I have spent many years working with business partners, and as I consider the many partners I have worked with, there is a type of business that always seems to do very well. It’s the companies that identify themselves according to their specific capability strength (e.g. analytics, collaboration, security), as opposed to vendor expertise (e.g. IBM, Oracle, HP). Instead of saying “we are true blue,” meaning that all they do is IBM, they say, “we are an IT consulting firm specializing in analytics”, or “we are Enterprise Security experts”.
I am not saying that a business partner can’t be successful while being known for being product focused and aligned to a single vendor – there are plenty of good companies out there doing this very well. What I am saying is that the game changes when you represent a specific capability focus and have several products in your tool bag from multiple vendors that you could potentially use to solve specific business problems – we call this type of partners “Capability Experts”.
Put yourself in the place of the customer. Let’s say you have a bid out to contract a firm to help you design and implement a social collaboration solution. Which type of partner comes across as more of a trusted advisor? A partner who claims to be a Microsoft SharePoint guru, or a partner who claims to be a capability expert that specializes in collaboration and who can implement IBM, Microsoft, or Google? The customer will naturally sense that the capability expert comes to the table without a vendor bias, who will prescribe a fitting solution first, and help make a vendor/product selections later.
Capability Experts are also often brought in on the business problem early in the sales cycle, while Vendor Partners tend to be brought in later, after a design is accepted and the products are already chosen. Now they are being asked for a quote on a specific product because procurement says, “we need quotes from three different vendors”. Ok, how much of your reseller margin are you going to give away in order beat another partner who is quoting the same products?
In the Analytics space for IBM, we have worked a great deal with Business Partners who are strong Business Intelligence consultants. They have long led their consulting engagements using IBM Cognos as their tool of choice to build dashboards and reports for their customers. In the last few years, however, many of our Cognos Partners have added other vendor products to their tool bag, like Qlik and Tableau which were touted to be easier to use than Cognos. This an example where the Capability Expert (Our Analytics BP) chose different vendor tools depending on the customer requirements ensuring they are more of a Trusted Advisor.
If you have expertise with a particular capability such as Analytics or Security, consider offering multiple vendor product options to deliver your solution! Put the onus on the product vendors to create the best tools! You are the Solution expert!