fail to follow tip #6, you’re going to find yourself in an uncomfortable situation for the client, yourself, and your partner. Who takes the blame for your client’s strategy gone south? Don’t offload the blame to your ISV partner and their product. If you do, you may be tarnishing your relationship with the ISV partner for longer than you think. 

Anyone on the ISV side could hold a grudge against you and inform existing and future employees about potential issues with working with you. This could result in less leads coming your way, less communication with you from the ISV partner (and more communication with competing SIs), or the discontinuation of the partnership altogether. 

Tip #8 Keep in Mind, Clients Get Attached to Their Software, Not Their Consultancies (So, Don’t Screw Up)

If you burn bridges with your ISV partners, it’s hard to repair them. Even if you maintain the partnership for years to come, you’ll still be working with a permanent stain on your reputation. Your partner’s sales reps, account managers, and leadership team may remember your mistakes for years to come and inform others of your sour experience as forewarning.

“As a sales person, you’ve got to inform your manager, and that goes up the line. Your sales management has the history of working with specific ISV partners. Their natural reaction is to refer back to history and say, ‘We’re going to get screwed over,’ or, ‘That’s going to turn out great.’” 

The better expertise you have in your partner’s software (ahem, certification) and the longer your relationship you have with your ISV partner, the more likely end-customers will see your consultancy as a trusted advisor. You can’t become an expert in all 8,000 martech companies, for example, but you should become experts in a variety of software that can help you meet the needs of your clients at various stages of growth reliably. 

Your ISV partners have a lot of channel partners. Treat your ISV partners with care so that your partnership is BAE. (that is, “before anyone else” <3)

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