Cloud Partner Segmentation

In one of our previous blogs  we defined what a partner ecosystem is, and which entities it consists of. Next we would like to take the partner ecosystem discussion one step further – and see how it fits the cloud computing opportunity.

One of the common mistakes that many in the channel make is the assumption that cloud partners are in fact a new partner breed. We don’t agree. We do believe that we have come to a next wave in the IT industry and that the way IT is developed (apps), deployed (cloud), used (BYOD) and analyzed (Big Data) causes some major disruption in the channel landscape.

But even so – in this new environment partner capabilities do not change drastically. Capabilities still range from transaction to interaction related capabilities. The skills needed to fulfill these capabilities do change though. Where once the channel needed to carry & install servers, they now need to (re)sell virtual online infrastructure. Where once a service provider needed to host CRM vendor beauty contests, they now need to have (mobile) web presence, and a ‘rent here’ button on their website.

OK, we admit – the cloud also presents new opportunities for the partner community, like cloud brokerage, cloud service providers, cloud audits, cloud security policies, cloud migration services etc. However, ditch the word cloud, and it becomes obvious that these capabilities are already existing partner capabilities. Chances are high that a vendor’s existing partner base already has the capability, but not the skills to use it in the cloud.

Vendors will need to educate (and motivate) their existing partner community on how to deploy their capability in the cloud. Rather than recruiting for the new – examining the channel in place might be a more cost effective and also a necessary first step.

Segmenting existing partners to fit the cloud
The existing partner has:

  • considerable investments in a vendor’s technology
  • and thus a higher level of loyalty
  • they know the potential up sell of services around products
  • and have account managers in place and know how to work with vendor requirements

The downside is that they are usually segmented to traditional roles from transaction (distributor, reseller) to interaction (service provider, consultant) related roles that do not include specific cloud capability. With any luck (or not) a vendor may have added the category of cloud solution provider – but that leaves a practical problem. After all, who fills this category? Existing solution providers with cloud activity? SaaS VARs? Native cloud providers? In other words, adding a new category, does not solve the problem.

Traditional segmentation does not do justice to capability. In a fast changing and growing market like the cloud computing market, experimenting with different segmentation techniques pays off. Think about the following:

  • Segmentation to size or coverage – revenue based (like the SMB space, more likely to use cloud computing solutions, and cloud infrastructure), client coverage or client ownership (sales & marketing, or mobile roles who are more likely to use cloud computing functionality), vertical markets, local, national or regional coverage (countries that lead the way in cloud adoption).
  • Segmentations to broader partner types – such as influence partners (high profile partners who have some marketing dollars to spend on cloud), hosting partners (who may have a ‘trusted advisory’ role with high-end enterprise users), or technology partners (who may have access to early adopters for example).
  • Segmentation to cloud activity – major vendors are using partner cloud categories like Build & Develop and Sell & Service Partners (Microsoft) or Cloud Builder, Cloud Provider, Cloud Service Provider (Cisco).
  • Segmentation to growth potential – like market presence partners (partners who can mobilize or evangelize a market), growth capacity (partners who develop specific technology expertise like cloud for example), fulfillment partners (those partners with a large customer base and low technology expertise), or entrepreneurial partners (start-ups with substantial potential need to be managed differently than just small partners).

Using different segmentation techniques is a low cost effort to identify those partners within your existing partner base that are most likely to adopt new technology, who have access to a customer base that’s open to adopt cloud based computing, who have enough customer intimacy to actually provide advice on cloud, and who have the potential to grow. In traditional segmentations, these partners may fall of the radar, because they are either not big enough, or not globally based, or simply placed within the wrong category. If it turns out that within the new segmentation, there are still blind spots to fill, a partner recruitment effort is the next step. The advantage is that instead of recruiting 5000 new partners, you can recruit very specific for the niche partners you need to fill the gaps. With alternative segmentation techniques, vendors can identify those partners based on the selection criteria they feel are necessary to actually grow in a specific market.

Traditional segmentation is nice to have, but differentiation is a must have to succeed in the cloud market. With the development of new technologies a differentiated partner segmentation will help vendors to identify those partners needed to bring ideas to life and products to market. Differentiation will also help vendors identify what skills are already in place with their existing partner base. Leveraging existing skills and capabilities creates room to invest in recruitment of new and additional skills instead of overlapping  skills. In other words, differentiation will help to renew the balance within the ecosystem.


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About Simone de Bruin