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There is no one-size-fits-all

Vendors would like to think that they understand partners but as Billy MacInnes points out that is a hard challenge when so many are different from each other

Working on an article recently about channel relationships, I was amazed how often people suggested the best way to achieve a strong partnership was to “stand in your partner’s shoes”. I could be facetious here – oh, alright then – and say “that’s all well and good, but what if the shoes are too big or too small, or clash with your outfit, would you be so keen to stand in them then?”

There’s a serious point behind it, though, because the other observation that many vendors and channel businesses make is that partners are not all the same. So, if they’re not all the same, then every one of them must have different shoes to stand in.

I don’t know about you, but if I was being told the best way to keep partners happy was to stand in 50 or 100 or even 1,000 different pairs of shoes, my immediate reaction would not be one of unalloyed enthusiasm. Far from it. But if I did it, what would I see? For the most part, the vendor I’d be looking at wouldn’t be much different if I was figuratively wearing size seven pumps or size 10 mountain boots.

So, there’s some comfort in thinking that what I was looking at as a partner would be pretty much the same, whatever partner I happened to be. The difficulty, however, would be that the partner whose shoes I was standing in would be “different” because the entity figuratively wearing size seven pumps would not be identical to the one with size 10 mountain boots. From that perspective, I might want something different from the vendor I was looking at.

But how different? Just how unique would my requirements be compared with another partner? After all, the nature of my business is quite similar to the partner down the road or in the next town. We pretty much want a lot of the same things from our vendors. There might be differences because of our size or the nature of our customers, but there would be a lot more similarities.

That doesn’t mean there’s a one-size-fits-all scheme out there that would fulfil every partner’s every need. But does anyone seriously expect there to be one? Of course not. Such a scheme would be incredibly unwieldy, cumbersome and gruesomely bureaucratic. The plain fact is that you can’t cover every single variation or deviation between partners, but you can produce a programme that covers most of the bases for as close to everybody as possible. A one-size-fits-a-lot scheme.

You can’t do much more than that because the other major requirement for a partner programme is to keep it simple. Partners don’t want to have to spend too much time on their day-to-day dealings with vendors because they just don’t have it to spare. A vendor standing in a partner’s shoes would soon become aware that channel businesses deal with a number of vendors, and the best way to keep their loyalty and business is to make sure it’s as simple as possible for them to work with you.

Partner programmes

On the other side of the fence, if partners tried standing in a vendor’s shoes, they might appreciate some of the issues and priorities that play a part in how they put their partner programmes together. But just how many different vendors’ shoes do they need to stand in? I have a feeling they would be content if the view from where their vendors was standing was the same, irrespective of which vendor it was.

The truth is that partners and vendors might all say that they’re different, but in many respects, they all want things to be the same.

Let me finish with a warning for all those vendors so keen to place themselves in their partners’ shoes. Let’s hope you don’t find yourself living up to the concluding lines of Bob Dylan’s Positively Fourth Street:

“I wish that for just one time I could stand inside your shoes, you’d know what a drag it is to see you.”

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