Major changes to partner go-to-market among IDC 2017 channel predictions

Other IDC projections for the year ahead include strong partner moves into the digital transformation market, an emphasis on Customer Success programs, and changes to vendor Partner Success models.

Steve White, Program VP, Channels and Alliances at IDC

On a Thursday webcast, IDC made its Channels and Alliances 2017 predictions. This year the analyst firm chose seven broad themes, and made assessments of what will happen this year in them.

One noteworthy forecasting of change is in partner go-to-market models.

“By 2019 65 per cent of top partners will have changed their go-to-market model, to better find and serve targeted customers,” said Pam Miller, Research Director, Infrastructure Channels Research at IDC.

Increased use of marketplaces will be important here.

“Partners are increasingly using marketplaces to create and offer solutions with a single invoice,” Miller said. “Marketplaces are already becoming the de facto route for smaller applications, and the marketplaces that have the deepest and broadest selection of ISV applications, and the most developers, will win.”

Miller said they expect to see more of partners choosing marketplaces that also provide access for their end customers, indicating that partners shouldn’t worry that customers will go through that other channel and disintermediate them.

“It’s not channel conflict, because it helps partners,” she said. “Customers can track the success they are having, and see the value partners provide.”

Outside marketplaces, Miller sees partner finders becoming more important. While these have been around on vendor sites for ages, the trend now is to use them to help customers obtain solutions.

“Vendors are putting effort into improving these, and it’s on their top lists of things to do this year,” she said.

“Partners also focusing more marketing activities where their customers spend time online, and on trusted sources, whether LinkedIn or specialized groups,” Miller added. “In these, the context of the message will become more important than the message itself. The best partners will leverage social media in the trusted environments their customers choose, using blogs, tweets and posts to send messages to customers where they are.”

Another trend for 2017 is the spread of Customer Success programs

“Customer success must be a priority for both vendors and partners,” said Steve White, Program VP, Channels and Alliances at IDC. “It will be drilled into vendor programs and be a core part of partner measurement.” White said this will be reflected in channel programs, with the post sale process becoming as important as the pre-sale.

White also stressed that vendors’ ability to track customer data will become critical this year.

“We think this year partners will use tracked customer data to become a differentiator,” he said. “Vendors who nail that quickest will really help their partners.”

Partner success is something that vendors have measured for years, but changes to that process are another of the IDC predictions.

“Historically, this has been easy for vendors to measure, but this is now being redefined,” said Paul Edwards, IDC’s Research Director, Software Channels Research.

One aspect of this, Edwards said, will be the channel increasingly being divided into haves and have-nots.

“This is being accelerated by partners having to increase focus beyond on one or two things,” he stated.

On the other hand, vendors will not have as much sway over the ‘have’ partners.

“Vendors will have less influence over the channel than they did a year ago,” Edwards said. “In particular, transformative partners who focus on their own IP reduce their reliance on vendors, and are less concerned with traditional vendor programs and benefits.”

Vendors will respond, Edwards said, by attempting to make partner programs more agile.

“They are rethinking partner program design,” he indicated. “The direction is towards more modular frameworks that can quickly adapt to industry and partner trends.”

Partner Ecosystems will also see significant changes in 2017, in another of the IDC trends

“In the next 3-4 years, at least 30 per cent of the channel will not be there in the same form,” said Margaret Adam, Program Director, IDC’s European Channels and Alliances program. “Partners are also going through own transformation. Borders between partner types are starting to blur.” Vendors are also recruiting non-traditional partners based on expertise and market focus rather than specific activities.

One of these forecasted changes in the ecosystem is increased partner interest in startups.

“It’s time to get serious about startups,” Adam said. The thinking here is that as digital transformation becomes increasingly important to customers, startups are in the driver’s seat because they tend to have the latest and greatest technology.

Increased vertical focus has been happening for a while at the channel’s cutting edge, but IDC thinks 2017 is the year when it becomes more mainstream.

“Next year at least 20 per cent of partners will have restructured to have vertical, customer facing sales and solution organizations,” Adam stated. Congruent with this will be the rise of a channel around what IDC terms the Third Platform, that nexus of cloud, social, mobile, and Big Data. IDC also sees new ecosystems emerging around industry cloud programs.

“This will lead to new alliances,” Adam said. “It will also lead to vendors refocusing and driving more industry-centric partnering. One impact will be encouraging more partner specializing with certification programs.”

Alliance transformation itself is another of the big trends.

“We see alliance transformation becoming critical in organizations’ success model by 2020,” said Christopher Webber, Research Director, Strategic Alliances Research at IDC. “Alliances reduce business risk, increase customer retention and satisfaction, and fill short and long term skills and market gaps.”

Webber said that alliance organizations will also have to undertake internal changes, including new business practices, BI analytics, and focusing on strategic areas rather than tactical marketing.

“Change though provides opportunities,” he stated. “The most successful alliances will transform to be trusted CFO advisors and an agent of change.”

Last, and certainly not least, is the increased importance of digital transformation.

“Digital transformation is an overarching theme for the third platform,” White said. “Customer acceptance is really high and growing. We see it as a big growth opportunity. We think it will be baked into partner programs this year to help partners help their customers with their digital journey.”

Increased emphasis on the Internet of Things will be one aspect of this, including much more focused vendor programs, and more focused partners.

Another area of increased emphasis will be in what IDC calls AI, but which is also called cognitive computing and machine learning by others.

“A lot of vendors have moved into this in the last 12-18 months,” White said. “We think there will be a race to partner dominance as well, and we think the partners who act first and get in earlier will tend to have more success.”