Standing Out Still Matters in Ecosystems

Vendors want to collaborate with partners in ecosystem opportunities, which means partners must market their capabilities to their vendors.

By Larry Walsh

The concept of an ecosystem in business is based on collaboration among two or more “partners” engaged in sales or go-to-market activities. Ecosystems work because no single vendor or partner can fulfill all of a customer’s technology product or support needs. Collaboration is key to adding value by offsetting capabilities and portfolio gaps, with each partner contributing to a total value greater than the sum of its respective parts.

The problem with ecosystems is persistence. Participating parties — vendors and partners — have freedom of choice. They can choose to collaborate with whomever they want for any opportunity. If the customer dictates specific brands or if purchasing power is limited by budget, a partner can seek collaborators that meet the opportunity needs and constraints. There’s no obligation to stick with one set of collaborators even when dealing with similar opportunities.

Finding the right partners for opportunities is paramount today. ServiceNow, a vendor of digital workflow and IT management systems, highlights this fact with the recent introduction of new partner specializations. In its announcement, the company noted that the new specializations are intended to help partners differentiate themselves from others in the ecosystem.

Additional Resources

If that seems like a familiar statement, it should. Vendors have made similar statements about specializations over the years. In the past, many vendors noted how specializations in technologies or verticals would help partners stand out in the field from their competitors. Specialization can make a difference if a partner needs an edge in winning a customer or a sale against a competing reseller.

The same lack of persistence applies to the vendor-partner relationship in ecosystems. Vendors have the same freedom of choice. Channel sales and account managers will often default to the partners they know rather than searching for those with the right attributes. As more channel management teams push the ecosystem concept to their sellers, specializations will help them identify new partners with the right attributes more easily.

This underscores a challenge that’s seldom discussed: the need for partners to actively market their capabilities. Having certifications isn’t enough. If partners want success in ecosystems, they must actively market their capabilities, certifications, methodologies, and success stories to their vendors and peers. They can’t count on vendor sales reps and CAMs to seek them out; with hundreds of partners at their disposal, those reps tend to gravitate toward the brightest and most active.

Again, none of this is new. Since the channel’s inception, vendors have tried to get partners to differentiate based on capabilities and value propositions. Suppose ecosystems are the preferred means of going to market (as Channelnomics argues, suggesting that the channel has always operated as an ecosystem). In that case, vendors must do more than just provide certifications; they need to offer resources and encouragement for partners to elevate their profiles and stand out.

Larry Walsh is the CEO, chief analyst, and founder of Channelnomics. He’s an expert on the development and execution of channel programs, disruptive sales models, and growth strategies for companies worldwide. Follow him on Twitter at @lmwalsh_CN.

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