As B2B Sales Go Digital During COVID-19, Companies Mustn't Forget Partners In 2020 and beyond, it's as much about partner experience as it is about customer experience
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
You're reading Entrepreneur Asia Pacific, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.
The global transition to remote workforces amid the COVID-19 pandemic has sent the already steady growth of B2B software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies into warp drive. To keep capitalizing, these businesses are waking up to this new landscape's evolving demands, though they're more alive to some than others.
With the BVP Nasdaq Emerging Cloud Index indicating a 48 per cent leap in the stock prices of cloud software companies since February, B2B SaaS companies are positioning themselves to ride the wave precipitated by the pandemic; they are rapidly adapting the manner in which they sell their products, keeping step with a dramatically accelerated trend away from traditional, in-person sales processes towards digital interactions.
According to a recent McKinsey report, digital interactions are now two to three times more important to their business purchasers than traditional sales interactions. More than ever, notes last month's Forrester report, purchasers are demanding outstanding digital experiences on par with those enjoyed by regular online consumers. B2B businesses know this, and thus trends towards omnichannel selling, tech-enabled selling and B2B e-commerce are quickly gaining momentum in the midst of COVID-19.
But B2B businesses can't overlook the other side of the coin, as business purchasers aren't the only ones to whom B2B companies will need to provide streamlined, digitized experiences. In the post-pandemic era, cloud software companies will owe these digitized end-to-end experiences to the often unsung heroes of cloud sales: the third-party channel partners selling on behalf of vendors and ultimately driving upward of 70 per cent of global revenue.
In 2020 and beyond, it's as much about partner experience as it is about customer experience. And for B2B cloud companies—and really anyone hoping to better comprehend the inner workings of channel sales—it's critical to carefully consider what's needed for the modern SaaS company to optimize how they do business with their trusted channel partners.
Digitizing sales and marketing enablement for channel partners
For those less familiar with the somewhat complex world of channel sales, today's SaaS companies depend upon third-party "partners'—i.e., resellers, affiliate partners, distributors, value-added providers, or independent retailers—to sell the lion's share of their software. The reason for the 50 per cent increase in channel sales over a decade is that SaaS companies benefit from the built-in credibility, wider reach, and cost-effectiveness of established channel partners.
During the pandemic, the role of these partners is taking on greater importance, and so continually enhancing the channel partner experience becomes paramount to your B2B business' success. Not surprisingly, in much the same way that business purchasers now expect the enhanced digital interactions enjoyed by online customers, enhancing the way your channel partners work with you also requires going digital.
The best way to streamline your channel partner experience for the new era involves digitizing all your sales and marketing activities. The biggest RoI comes with digitizing your sales and marketing collateral.
In order for channel partners to successfully sell your company's product, a SaaS company must equip them with the sales tools and marketing assets necessary to effectively communicate its message. But with tradeshows and business travel on hold due to COVID-19, go-to-market collateral—including sales guides, scripts, sales sheets, battlecards and digital marketing materials—must be both standardized and digitized.
The key to centralizing and automating these sales and marketing assets can be found in a through-channel marketing automation (TCMA) system. A TCMA automatically distributes these materials among all channel partners once a new marketing campaign launches. In other words, all new and updated go-to-market resources get instantly deployed to all of your channel partners.
As the selling itself becomes digital, so too must the processes underlying and driving that sale. During COVID-19, that starts with B2B companies prioritizing investment towards optimizing channel partners' sales and marketing efforts.
Digitizing scalable fulfillment helps your channel partners
For SaaS companies, part of delivering an outstanding digital experience for business purchasers is ensuring that you can fulfill those customers' needs quickly and efficiently once they've decided to purchase your product – to do this at scale is what we call "scalable fulfillment." And yet, for many modern B2B businesses, their third-party channel partners are bearing much of the responsibility for payment, delivery, and maintenance.
Again, introducing and improving digital interactions with your purchasers means introducing and improving those interactions with your partners.
In this new era of e-commerce, the continued use of slow and costly one-off manual billing and provisioning processes doesn't set up channel partners for success with purchasers. Beyond provisioning, moreover, many companies still haven't moved past ad hoc or low-touch tech support processes for channel partners and their customers. Channel partners are therefore impeded in trying to quickly and efficiently resolve issues.
To streamline your channel partners' processes, your B2B business has got to create a single centralized system to automate procurement, fulfillment, billing and customer management. Digitize everything: leveraging tools and platforms like multi-channel management software and/or portfolio and catalog management software.
Meanwhile, your SaaS company should move to automate tech support for partners and their clients via third-party support providers or through IT ticketing system software.
Here partner experience and going digital is about automating fulfillment processes to support operations at everything from their lowest to highest volumes. Streamlining your partner's ability to bill, provision, and maintain your software on your behalf is critical to their and your success.
Efficiently Integrating Channel Partners into RevOps
In this time of distributed teams and scrutinized bottom lines, the last major way to optimize processes for your channel partner is by making sure you and your partner are totally in sync at all times with regard to your revenue generation goals, strategy, and progress.
Once more riffing on the same theme, efficiency comes with automating RevOps across the full customer life cycle. Optimized partner experience is achieved by digitally deploying the capacities to all channel partners to ensure continued alignment.
At a moment when analysts predict COVID-19 to accelerate B2B e-commerce sales, forward-thinking B2B businesses will invest in their partners by investing in a centralized e-commerce automation solution. By building a proprietary partner e-commerce automation solution along with a partner portal, your business can connect all channel partners with the company's product suite, allowing all partners to instantly access centralized, automated billing, usage, and reporting models.
Successful partners are those empowered with up-to-date, granular insights into the state of sales. Going forward, your B2B business must look to leverage application programming interfaces (APIs) to automate internal sales reporting to channel partners, affording them instantly the same degree of visibility enjoyed by your internal sales team.
Put these solutions, tools, and processes in place. If you want to keep up in the cloud market, listen to your partner, and keep your partner experience cutting-edge. Aligning channel partners towards a common revenue generation goal ultimately entails digitizing sales, marketing, and customer success operations at each and every step of the process.
In the coming years, this endeavor to empower your partner will carry over to all facets of your engagement. With up to 1 million software vendors set to crowd the $528 billion cloud services market by 2027, and COVID-19 kicking digitalization into even higher gear, the B2B business' success will depend on its ability to continually redefine the customer experience. But enhancing that experience will in turn require continually refining your partner engagement processes. From here on, customer obsession will mean partner obsession.