I often write about the how and why of delivering superior customer experiences.  But what happens if you sell through channel partners?  Who “owns” the experience then?  The answer “it depends” applies here with some aspects to consider.

Start by being specific (and defining) about what you mean by a channel partner.  The term partner is used loosely which causes confusion. In a very simplified model, here are my definitions and the roles that I ascribe to each.  (Your organization may use their own definition.)

  • Sales Agent – markets and sells your products and services.  Their value to your company comes in the form of additional salespeople.  The risk to your company comes because they may be making commitments that the customer feels you are responsible for keeping.  You set the pricing and typically pay the Agent a 1-time “commission” which is how they make their money.  
  • Reseller – markets and sells your products.  Like a Sales Agent, the value to your company comes in the form of additional salespeople.  Because they also offer their own services the commitments they make.  Resellers set their own customer prices.  I worked with one [despised] Reseller who marked up our products 4x and then squeezed us on price each year.  Companies typically offer product discounts to Resellers who make their profit from (a) the price spread between List and Discount, (b) whatever markup their market will support and (c) any value-added services they can add. 

In both Sales Agent and Reseller scenarios you will want to train the Partner to sell.  Companies generally do this well and have a notion of “sales” enablement because they realize that selling success increases when the partner sales teams know what they are selling and how it benefits their customers.  After all, their success is your success

In the case of the Reseller you will also want to train the Partner to support your product – what I call “support” enablement.  At a minimum Resellers should be respond to set-up and use questions.  They should be a first line of defense through which only the most difficult support questions are routed.  The more equipped they are, the better off your company is through decreased support costs. I see companies lose their way by neglecting the support elements.  The risk is that by being hyper-focused on growth, companies neglect to train their Reseller partners on the full lifecycle experience.

 MarketingSellingSupportingProduct Functionality/Use
Sales AgentYourCoSales AgentYourCoYourCo
Experience ownership (from a company perspective)

While this explanation seems simple, you might be surprised by how often these distinctions are lost.  When you notice very basic support questions coming through AND the partner is setting prices, then reclassify them as a Sales Agent.  If the value a partner offers is through increased deal flow (without reducing support costs) then, by my definition, they are Sales Agents. 

The pivot point is that ownership varies by the (a) type of partner and (b) type of experience.  Knowing which type of partnership applies and where the customer is in their journey with your company will help you define who is responsible for what. 

For a deeper discussion on the pros/cons of using Channels I recommend this presentation by Stephen Davis at the CXO Advisory Group.

Who owns the Customer Experience through “the Channel”?
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