The majority of partners (89%) interviewed by AchieveUnite over the last year indicated they have more choices of providers than they had two years ago. To win partner mindshare and for future growth, companies must co-innovate, co-invest, and collaborate across the ecosystem. Successful channel, alliance, and partner ecosystem initiatives begin with a clear understanding of who your partners are and how you can support and enable their business goals.

One of the best ways to do this is through partner listening, where you set aside the time to intentionally listen to your partners about their goals and business challenges. The way you design your listening practice will greatly affect the type and quality of feedback and insights your partners share with you.

Here are six best practices proven to help you build the best long-term structure and space for partner feedback:

1. It’s all about consistency.

In our ever-changing business world, partner listening must be a constant. Your partner’s business environment and needs are constantly changing, and adopting the habit of regular listening will help you stay top-of-mind and competitive not only with your partners but also in the market.

2. Be intentional.

Consistency is paramount to partnering success, but this doesn’t mean that every interaction with your partner should look the same.

Think about your last three interactions with one of your partners. Was each interaction distinct? Did the conversations build on each other with little to no repetition?

If not, you are likely missing out on critical insight and knowledge that could bring both of your businesses to the next level.

To help break this repetition, spend time preparing for and reflecting on each conversation, set actionable goals and next steps during the conversation, and follow up on these actions in between meetings. It’s also important to mix up how and where you interact – we’ll cover this in greater detail in our next best practice.

3. Interact in new ways.

To break monotony and achieve greater growth with your partners, Partner Listening should happen in many forms throughout the year. Consider the following cadence:

Strategic Business Planning – Spending the time to work through a business plan with key partners, including what their value proposition is to their customers, who their customers are, what is your joint value proposition, etc., is a cornerstone of every partner listening strategy. And this shouldn’t happen in a one-and-done fashion. Keep a quarterly drumbeat with them to ensure you’re not stuck in tactical mode and continue to understand how their business is changing.

Advisory Councils – Advisory Councils are an effective way to identify, evaluate, and develop solutions to mutual challenges and opportunities with your partners. These councils are often preempted by discovery interviews completed by a third party that help you design an agenda that resonates with the current needs of your partners. We recommend hosting one to two formal Advisory Councils a year.

Virtual Roundtables – Small group roundtables are a great way to get partners together to discuss in a less formal setting three to four times a year. Small group settings are a great way to connect on a more intimate level with a select handful of partners who have similar business challenges and goals.

Surveys – Assessments like the AchieveUnite Vendor Maturity Index (VMi™) help you uncover misalignment between your partners’ perspective and internal teams’ perspective of your partner program and identify areas of improvement within your program. And although Surveys can sometimes have lower response rates than small group invites to an in-person or virtual event, it is an effective way to gain insights from a broad base of partners into the temperature of all or a segment of your partners.

4. Make it fun.

Dale Carnegie once said, “People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.”

When was the last time you connected with your partners outside the office, event hall, or zoom room?

After a recent Advisory Council we hosted, the vendor and their partners helmeted up and hit the track for an interactive race car experience. Having time in a less structured setting caused the partners to open up in a way that is hard to achieve in more formal settings. The vendor left with invaluable insights not previously brought up during the formal council meeting, and a deeper trusting relationship with each of the partners.

As you prepare for your upcoming partner listening event, I would love to hear your ideas for bringing more fun into the day!

5. One size does not fit all.

We know that North America, Latin America, APJ, and EMEA all have distinct approaches and ways of doing business that you need to consider when building your partner listening strategy. Spend time collaborating with your regional channel leaders before an event to construct a structure and flow that will resonate with the audience and enable you to be most effective in your goals.

6. Discovery is key. 

After working with your regional channel leaders on a customized event structure, we recommend discovery calls with your partners before any roundtable or Advisory Council. A one-on-one, 20-minute conversation before an event goes a long way in helping you identify a partner’s pain points and craft an agenda that resonates.

For example through discovery, you find that a common challenge across all partners is supply chain issues. By leading with this topic at the event, regardless of your ability to solve the problem, you set the tone and create a safe space for partners to feel heard, which leads to greater trust and loyalty over time. As we’ll discuss next, we also suggest having a third party lead these discovery calls.

No matter how strong your relationship may be, your partners will likely withhold deeper insight and information from you in settings where they feel overly vulnerable.

From our experience conducting thousands of partner discovery conversations and designing and assisting hundreds of roundtables and advisory councils, we have found that the best way to gain greater insight into what partners are truly thinking and seeing is through the support of a third party. Learn more about how AchieveUnite can help you build and develop your partner listening strategy and programs.