In our post on authoritative damnation 65: solution partners, we noted that solution partners are their own breed of damnation and can be much more annoying than activist investors and boards of directors, that you might only hear from at quarterly or annual meetings (who will stomp their feet, bang their drum, but eventually settle down and go away for a while), as they could be a pain in the backside on a daily basis.
We said this was because you often depend on these solution partners to serve your customers, run (parts of) your organization, and bring you innovation that you can’t develop in-house (due to lack of time, money, or external ideas). As a result you can’t just tell them to sit-down, shut-up, and wait their turn … especially if their support is essential to keeping a million dollar client happy or a multi-million dollar category stocked and selling.
So what is an organization to do? Especially if it can’t reasonably meet all their demands, err, requests in a short time frame?
Include them in roadmap planning for products and services.
If you include them in roadmap sessions, where they can see all the requests and demands being placed upon you by the organization, customers, and other solution partners, they will understand better that you can’t do everything they want now and that will focus them onto platform, product, or support enhancements that they really need versus those that they think they really want. For example, they might want more do-it-yourself configuration options when they are supporting your software in their country or in their client bases, but if you can typically turn requests around in 2 business days and they see how new features could benefit the customer base more and possibly help them sell more (and earn more commission), they will quiet down about saving 24 hours on a new configuration or install.
Offer them your innovations in Procurement, Planning, and CRM.
Chances are your solution partners are great in manufacturing, production, solution delivery, support, etc. but pretty bad in procurement, project management, or CRM (and why even their best bid doesn’t match your should-cost model with a fair margin). Offer to help them innovate their processes and platforms in exchange for product innovation, production cost savings innovation, and service level improvements.
Help them sell to your customer base.
If it’s a product provider, offer to help them understand what your customer base values most in terms of product purchases (low cost, reliability, innovation, etc.) and what the supplier needs to do to win more of your business. If it’s a service provider, help them understand not only what you need of them to support your customers, but what common services your customers need that you don’t provide, that the provider might be able to up-sell to them (without violating the terms of agreement). This will be a big plus in their eyes and they will start treating you as a customer of choice (who is their favourite customer to work with) and the complaints will go away, with only the odd helpful suggestion here and there.
Solution Partners can be a pain in the backside, but inclusion and support can replae the thorn with the rose. It’s up to you.