September 18, 2014

Come together: Collaborating Solution Providers

One of the great things about the channel is that it is full of independent, entrepreneurial individuals. But that’s also one of the challenges that many solution providers face.

As technology continues to become more complex, and specialized expertise more valuable to business customers, it’s natural that not every solution provider is going to be able to provide every solution to every customer. But no one wants to leave money on the table, much less give up said money to a local rival.

There are a variety of reasons solution providers come together to get work done. It may be because a solution involves a technology that you’re not particularly comfortable with. It may be because a client has a branch office outside your region. It may be because a customer needs products or services that, quite frankly, don’t fit with your business model or interests.

And beyond the solution-specific drivers that may be involved, there is evidence that partner-to-partner connections can be a rising tide that raises all boats. Consider this new study from Channel Partners and CompTIA, which shows that when telecom resellers work with IT solution providers, the result is better profitability for all involved.

But it doesn’t matter why you work with other solution providers, as much as it matters how you work with other solution providers.

Sure, if you need some help with a customer who wants to deploy a CRM solution, you could just hop on a vendor’s partner-finder site and hunt one down that way. But then, so could your customer without your help.

No, this is where all those years of networking comes in handy. There are a variety of communities for solution providers, from CompTIA’s industry events, to multi-vendor industry events like the Xchange series in the U.S. or ChanneNext in Canada, to distributor reseller groups, to independent organizations like HTG Peer Groups, SMB Nation, or The ASCII Group. All of them provide a great platform to really get to know your peers. They give you the opportunity to find out what they’re good at and what they do, but more importantly, it gives you a chance to find out who they are and how they do what they do.

In many ways, the owner-to-owner or cultural connection between your organization and theirs is more important than what they do. Sure, they have to be technically expert and provide good customer service. That’s table stakes. But for a relationship between solution providers to really work, the organizations have to be compatible, and each has to be comfortable with the other representing them in front of their customers.

That networking homework means that when a customer calls you up with a need that’s outside your comfort zone, the answer is likely no further than your smartphone’s address book or your LinkedIn contact list.

So you’ve made the connections at an industry event to a fellow solution provider you think you can do business with. Now what? You’ll want to work together in the spirit of friendship, but the context of business. That is to say: this may be someone you’ve known for a long time, had many a beer with at a number of events over the years, and whose business and culture you respect and identify with. But for the protection of all parties involved – yours, your prospective partner’s, and that of your respective clients – this does need to be a little more formal than a handshake deal.

It doesn’t need to be a super-formal or adversarial contract, but there does need to be a contract in place that spells out the rules of engagement, the responsibilities and expectations on all parties involved, and the ways of addressing any problems or concerns that may come up when working together.

Like any relationship, it’s not always easy for two organizations to work cohesively together. But like any relationship, it’s doubly rewarding when it does work out well for all involved.

How have you been successful working with other solution providers? What challenges have you faced in working with other MSPs or VARs, and how have you overcome those challenges? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Robert Dutt About Robert Dutt

Robert Dutt is a veteran IT Journalist and Blogger. He covers the Canadian IT technology solution provider scene at ChannelBuzz.ca. You can also find him on Twitter.