If you work in marketing, you’ve probably heard of the Buyer’s Journey. It’s the concept that any product purchase is a process, not simply an act, which can be likened to a physical journey. The process consists of multiple phases, beginning with research and ending with a decision to buy. Conventional wisdom dictates that a consumer has completed 70 percent of this journey before even speaking to a salesperson. The message of this narrative is that, contrary to what retailers once thought, there is more than one opportunity to influence a buyer’s decision and resulting purchase—there are multiple opportunities that arise well before the consumer enters a store.
What the Partner’s Journey is Not
I’ve heard and read in some places that there is a Partner’s Journey in the IT Channel that parallels the Buyer’s Journey—an assertion I very much agree with. However, all the pieces I have read define the journey’s starting point as the moment when a solution provider joins a supplier’s partner program. The “journey” is thus said to comprise the training and enablement of the new partner, the partner’s access to critical content necessary to sell a specific product or service, and the partner’s general ease (or difficulty) of doing business with the new supplier. These are all very important touch points to examine and improve upon, but they do not reflect the “Partner’s Journey.ʺ This experience of working with a new supplier is more aptly named the Partner’s Experience –the term we at The Channel Company use to describe it. The Partner’s Journey is something entirely different—it is the series of events that happen before the partner-supplier relationship is formed.
Defining the Partner’s Journey as a process that begins at the time of program sign-up is akin to saying that a buyer’s journey to purchase a Honda sedan starts with a test drive at a Honda dealership. I think we can all agree that this is not the case in today’s world—the buyer has almost certainly been planning the purchase for months. By the time the consumer gets into the car, they’ve already narrowed their options down to three or fewer brands and have identified the models in their price range. This is the end of the journey, when Honda should be gearing up to close the sale. But if Honda hadn’t been doing its job up to this point—informing and guiding the potential buyer throughout the digital search prior to visiting the dealership—there would be no test drive and, therefore, no sale to close. Clearly, the car buyer’s journey begins before the customer is even visible to the dealer—when it first occurs to them to buy a car.
The IT channel is no different. However, some IT suppliers nonetheless believe the opposite to be true for solution providers. In their approach to recruiting new partners or convincing existing partners to cross-sell into other parts of their product portfolio, they operate under the misconception that the Partner’s Journey toward a decision begins when the solution provider reaches out to them. In truth, it begins when they discover and explore a new technology, brand or business model.
What the Partner’s Journey Is
Like the Buyer’s Journey, the Partner’s Journey is comprised of three stages:
Stage 1: Awareness
Stage 2: Consideration
Stage 3: Decision
It’s important for a marketer to know two things in each one of these stages: 1) which information sources solution providers find most valuable and 2) what types of content they find most engaging.
Let’s take the initial, Awareness stage of the Partner’s Journey, for example. This is the first, exploratory stage during which solution providers discover new technologies, brands and business models. Recent research conducted by The Channel Company shows that:
This knowledge serves as a valuable tool for communicating with prospective partners: we now know where to find and engage with them. What’s more, our research shows that 86 percent of all solution providers are actively looking to bring onboard a new technology or supplier in 2016—so we also know that they want to be engaged. Because the partner is just becoming aware of new technologies, brands and business models and digitally window-shopping, they are best engaged with concise, to-the-point content in this phase. It’s best to focus simply on building awareness of your brand among these solution providers with eye-catching, easily digested nuggets of information, such as social media posts (e.g., Tweets) and banner advertising on the above-mentioned independent IT websites (such as CRN.com). .
The second stage of the Partner’s Journey is Consideration. During this phase, partners begin to identify practical business applications for a particular technology and to compare specific suppliers, services and products. Our research shows that in this phase:
The most valuable types of content that go along with these are more educational, in-depth pieces. Marketers therefore need to dig deeper here than in the Awareness stage, providing richer content such as case studies, webcasts and white papers in order to initiate an extended, more engaging digital conversation with prospective partners.
In the final, Decision stage, partners have settled on a specific technology or business direction and have compiled a short list of potential suppliers. The Channel Company’s research shows that solution providers turn to co-workers, supplier sales reps and supplier web sites or portals as primary sources of information in this phase. This is when your channel marketing efforts really bear fruit: if you have planted the right seeds of content over the course of the Partner’s Journey prior to this, when the right partner reaches the Decision stage, they will contact your CAM and not someone else’s— and both your company and the solution provider will have set the stage for a well-aligned and productive Partner’s Experience.
For more on the Partner’s Journey, check out CRN editor Steve Burke’s recent article: http://www.crn.com/news/channel-programs/300080190/channel-co-exclusive-research-the-partners-buying-journey-is-as-big-a-game-changer-as-the-buyers-journey.htm
You can also download The Channel Company’s Partner’s Journey marketing guide and infographic here: http://www.partnersjourney.com