Early in my career, I received wise but tough coaching from a manager regarding struggles with a new colleague on a strategic project: Pull them aside and have a real, candid conversation with the pursuit of clarity and understanding for the sake of the shared vision and mutual success. The “real talk” that my colleague and I then had enabled us to make a breakthrough and achieve success for that project. Like that candid conversation, at Forrester’s 2024 B2B Summit, we hosted a panel discussion for real talk with partner ecosystem leaders representing an array of business models — managed service provider (Leslie Chiorazzi, CMIT Solutions), system integrator (Donna Meshaka, KPMG), and distributor (Curtiz Gangi, Ingram Micro).

The panelists acknowledged that their go-to-market approach is evolving to create meaningful connections across their network of suppliers and partners to create an ecosystem that delivers increased, more holistic value for customers and other benefactors. But this ecosystem-centric GTM evolution is not without its challenges for suppliers to drive increased growth. The good news is that they also shared some gems for ecosystem GTM success.

Challenges Hindering Partner Relationships

  • Competing on price is a losing strategy. Competing solely on price is no longer a priority for modern B2B buyers. Today’s buyers are willing to pay more for higher-value outcomes. Hence, partners’ uniquely additive offerings and capabilities should be viewed by suppliers as an appreciable asset and not a commodity.
  • Buyers expect a complete solution. Ecosystem partners recognize that B2B buyers expect a holistic solution that often requires multiple products and services from different suppliers and partners. Collaboration and seamless integration among partners and suppliers are crucial to deliver value throughout the customer lifecycle.
  • The longtail of partners matter. Smaller partners, often acting as trusted advisors, can represent a significant customer base. Suppliers should not overlook them and, instead, invest in their growth, provide enablement, and support customer engagement to ensure success for all customers.

Four “Gems” For Ecosystem GTM Success

  • Listening. Ecosystem partners can serve as valuable signal providers that suppliers can leverage to navigate the market and deliver value. Partners are unabashedly vocal and eager to provide feedback. Suppliers should actively listen, take notes, and glean insights for enhancements and innovative approaches.
  • Competence. Ecosystem partners play a pivotal role in customers’ success since they are often closer to the customer than the supplier. Partners place a high premium on suppliers’ competence and are apt to switch to another supplier if necessary to ensure customer success.
  • Trust. Building genuine relationships with ecosystem partners goes beyond transactional interactions. Suppliers should focus on establishing trust, as it encourages commitment, mindshare, and preference for mutual business growth and customer success.
  • Leadership. Ecosystems can be complex, but suppliers have a unique opportunity to lead and orchestrate partner ecosystems for the shared goal of delivering value for mutual customers. This leadership role requires active listening, consistent competence, trust-building, accountability, and transparency. Embracing leadership will drive a more effective and evolved GTM strategy with partner ecosystems.

Real talk: Partners matter! They are crucial in both direct and indirect business models. Suppliers must prioritize and communicate the value of all ecosystem partners within their organization, not just through sales numbers, marketing narratives, and slide decks. It is essential to demonstrate a commitment to ecosystem-centric GTM success through actions, behaviors, and core principles — active listening, competence, trust, and leadership. Follow me on LinkedIn for more real talk. Forrester clients can also schedule a guidance session to delve deeper.