FLUENT: Perspectives from Softcat
MAKE IT PERSONAL.
PARTNERSHIPS FOR LONG-TERM VALUE ARE ABOUT HEARTS AS WELL AS MINDS.
Competition is fierce. The pace of technology development is getting faster with new and innovative commercial models being created at a pace that only a decade ago would not have been believed.
That innovation is now an expected part of the customer experience journey, so how can partnerships play a role in maintaining a real competitive edge? It comes down to two things: having common goals but delivering through an uncommon vision and putting the human element first.
We have all heard people in leadership roles talk about the strategic value of long-term partnerships. In most cases, it is challenging to grow business relevance and customer reach as a single entity and partnering with other firms can provide access to expertise needed across the customer value chain. Whatever the business, suppliers, consultants, logistics, delivery, implementation, service maintenance - as examples - all have a critical role to play in delivering the high level of satisfaction that customers expect. However, the secret to longer term partnership value is less about the ‘what’ and more about the ‘how’.
At Softcat, we ally with multiple partners. These can include multi-level engagements with more than 300 vendors, small and large; an ecosystem of IT solutions and IT service partners; distributors and other industry peers. The Softcat difference, which we genuinely believe sits at the heart of our success, is in our culture that puts our people first. It is also a principle that applies to the relationships we strive to build with our partners.
But how does a business successfully cultivate relationships with a wide range of partners, large and small and stay true to its cultural DNA? Here are a few thoughts that may prove helpful.
Achieving close relationships with suppliers or vendors founded on clear goals are important to all businesses, and you will naturally work together at multiple levels of organisations to ensure the relationship can benefit both parties. But however commercially beneficial those relationships are, it’s the commitment to delivering not just on the technology needs of the end clients but sharing a passion for providing a genuinely rewarding experience along the way that ultimately counts.
For example, in the technology sector we work with innovative vendors who provide an impressive range of services – but time and time again, our customers tell us that it’s our way of doing business and our joint partnership efforts to add value over and above the commercial transaction that demonstrates an unprecedented commitment to answering client needs. The outcomes that deliver the highest satisfaction are those which start with an idea or an opportunity and then by working together, a solution is found that might not always be ‘off the shelf’. The key thing is to balance customer need against the
art of the possible, through leveraging the right skills and expertise in the organisation, together with technology offerings from our partner network. In making a judgement about a technology solution or service, we will use the technology from a customer perspective first to fully understand its relevance, its benefits and how it fits to market demand. As a customer-led organisation, we focus on taking our clients’ IT issues to vendor partners and seeing how they can be solved, as opposed to taking vendors’ products to clients and seeing where they might fit.
When you’re focused on meeting the needs of customers to gain long term trust as the first call to make when a technology need occurs, it follows that you need a bank of trusted partners who can help you step in with confidence and credibility when a customer has a critical issue to resolve. This means relationships with your suppliers need to be strategic, not merely transactional.
BUILD LONGER-TERM PARTNERSHIPS BASED ON MUTUAL CREDIBILITY.
In the technology sector, partnership certification programmes are an established way to signpost the credibility and quality level of those partnerships – and these help us in two different ways.
First, relationships with vendors that are backed by global standard certifications gives customer peace of mind in our levels of commitment and technology expertise. At Softcat, we invest heavily in education of our teams and operate with a mindset of continuous improvement which not only means we foster a culture that rewards talent and potential but means we consistently earn partner respect and recognition. Being a Microsoft Gold Partner, for example, signals our level of capability in that respect.
Secondly, this standard works the other way too. For example, when it comes to our ecosystem of trusted specialists who provide professional services on our behalf – we run a Softcat Services Partner programme of our own. Combined with a robust onboarding process, the programme continuously assesses a partner’s capacity to provide services that meet the Softcat customer need, helps partners to understand the level of commitment and expertise needed, plus
At Softcat, we invest heavily in education of our teams and operate with a mindset of continuous improvement which not only means we foster a culture that rewards talent and potential but means we consistently earn partner respect and recognition."
identifies the gaps which our own service development and expertise will address.
Certification programmes exist in many sectors – and provide a standard (and measure) of the market reputation you want to be known for and by association, the level of partner relationships you have.
KEEP AN OPEN MIND TO POSSIBILITIES
When establishing networks of partners to work with it is vital to keep an eye on both those technology providers that are growing in demand naturally as workforce practices change, but also those that offer more disruptive technologies too. Innovative products and vendors which may dominate the market in the future or may be starting to generate a new level of demand from a customer’s point of view. Positive partnership management is all about being relevant to customer need, keeping lines of communication open, being on hand to discuss both opportunities and risks and working together to find the right way forward.
At Softcat, we have aligned our partners to the four IT Priority areas that our customers have told us are key and put together a specific Vendor Council which brings together different stakeholders from across the business to discuss performance and opportunity on a regular basis. We encourage open conversations about how to get the best out of our existing partnership ecosystem as well as showcase new potential partnerships.
This approach also helps us to consider partner support needed to better engage with business opportunity, plan training, sales enablement and be ahead of new certifications on the roadmap.
When you work closely with partners from day to day, you soon recognise that you have more than the core products and services in common. The strongest relationships are also about sharing best practice not just in technology and common customer challenges across the sector, but also broader issues such as diversity and inclusion, talent and sustainability. Add to that, the very real issue of maintaining positive levels of employee engagement during this difficult period of COVID-19.
DEVELOP A JOINT VALUE PROPOSITION. STRONGER TOGETHER
For example, if diversity and inclusion is a hot topic across customers, think about what best practice insights can be gained by working together to better provide customers with advice. Similarly, sustainability is a critical topic, with many considerations, that touch both short and long-term partnership opportunities. There has never been a better time to extend a stronger joint value proposition and achieve differentiation as a result.
The strongest relationships are also about sharing best practice not just in technology and common customer challenges across the sector, but also broader issues such as diversity and inclusion, talent and sustainability."
BE THE FIRST CALL A PARTNER WANTS TO MAKE
All relationships need work – and relationships with our business partners are no exception.
So, even if COVID-19 restrictions mean you can’t meet face to face, keep the lines of communications open. Business is personal. Just having a call to say hello and checking in on a human level goes a long way to keeping it personal and will achieve stronger loyalty, both through the good times and bad.
It’s relationships that you invest in the most in that will yield the most in the long run."
Business briefings for your partners – to share trends, build confidence in joint goals and objectives are also important but keeping relationships going on a human level will ensure that you are the first call any partner wants to make daily. If anything, it’s more important to communicate now than ever – and of course, collaboration tools make it easier to do. After all, it’s relationships that you invest in the most in that will yield the most in the long run.
A U T H O R
James Baker Alliances and Marketing Director, Softcat
Joining Softcat in April 2014, James Baker brought experience from leadership roles at Insight EMEA, Veritas and Symantec to lead the management of partner relationships and now brings a dynamic forward thinking marketing strategy. While continuing to support Softcat’s extensive Microsoft relationship, in 2021, his focus has been on further building credibility for Softcat, as the number one partner of choice across our total partner network to jointly maximise brand and capability awareness and expand on addressable market opportunities as a result.
As a business leader, you know that creating great customer experiences is an essential part of growth. But putting the concept into practice can sometimes be harder than it sounds.
LOVE IN A COVID CLIMATE
We’re coming up to four weeks of working from home and have just heard from the government extending the lockdown for a further three weeks.
Just what the hell has been going on since Softcat, like every other company, transitioned to a WFH environment?
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