Don’t Try To Fit Ecosystem Partners into a Channel Hole

There are a lot of different ways you can work with partners.

Two of the more common ways that are getting a lot of opportunities right now are referred to as Channel & Ecosystem Partnerships. There are, of course, a lot of similarities between these kinds of partnerships, but they’re also quite different.

Many companies fail to reach the full potential of their ecosystem because they’re trying to treat them in the same manner as their channel partners. This doesn’t work and is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

When trying to build a partnership program from scratch, I ran into this realization. Due to our position in the market and the maturity of our company, we naturally started working with ecosystem partnerships over channel partnerships.

But when trying to learn and teach myself about partnerships, everything I found alluded to building a program “channel style.” This hindered the growth of my partnership program.

I was essentially trying to run a diesel car on gasoline 🤦‍♂️.

So why doesn’t it work? Let me break it down for you.

Channel partnerships

This is where you’d generally group your affiliate, reseller, referral, and solution partnerships. They’re transactional by nature, and there’s typically somewhat of a hierarchy with a vendor (you) and a promoter (the partner).

Essentially, they promote your product in one way or another and get rewarded 💰.

Ecosystem partnerships

Ecosystem partnerships are quite different – they’re collaborative by nature rather than transactional like channels 🤝.

Instead of a vendor & partner relationship, where vendors have most of the power –  in ecosystem partnerships, partners have equal power.

The most common approach to ecosystem partnerships is technology partnerships, where two ISVs (independent software vendors) collaborate.

Different partnerships require different management styles

When managing a channel program, typically, your partner team works with a smaller group of stakeholders at the partner company.

Whereas with ecosystem partnerships, your entire organization should ideally collaborate with the entire partner organization. Individual account executives collaborate with each other, and so forth.

This is where the difficulty comes in.

Historically, partnership programs are built on a channel approach, but trying to fit an ecosystem partner into a channel approach doesn’t really work.

When you’re working with ecosystem partners, the most important partnership is the partnership with your internal stakeholders. 

If you can get partners to collaborate with the partner team, they'll eventually run like a self-playing piano 🎹.

When your sales team goes out of its way to recruit partners, collaborate on partner activities, scope integration projects, or actively engage with your partners without you asking them, you know you’re on track when their goals are aligned with yours.

Play the long-game

It’s difficult to brute force this kind of collaboration, and it takes time.

Focus on your internal partner champions, and create success stories with these teams that lead to a FOMO (fear of missing out) appearing for the other teams.

It’s impossible to motivate someone, but you can inspire someone to motivate themselves.

Don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole. Start thinking and approaching ecosystem partners differently, with your internal stakeholders being the star of the show ⭐️.

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