By Jon Whitlock, Senior Director of Channel Marketing, Kaspersky Lab North America
In 2015, Kaspersky Lab is ramping up its investment and commitment to partners, and I am deeply involved in the revamp and all its moving parts. With all the ins and outs of structuring a partner program top of mind, here is what I think partners need from a partner program and how vendors can deliver.
Success looks different for each partner. One of the biggest challenges when structuring a partner program is how to make the conversation as easy as possible for prospective and existing partners so that they understand the expectations, rewards, how to engage on different levels, etc. Essentially, every part of the program and partnership must be simple and straightforward for partners to navigate through.
In our research and especially through conversations with partners, we found that using a tiered structure makes it easier for partners to understand the expectation and the rewards. First, they are already familiar with this framework and second, it helps us to better understand: How each partner is succeeding; what’s working or not for each partner; and what needs to be done to get each partner to where they want to be. It helps us best address each partner’s needs.
Another benefit to the tiered structure is that partners are never questioning where they stand. If they’re in the first tier, they understand the expectations and benefits of that tier, as well as how to move on to the next tier, should they choose. That eliminates the guess-work and also empowers partners because they always know where they currently are in the partnership and how to progress to the next level.
A key motto of our partner program is “keep it simple.” Restructuring a partner program isn’t easy, and I think most channel marketers would agree that there may be a level of confusion and apprehension among partners when changes are announced. After all, our partners are going to ask: “What does this mean for me?”
Our job is to stay a step ahead and eliminate that confusion as much as possible before it even happens by informing partners well in advance of the formal program launch and making sure they understand the benefits. Not only will this diminish potential confusion and worry, but it also will enable us to be more successful with our partners in the long run. If they understand the partner opportunities of the new program before it’s actually launched, then come launch-day, we’ll have a better chance partners will take interest, know what’s going on, where they stand and what the partnership expectations are for both sides.
Taking this idea a step further, a critical part of educating partners starts with educating internal teams. Arming the internal channel team with all the information about the changes to the program so they can then disseminate it to partners is a huge key in getting partners to understand the program and ultimately be as successful as possible. Unification and knowledge sharing on all fronts from the very beginning is a must.
It’s true that modifying or completely revamping a partner program too often can have a detrimental effect on partners. Frequent changes result in increased confusion about expectations, potential distrust, declining success or worse, frayed and even terminated partnerships as partners look elsewhere. So it’s important that when making changes to a partner program to keep in mind what modifications and features will have the most sustainability.
At the same time, it’s important to evolve the program to meet the needs of an ever-changing partner ecosystem. It’s a delicate balance for sure. Be ingrained in how your partners are doing — not only at the starting point, but as they move through tiers and increase (or in some cases, decrease) engagement. Watch, listen, observe, set objectives and metrics — and measure your success. Then you’ll know what your partners need and how to modify the program to fit those needs.
I won’t sit here and say that making changes to an existing partner program is easy. It can be an intimidating task. Throughout the process, bear in mind the word balance. Balance the needs of partners while ensuring a mutually beneficial partnership. Eliminate confusion from the starting point by keeping it simple, setting clear expectations and ensuring everyone on your internal team understands the program. Overall, striking a healthy balance between your needs and those of your partners will help ensure the continuing success of a partner program.
As Senior Director of Channel Marketing, Kaspersky Lab North America, Jon Whitlock is responsible for driving Kaspersky Lab’s channel programs and increasing partner engagement.
Whitlock brings more than 15 years of marketing, sales and business development experience with software companies, information security services providers and national VARs and MSPs. Prior to joining Kaspersky Lab in 2012, Whitlock held senior marketing positions with Brainshark, a cloud-based video platform and CBE Technologies, a national managed services provider and information security consulting firm.