With the entire world trying to automate everything through software, we ask the question, how much can you get away with automating? 

As a human race, we are designed to be collaborative. From the early days of hunter gatherers to the modern ways of working in project environments, everything is driven by people and groups of people at that. 

We see software in the market these days that claims to automate the entire process. But at what cost? 

Take away the human aspect and get the software to do all the work and you remove what differentiates you as a company. 

Let’s say that every company adopts the same software that “automates everything”. The only difference in process would be the price of the product. Especially when we look at how most software products, within cybersecurity especially, are built these days. Many of them are built on open-source technologies so there is no clear difference on the quality of the products themselves. 

The differentiation needs to come from the team. 

So you’ve bought your partner portal, you’ve automated the reseller agreement, the partner signs up, you auto approve the application, the partner accesses the training videos that you uploaded into the portal, obtains the pricing from the portal, runs a campaign from the portal to generate some leads, registers a deal, closes the deal as won all without any contact with a human being. 

Sounds like the ideal situation, right? Partners apply, they get approved and then just start transacting! If only it were that easy. 

It takes time to get traction with the channel. The partner needs to feel confident in what they are doing. They need to know that they are supported by a human being as opposed to just an automated process. Contact with an actual person during the onboarding is the most crucial time of the relationship that there should be contact. That contact can reduce over time but there will always be human involvement.  

Let’s look at the journey of a partner to see what can be automated and what can’t 

Partner recruitment 

Partner recruitment involves getting interest from a partner to work with you as well as the qualification of the partner to make sure they are a good fit for you. You can go as far as automating partner recruitment campaigns to generate interest from the partner but there still needs to be a human in the process to qualify them. 

You can trigger a campaign that pushes content out to social media or email to generate the interest, but anyone can acknowledge these campaigns and apply.  

In the initial stages of building your channel, the partner recruitment side of the business involves personal outreach to partners to gather interest.  

It’s a lot of individual touch points and meeting setting with the partner to build a relationship. A relationship can’t be built with software alone. 

We can automate outreach to specific profiles within an ecosystem but how often have you received impersonal correspondence from someone and known that it is a canned message and thus ignored it? 

Even when the person reached out to accepts the automated message, we still need a human to interact with that person.  

Partner onboarding 

Contracts 

What happens if there are change requests on the contract on behalf of the partner? You can automate the signing of the contract if you have a one size fits all but often there are requests from distributors and partners to make changes to contracts to suit their way of working. 

Training of partners 

Having conducted many training sessions with partners and distributors in varying ways, the most economical way to do this is face to face. In the initial stages of the partnership there are always likely to be lots of questions related to your products that can’t always be answered by providing training videos. Learning management systems are good and work well for what they are intended but they can never fully replace the human aspect that is required. Loading your channel management system with training videos and hoping for the best is not a good strategy as the likelihood of those videos being used to fully ramp up a partner is slim. Update videos and refresher training is about as much as it can be automated.  

There are vendors that provide self-learn materials to certify but these vendors tend to be the larger vendors who provide the base product to a partners portfolio. The incentive is there for the partner to learn using this method but when your product is an add on product to their base product, you need to work with the partner to train them on this because, otherwise, they can just go to another vendor who will do that. The choice is plentiful in a market that is full of “me too” solutions.  

Business planning 

Automating a business plan is never a good idea without prior agreement from both parties on what the targets and expectations are. The initial business planning needs to be conducted in unison between two parties but can be automated after the initial planning has occurred. Let’s say you agree on a target of $1m for the distributor / partner in the first year, you need to understand how that target is going to be met and the steps required to hit that target. It needs discussion and agreement. 

Once it has been agreed, the automation can occur on the monthly revenues attained by the partner which carries over the missed revenue or hit revenues to the next month to work out the math.  

Marketing planning 

As with business planning, marketing planning is a human-to-human activity that requires plans for steps to be taken to meet the goals of the business plan. Agreements need to be made and expectations need to be set. 

Once the plan is in place and agreements are made, we can then start automating. MDF applications that are calculated against the attained revenue from the partner, payouts for co-funded activities, lead capturing and lead distribution. It can all be automated but the human element is still a major factor in the success of the activities. 

Channel marketing tools can be utilised for running campaigns across tiers for social posting and email marketing and that is where automation works the best. Activities that need repeat actions that are monotonous. What happens to the comments on those social posts though? That’s going to need some human interaction.  

Selling through the partner 

Until AI catches up to the levels of being able to fully mimic a person on a call and support the partner in the positioning of solutions, you are going to have to do this yourself. There is deepfake technology that can imitate a human giving a speech but is that technology good enough to replace you on a call? Probably not. Many people think you must onboard the partner and they will just sell millions of dollars’ worth of product. It doesn’t work like that. You need to support them with everything that you have. You can automate a certain level with data sheets, tech demos and product assets being made available on demand, but you still need to be there to support that partner in face-to-face situations.  

Monthly business reviews 

Guess what? Can’t be fully automated. To sit down with the partner and go through the previous months’ results is not something that software can do just yet. What the software can do is make that data available to go through, which is the automated side of it. Any data that is handled by the software is true data because everything is centralised but you still need to have those conversations with the partners.  

Tier advancements and margin adjustments 

A task that can be automated! Software is ideal for this because it can keep track of your partner’s progress and automatically increase the level of the partner. What happens if you need to manually override a partner’s tier or increase the margin manually though? Again, human intervention. 

The partner requests a discount. Can you automate this? You could do but you are likely going to be inundated with requests for a discount so the system can be beat. It needs case-by-case approval from a human to ensure that discounting isn’t abused. 

Lead distribution 

The partner requests technical support on that lead, that needs to go to a person to acknowledge and action.  

Can be automated but how do you make it fair on who gets what leads? You can setup workflows to do a round robin where a partner in a certain territory gets a lead and then another partner in a certain territory gets the next lead. What if you have a lead come in that is specifically for a certain partner though? This again, requires manual assignment of the lead. 

Summary 

We can automate everything in the channel but if you take away that human element it’s going to hinder the rate at which you build your channel. People buy from people, and we have seen it time and time again where the partner will follow the channel person who worked with them to another vendor when they leave. 

We are in big danger of over automating everything which is going to remove the personal touch and destroy the way that business is conducted globally. Business is conducted via relationships. 

The software is there to support relationships and make life easier but it’s certainly not there to completely replace the human element. 

If we remove the human element, there would be no need for humans in the channel full stop and the software will be doing the entire process which will destroy the economy. No more jobs for people if the machines can do it all. 

No matter what the world is trying to do right now, you still can’t take away the fact that people buy from people. The human aspect is never going to disappear, or we will end up being locked up in our own vessels, away from society with software doing the jobs of the world. 

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