The partner empathy approach

Jason Beal, vice president, worldwide partner ecosystems, Barracuda, explains how vendors can work to better understand partners and respond to their needs.

Communication and mutual understanding sit at the heart of a successful channel programme. To foster the positive relationships that lead to business success for both vendor and partners, we’ve introduced an approach we call partner empathy.

Empathy is defined as the ability to share someone’s feeling or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation. Partner empathy means putting ourselves in our partners’ shoes.

It means taking time to really listen to our partners and their customers and learning as much about their businesses and challenges as possible. It also involves recognising that technology products are just one part of the total solutions channel partners are offering to solve customers’ business challenges.

Partner empathy may sound to some like a soft approach, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a practical, proven business practice that helps vendors to understand the challenges and opportunities their partners grapple with every single day.

The outcome of this approach is that vendors can then equip their partners with the technology, expertise, services and support they need to overcome obstacles so they can grow their business. This approach can help partners to add new revenue streams such managed services, as well as helping to ensure partners’ own customers are protected against the latest threats.

Sometimes it’s about sharing the latest threat intelligence and up-to-minute sales enablement tools. Sometimes it is simply about getting the sales teams together in a room and hitting the phones and prospect lists, side by side. Most of the time, it’s both.

Cyber channel challenges

Cybersecurity is a fast-moving market, with powerful trends towards cloud-native, service-based consumption of security solutions, vendor consolidation, multi-channel buying preferences and the need for additional managed support such as extended detection and response (XDR) and SOC-as-a-service.

Every day, our partners face increased competition from other vendors for customers and skills. They also face a client base looking to achieve more from IT security budgets, exploring new flexible buying options and demanding 24/7 monitoring, detection and remediation to defend against aggressive, rapidly evolving threats.

Our own research shows that up to half of managed service providers struggle with such challenges, and many more. It’s hardly surprising our survey also found that stress levels remain high within the profession.

One team partnership

Like many specialist industries, cybersecurity can suffer from vendor myopia, with individual vendors viewing the world from the perspective of their own products and go-to-market strategy.

It’s a natural approach for ensuring healthy sales and revenues, and it may once have been a good fit for a channel environment that was focused on shifting products and volume sales.

However, those days are over. Vendor myopia is at odds with a modern market that has a greater need for a more value-driven and less transactional approach.

Vendors should take an outside-in approach and view trends and demands from their partners’ perspective. Take a step back and look at the needs of the end customer and the partner, and working together to identify and resolve issues. Helping partners to understand how hyperscaler markets can be an opportunity rather than a threat, for example, and how to navigate them.

As vendors, we are better positioned to support partners’ businesses if we understand their own success metrics and the KPIs that matter to them. The partners, in turn, have access to customer feedback and insight that can help us enhance our products.

Fostering collaboration

This leads to a shared success model that’s a win-win for everyone. End customers have their IT security demands met and can focus on their core business propositions. Partners develop more meaningful, long-term customer relationships. And vendors know they are successfully meeting partner needs.

The return to spending time with partners in person continues to feel exhilarating. What matters is that partners have a wide range of options for connecting with us, as and when they need to.

Engagement at this level means we are in the best position to set our partners up to succeed and helping them to succeed is what it is all about.

This opinion piece appeared in our February 2024 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.