Introducing a new partner-type Lingua Franca for the new era

By Peter O'Neill

We have been getting numerous inquiries from both vendor and user clients about the strange collection of terms used to describe partners in our industry.
What is a "Preferred Partner"? Who prefers them and why should that be important to me the buyer.     Or what does "Advanced Partner" mean?
So we looked at the partner-taxonomy for 16 different IT vendors and, lo and behold, it is truly a mess!

Of course, compared with other industries, the IT industry is still relatively young and we are still more influenced by technology than business trends – so most decisions of this type are still made by technology experts with only occasional business-savvy. The partnerships that IT vendors develop and communicate tend to reflect their bias.

And yes, our partnership monikers reflect inconsistent usage and even abuse of terminology, so it is no wonder that buyers find themselves confused by the morass of definitions.
As our industry evolves toward maturity, the ecosystem of supply chain and channel partners will become less dynamic and we should now begin to push for an industry-standard taxonomy when communicating partnerships and partner portfolios to buyers. Forrester has made a stab at a partnership taxonomy and proposes the following groupings are adopted when listing vendor partners to external audiences:

Technology partners. Partners that provide platform technology, hardware, or software underlying the business solution proffered. This partnership is important to buyers wanting to know these details for architectural and vendor governance reasons.
Solution partners. Partners leverage the vendor’s technology into a purchasable business technology solution by adding their own technology, which is productized.
Implementation partners. Partners certified to implement the vendor’s technology through customization and project programming.
Consulting partners. The consulting offering can include the phases of technology selection as well as business process and organization consulting. The partner CAN also be listed as an implementation partner.
Hosting partners. Many business solutions are now offered in a managed services, an outsourcing, or even an SaaS scenario.
Education/training partners. These companies offer classroom or computer-based education.

Please see the Forrester report just published here: Forrester's Partner-Type Taxonomy: Lingua Franca For A New Era

These partner types are not mutually exclusive: A partner will often be qualified as more than one type. But this is the partner-type information that most interests a buyer. After all, the primary audience for communicating partnerships is prospective buyers, with the secondary audience being potential partners themselves. So it is therefore important to provide clarity and transparency about which partners a vendor is working with. The above listing simplifies the partner classifications for this purpose.

Other findings: well, you should definitely avoid the “strategic” moniker. Buyers perceive no immediate value from an additional label on the partnership such as “strategic” because the only “strategic” they care about is the commitment to their installation.
Also, many vendors who have more complicated product portfolios of hardware and software, or even several different types of software often end up with a long list of labels alluding to product type or "solution competencies.” The larger the vendor is, the more complex and laborious this list becomes. If you must, introduce the product or competency specialization under the above generic terms list to make it easier for the audience.

That is our proposal but we’d also like your feedback. Do you agree with us? Do you propose a different or modified taxonomy? We are going to continue our thinking and work out a similar taxonomy for the new types of partnerships around SaaS.  So please leave a comment
Always keeping you informed!