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Partners not just on paper

A friend, who operates in the IT space, spoke with me about his partnership with two International players whom he is representing in Kerala. He said the products are good and the customers vouch for their quality.

Business is good; however he had some concerns to share about the way the business is run by the local Managers of the two companies; without being harsh on them he indicated that the Managers had said the local reseller would get a lot of support and time to develop the market but within months he had sees other resellers appointed.

There are instances when big reseller with presence across the country would pitch in and take large orders away from under his nose by offering deeper discounts. The big player is able to convince the Principal that he has business association with these major customers at multiple locations and hence having a single supplier across locations is best for all concerned.

In business relationships often take the back seat. I am not denying here that the big player has some benefits to offer the client that my friend’s single-point and much smaller unit cannot. But the national player would not go as deep into the local market as a local player would – both have their advantages and need to be supported from that perspective.

My friend has been on both sides of the table in this game – he was the National Sales Head of an IT company before starting his own venture and has heard similar complaints voiced by his resellers about “unfair tactics” by his team-members and by other resellers who were trying to steal their accounts.

All this boils down to a few things:

  1. Policy – Organisations need to be clear how they would operate in the market. How best to extract business from various segments and who would represent them there. This has to be clearly outlined and documented. How to deal with ad hoc situations should also be explained.
  2. Communication – The internal team needs to be educated on the processes and told how to approach the market with this game-plan. The message has to be clearly driven from Day One. Often in the urgency to appoint dealers / resellers Managers often ignore or avoid mentioning the guidelines and policies. They make grand sweeping statements and gloss over the nitty-gritties – and that leads to conflict later on. The subject is not discussed for fear that the partner wouldn’t sign up if such terms are mentioned; and that leads me to the third point.
  3. Support – It is not enough that partners are appointed but they need to be supported by way of training, joint-visits, involvement in planning and execution of the business plan. Managers usually appear like shooting stars and behave like Class Monitors or Executioners – pulling people up for not doing the job. They can do that legitimately if support had been provided to plan and develop the business. Support by way of visibility, collaterals, inventory management and on all other aspects that help the resellers to grow. Many resellers need support in prospecting, prospect management, man management, even cash-flow management. The better qualified Managers of the Principals can value add in many areas.
  4. Relationship Building– Resellers or Dealers are often called partners on paper but are not seen that way when push comes to shove. Often there is an adversarial stance taken against “partners” when they don’t deliver on expectations or they are kept at arm’s length when business is going at a steady pace – only a few that deliver a little more are treated like blue-eyed boys, that too as long as they deliver.

 There is a clear need for the Principals to build stronger relationships, provide more support, be available when the going gets tough and communicate with firmness and without ambiguity. Most resellers understand that the entire market cannot be developed by them and there is need for other players, they are even willing to understand someone else making an occasional sale in their territory, but what discourages or dismays them is to find Business Managers walking in to bulldoze them without first having spent time to help them grow the business.

Channel Partners need a working partnership where both sides are involved in the development of the market and business … when that is done an occasional hit is taken in the stride.

Resellers don’t mind  a demanding Principal whose intention is to help them grow; but they become responsive, committed and keep channels of communication open only when the Principals take the lead in building strong relationships.

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