A common theme among presenters and attendees at last month’s TSIA Technology & Services World conference was customer success (CS) at scale and understanding how partners play a role in this practice. My own work with Channel Impact clients across the technology vendor community validates why it is a critical business priority. I’ve talked a lot about how strategic customer success initiatives advance growth in the services economy, but vendor investment in partner success is fast becoming equally important. Today’s vendors must work to deliver the right programs, technologies and support to ignite partners’ ability to build high-impact customer success organizations and evolve their business models to foster stronger recurring revenue.
Nobody knows that better than Jared Raftery, Senior Manager of Global Partner Strategy for Cisco’s Customer Experience organization. On the heels of leading his team to win one of the technology industry’s highest honors, the TSIA Star Award for Best Practices in Customer Success, I recently sat down with Jared to discuss what goes into an effective partner success program. Below are highlights from our conversation:
Q: Why is customer success a top priority for companies?
Jared: The market has shifted towards a consumption economy and companies have had to adapt in order to stay competitive. Customers — be they consumers, business users or partners — want business outcomes and they will very easily take their business elsewhere if their expectations are not met.
To put it simply, the purpose of the customer success organization is to deliver on the promise made at the time of the sale by helping customers adopt a supplier’s technology. If done correctly, these adoption engagements uncover new expand opportunities and ensure that renewing is a frictionless, non-event because the customer has experienced so much value they can’t imagine taking their business to another vendor.
Q: Can you tell us about partner success and how it differs from customer success?
Jared: Customer success is about delivering on the promise of your technology by directly engaging with customers, whereas partner success is about enabling your partners to maximize profitability by delivering on the promise of your technology.
For companies with indirect sales models like Cisco, partners are critical to the go-to-market strategy. In order to scale customer success, vendors must empower their partners to build and execute their own CS practices. Partners are the ones out there selling the deals, so vendors can gain strategic advantage by giving them the tools and resources to improve the way they drive adoption, deliver value and grow customer lifetime values. Said differently, if partners are making the promise, then we must help them build capabilities to deliver on the promise.
Q: What has been the evolution of Cisco’s partner success program?
Jared: We started with a decentralized approach to partner success, with about 20 PSMs (Partner Success Managers) supporting partners around the globe and a series of enablement programs to guide partners in building and scaling a customer success organization, including: SuccessHub, which provides an educational repository of articles, videos and webinars all focused on customer success for partners; Lifecycle Advisor, our flagship incentive program that fuels customers’ business outcomes, empowering them to maximize their Cisco technology investments; and Lifecycle Advantage, a digital engagement platform that gives partners the ability to drive digital, co-branded engagements to nurture customer health, success, renewals and more.
While we were having success in pockets, the global partner experience was inconsistent, resources were misaligned, and our most impactful digital programs were not integrated with other resources. So, we conducted a listening tour in the Spring of 2017, where we surveyed dozens of stakeholders–both internally and externally–to understand the various perspectives of partner success. From that exercise, we learned partners typically go through four phases of maturity as they build a CS practice, which we identified as plan, build, scale and monetize. Then, we organized a global partner strategy to align Cisco’s resources to those four phases. Next, in order to tie the global strategy to tactical execution, we worked with Channel Impact to develop a PSM handbook that documented our partner success framework, consolidated best practices and standardized how Cisco supports partners globally. Finally, we created a CS roadmap that outlined the step-by-step process for a partner to walk through the four phases of the journey.
Q: What recommendations do you have for vendors as they get started with partner success?
Jared: Universally, a good first step is to identify the value proposition and partner profitability of your software. First and foremost, partners want to grow profits. Secondly, I recommend creating an end-to-end journey map of your ideal partner experience. This includes identifying what milestones you expect partners to hit along the various phases of that journey. Finally, tie metrics to the most critical milestones, as this will help you track a partner’s progress and will provide you with information on how to make improvements to your partner success program over time.
Q: What do you anticipate in the future for partner success?
Jared: I preface my response by saying that Cisco has projected we’re going to be at 50% recurring revenue by 2020, so we’re really shifting our business model and investing in partner success. We can’t sell recurring revenue, we have to keep revenue recurring. As a partner-led organization, the best way that we can do that is by giving our partners everything they need to build effective customer success practices.
The day will come when all of our partners will have customer success organizations. To advance them further, we’ll need to develop new products with the partner in mind. This includes having telemetry designed into those products right from the start and creating playbooks that speak to partner adoption requirements. Also, once partners have a customer success practice, it’s not going to be exclusive to any one product or vendor. Partners are going to have the power of choice, and in the future, those technology companies who play to win will be the ones that view partner success through the same lens as they do customer success, supporting partners with same level of commitment to deliver value.
To say that Jared is passionate about partner success would be an understatement. It’s one reason all of us at Channel Impact get along with him so well – it’s the cornerstone of our business. For more information on our partner success services, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to work with you.