How to Recognize Opportunities in Your Channel Ecosystem
Let's face it, it's difficult to build and expand an ecosystem. It's even harder to thrive in the midst of turbulence, from epidemics to inflation to war, but it's still possible.
In these tough times, your ability to identify opportunities in your channel partner ecosystem will determine the future success of your partnerships.
But how do you do it? How can you evaluate your partnerships and larger network in a meaningful way?
In this article, we'll share strategies to help you identify opportunities in the ecosystem and briefly go over how you can make the most of those opportunities.
What is a Channel Ecosystem Opportunity?
A channel ecosystem opportunity is the chance to leverage an event in the market for business advantage. Ecosystem opportunities are not always about money, although that is an important part of it.
In addition to generating new revenue by scaling your sales efforts, other opportunities in the channel ecosystem landscape can help you quickly move your business into new markets or customer bases that may be difficult or impossible to reach on your own.
A Framework for Discovering Channel Ecosystem Opportunities
Identifying new opportunities isn’t always straightforward. You need a framework to guide your skills and your partner program, one that will enable you to identify opportunities that you may not have thought possible before.
You also need to figure out which opportunities are worthwhile to your channel strategy and which ones won't move your business forward. Below is a framework using Descriptive, Diagnostic, Predictive, and Prescriptive analytics to categorize the types of opportunities you can take advantage of.
The Descriptive Segment
This segment focuses on analyzing your partnership’s performance over a period of time—or what has already happened.
This aspect of the framework can help you and your team describe what success looks like (or has looked like) for your program and company.
To get this information, you have to ask yourself:
- Who are our best-performing partners?
- Who are our worst-performing partners?
- What is our partner's experience? What are our partners still struggling with?
- What is our current partner-to-partner network? Who is already working together?
- What are our most well-received products/services/features?
- Who are our current system integrators?
- What is our customer's experience? What are our customers still struggling with?
- In which markets are we performing best/worst?
Fortunately, there is a lot of software out there to help you in this segment. PRM software, for example, gives you unparalleled visibility into your partner's performance. You can get reports on virtually every partner action, such as how many leads or deals each partner closes, which partners have gone silent, and more.
Document and organize the data as a foundation you can jump off from.
The Diagnostic Segment
To be successful as a channel professional, one must understand the causes of trends and events. Adding a diagnostic segment to your partner strategy framework should help you achieve this goal.
Diagnostics, which derives its name from the word diagnose, is the method of using data to identify the factors that contribute to trends and correlations among different variables.
It answers the question: why did it happen?
It'll help you examine the data to identify the root causes of problems in your operations.
This will help you better assess how to solve these challenges and grow your partnerships. This part of the framework goes into greater detail on the descriptive segment to explain why something happened in the past.
The following questions will help with the process:
- What part of the partner lifecycle is causing the most challenges and why?
- What part of the sales funnel is causing the most challenges and why?
- What part of the customer lifecycle is causing the most challenges and why?
- What features are lacking in our current product?
- What goals are still misaligned between teams?
The Predictive Segment
Every company has access to a wealth of data, from partner enablement to customer behavior. The key is to understand how this information can be used to improve the future of the business.
What is the story your data is telling you about what's to come?
The predictive segment is about sifting through past data to build models that can help predict future outcomes. Decide what to change and what to keep, it's important to identify where the market is headed.
As Jennifer Richey, Senior Director of Ecosystem at Vena Solutions explained in her Greatest Minds in Partnerships interview:
"Pick your head up from the day-to-day and take a look around. Scan the landscape. Understand the ecosystem in which you live."
So, look around your wider network, industry, and market. Where are things headed? Where is the gap in software or service that customers are continuously facing? How can you and the right partner close that gap?
You can ask yourself the following questions to help you in this discovery process:
- What are the current trends in my industry?
- Who are my competitors partnering with and why?
- What needs to be created to improve our customer's success?
- Who are leaders in the industry that would be interested in co-creating this creation?
- What are my company's capabilities and limitations for integrations and technology development?
The Prescriptive Segment
This section of the framework will help you determine the approach you should follow to achieve the greatest possible business results. You will be able to review all the options and prescribe the best course of action, much like a doctor diagnosing a disease and prescribing medication.
What actions need to be taken next?
So, once you have your descriptive, diagnostic, and predictive data, take a look at the overlapping challenges as it relates to your company's long-term goals.
Ask yourself how these items can be improved for both your team and your partners. Consider the following:
- Can the issue be fixed within your organization or software?
- Can the issue be fixed with the help of an agency?
- Can it be improved with integration with another technology already providing this service?
- What is the timeline in which these fixes need to be delivered?
- What is the budget that can be allotted to fixing these issues?
Types of Channel Ecosystem Opportunities
Once you have an idea of the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities of your current channel partner ecosystem, you can begin to identify the specific types of partners that can help you address or leverage them.
Joining Forces with the Ecosystem
Don't pigeonhole your partners into a traditional channel model by thinking solely about a 1-to-1 exchange.
Because so many of us tend toward individualism, it can be difficult to imagine that giving to someone else first would result in success. Think bigger.
Ecosystems are networks and are great sources of signals, beaconing you to see not only where you can find opportunities, but where your partners can too.
For example, according to Reveal's Nearbound Manifesto, businesses that share signals with 10 or more partners produce a 291% greater sales pipeline than those that just share signals with one to three partners.
Think about your existing relationships and a way to find new connections for them. Open your eyes to all potential relationships with partners, customers, or both where new offerings have developed that address a particular business outcome.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What long-term objectives does each partner have?
- What additional value will be generated for both parties?
- What are the key performance indicators for this partnership?
- What resources are needed to make the partnership function as effectively as possible?
- How does this partnership fit into the long-term strategy of your company and that of your potential partner?
Some common partner types that could be lumped into this category include:
- Consulting firms
- Service providers
- Integration partners
- Solution partners
- Reseller partners
Innovate with the Ecosystem
You don't have to work alone in business to be successful. The path becomes easier when you partner with knowledgeable and experienced partners. Therefore, a technology partner paves the way and makes it more innovative and disruptive when it comes to introducing new technologies or applications.
Most importantly, such relationships expand the technological capabilities of two companies that are constrained by the limitations of their current software. It's about working with another company to develop a new type of service or technology quickly and at scale.
For example, you want to create a cloud-based forum for your customers. To do that, you'd need to work with a cloud provider, a customer, and a consulting firm to get the project done.
There are several reasons to rely on a technology partner, from improving internal operations to the commitment to innovation that is expected of all companies today:
- It adds technical tools to your business model that support and strengthen it.
- The project can move faster because the technology partner has the team and knowledge to drive it forward.
- The partner has resources that make your product or service even more valuable.
- The partner has skills in dealing with technical uncertainties.
- It lowers costs for the business by not having to develop its own software or other technology tools.
- Improves business innovation by integrating the most disruptive technologies into the core of your business, or at least sharing the latest market trends to inspire you.
Some partner types that could fit under this umbrella include:
- Service providers
- Technology vendors/partners
- Consulting firms
Co-marketing with the Ecosystem
Although it goes without saying in business, not every company operating in your target market is a competitor. Some of them could be potential partners in co-marketing relationships.
Two complementary brands can run campaigns that would be too expensive or difficult on their own by pooling their audiences and resources.
Regardless of the size of your business, your ecosystem can help you gain access to significant leverage by providing your own resources in exchange for the ability to reach new audiences and engage existing consumers.
For example, you could work with your technology partner to educate on a new solution. You could also collaborate on content creation by co-hosting a podcast to educate your audience, or by appearing on each other's YouTube channels.
Just make sure you create partner marketing opportunities that provide real value. For example, you can offer a Marketing Development Fund to help top-tier partners to reach their goals.
As Adam Pasch from Improvado stated in his Greatest Minds in Partnerships article:
“Building impactful relationships requires you to not only focus on the value that you’ll get going into the partnership, but also on the amount of value you can add to your partners.”
Questions you could ask yourself include:
- What are the long-term branding and marketing goals of each partner?
- Is there some degree of overlap between your own target market and that of your co-marketing partner?
- Do the personas of the two companies match?
- Do they have an appropriate market reach?
Types of partners:
- Affiliate partners
- Referral partners
- Reseller partners
Building up the Ecosystem
Building the ecosystem is about bringing value to the people within it.
For example, some might match a potential customer with a competitor because the competitor is a better fit, while others share thought leadership, or provide resources that can help you with problems.
All of this is for the health of the ecosystem.
With the client acting as the sun, ecosystems mimic the solar system. Delighting the customer and the individuals that make up the customer organization is (or should be) the common goal shared by every ecosystem member.
Some members work together on products and services at any given time, while others share customer relationships and others focus on carrying out their specific roles. Over time, those connections change from member to member, but gravity keeps them all connected.
These efforts directly reflect your trustworthiness. If you're willing to do what's best for your customer, community, and fellow partners, you're more likely to be front-of-mind in the industry when it comes to time to buy.
As you’re participating in and building up the ecosystem, it’s good to ask yourself the following questions:
- What are my specific skills and experiences that can help build up the ecosystem?
- What are my company's specific solutions that can provide value?
- Who are the industry voices that are leading the conversation I want to be a part of? How can I evangelize for them?
- Where are the gaps? How can my company or voice help close them for others?
Or even more simply, ask yourself, "How can I help?" This give-first mentality will lead to opportunities you never thought possible.
“So, you're going to go to the inbound communities that have those people. And then how do you build trust? Well, you give to that community. You participate in the conversation. You show that you are a valuable resource that people want to partner with. That's where the intersection of these things comes together. Community is the new outbound and inbound.”
How to Act on Channel Ecosystem Opportunities
Ecosystem opportunities can suddenly appear and take numerous forms. You must learn to recognize and take advantage of opportunities to gain access to potential new markets and revenue streams.
Like Jay McBain once said:
"It’s time to stop talking about the need for partner ecosystems and do something about them."
Put yourself in the best possible position to succeed in the ecosystem by creating a plan to respond to opportunities.
We've laid out some general guidelines to get you started, but keep in mind that they may change depending on your partner or opportunity:
- Understand completely the problem you want to solve.
- Create a solid IPP for the type of partner who can help fix the problem.
- Understand and clearly explain your value proposition to that partner; how can this benefit them too?
- Outline expectations and milestones in the partnerships.
- Create connections between departments.
- Create quick wins for the partner.
- Be diligent in communicating.
- Measure, test, and improve.
- Get feedback from the partner.
Using this analytics framework, you can develop long-term business strategies and get a comprehensive overview of opportunities in your ecosystem. When you identify an opportunity, think carefully about which partners can help you make the most of it.
Remember that not every market opportunity will be successful. You have to get clear on your North Star KPIs and data and go for opportunities that serve it.
For this reason, successful companies use data collection and automation platforms to track the progress of their program, such as a PRM.