A customer-centric approach is crucial to building successful partner ecosystems, says Heather Tenuto, CRO at Zift Solutions

Heather Tenuto
Heather Tenuto, Chief Revenue Officer at Zift Solutions, elaborates on her expertise in channel marketing, sales, and operations and how ZiftONE provides a streamlined and comprehensive channel management solution. Read on to learn more about her thoughts on IT channel partners and how cultivating a revenue strategy helps maintain a partner ecosystem.

Q.1. Tell us about your journey into channel strategy and indirect sales. How was it different from direct sales?
A.1.
I started my sales career right out of college working for a Sun Microsystems reseller. I was on the direct side, but worked closely with supplier reps and took note of the difference in our jobs. I ended up leaving sales for two years to participate in NYC’s Teaching Fellows program. In that program, I was a 9th grade English teacher in a “hard-to-staff” high school in Manhattan.  It was an amazing experience where I learned the power of influence in an environment where you often don’t have direct control. These skills served me well as I transitioned back into sales with a focus on building channels. Just like the classroom, enablement is key, and I was soon able to use my skills to develop and evolve channel organizations for highly transitional suppliers.

Q.2. How effectively do you think IT channel partners are adapting to dynamic buyer journeys? How has this shift impacted revenue prediction across the industry?
A.2.
IT channel partners have come to realize that buyers are choosing the way they want to consume products and services; it’s left to the rest of us to adapt.  IT partners can be more agile than their supplier partners. They are the first to hear buyer demands and often have the flexibility to meet them. However, this asks their supplier partners to be less rigid with programs to allow IT partners to meet the evolving demands of end-users.  All this flexibility makes revenue prediction more difficult, but not impossible.

IT channel partners have come to realize that buyers are choosing the way they want to consume products and services; it’s left to the rest of us to adapt.

Q.3. What goes into cultivating a successful partner ecosystem?
A.3.
Successful partner ecosystems start with designing the ultimate buyer journey from the customer’s perspective. Once a supplier understands how the customer wants to buy, be onboarded, trained, supported and renewed, they can start to build ecosystems that benefit all parties while keeping the customer at the center.


Q.4. What is the significance of an IT channel and how does it define the technological empowerment of partner companies?
A.4.
As I alluded to before, the IT channel is often more agile, meeting customer demands faster and more fully than supplier partners can. Most importantly, the IT channel often accelerates time-to-value for a supplier partners’ solution. The significance of this is easy to overlook but is critical to customer satisfaction. Using an IT channel to increase net retention is something that ecosystem architects should consider and reward.

Q.5. Within an organization, who do you think should focus on creating and maintaining channel partnerships? How do defined partner roles come into play in igniting sales?
A.5.
Ideally, the CEO should be enabling an environment where channel partnerships can flourish. Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many emerging programs fail. Channel programs are often launched before a complete business case and multi-year plan are accepted by the executive leadership team. A channel leader could be well on their way to creating a profitable program but, if the CFO doesn’t have the correct understanding of the investment or time-horizon, it won’t matter. The burden is on the channel leader to keep executive leadership aligned with the effort. Once there is alignment, every part of the organization should understand their role in supporting indirect channels. If everyone believes in the value the program and partners will create, everyone will work towards their success.


Successful partner ecosystems start with designing the ultimate buyer journey from the customer’s perspective.

Q.6. How does ZiftONE help businesses manage their partnerships better? How easily has ZiftONE been adopted by them?
A.6.
ZiftONE is a single platform–built as one to work as one–that accelerates indirect channel revenue. When suppliers create a frictionless experience for their partners, they enable those partners to then create a frictionless customer experience. With ZiftONE, partners have one place to go to engage with a supplier. From onboarding and training to marketing automation and deal registration, partners find everything they need in an easy-to-use portal. Moving over to the supplier side, we’ve found that they benefit from having all of their partner data in one place. By tapping into that data, suppliers can easily assess what’s working and what’s not in their ecosystem. Then, it’s easier to pivot to strategies and tactics that work, taking the mystery out of predictable channel revenue.

Q.7. What about ZiftONE helps channel companies achieve successful outcomes?
A.7.
ZiftONE differentiates itself from other PRM providers in three ways: 1) We provide full-funnel management that aligns channel sales, marketing, and partners in a modern platform. 2) ZiftONE’s dynamic segmentation allows suppliers to provide the right enablement to all partner types in their ecosystem. 3) All the data that suppliers need to evaluate and refine their program is found in one place, with analysis tools built into the ZiftONE platform.


ZiftONE is a single platform–built as one to work as one–that accelerates indirect channel revenue.

Q.8. What do you think the future will look like for women leaders in the channel partnerships?
A.8.
Bright! The channel community has worked for years to make its organizations more welcoming to women. There continues to be supportive groups, such as the Alliance of Channel Women, that provide the tools women need to compete with their male counterparts for channel leadership positions. 

Q.9. What, according to you, should govern the relationship between suppliers and partners?
A.9. 
Customer Satisfaction 😊

Q.10. Please share your insights on P&L literacy and channel leadership skills.
A.10.
Recently, I had the great fortune of speaking at ACW’s Women’s Leadership Summit about the importance of acquiring financial acumen for channel leadership roles. Improving these skills made a tremendous impact on my early career; it’s even more important for the next generation of channel leadership. 
Channel leaders have one job: To prove that their route to market is the most attractive to the business. The most successful channel leaders know how to read a P&L and understand how their program will affect it.  Aligning a supplier organization around partner ecosystems requires boardroom prowess, and financial statement literacy and language is key to winning the internal support that ecosystems need to flourish.

ABOUT ZIFT SOLUTIONS

Founded in 2006, Zift Solutions is the only Partner Relationship Management (PRM) and Through-Channel Marketing Automation (TCMA) tool built as one to work as one. The company’s ZiftONE platform manages the flow from onboarding to enablement, lead generation to marketing, all the way through sales. Backed by the most experienced team in the industry, Zift was named the only leader in both Channel Marketing Automation and Partner Relationship Management by Forrester Research and a market leader in Partner Management Software and Through-Channel Marketing Software by G2. For more information, visit www.ziftsolutions.com.

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