The Past, Present and Future of Zebra’s PartnerConnect Program

When Zebra decided to overhaul its channel program five years ago, we had one goal in mind: give partners what they need to succeed. This is what we’ve been doing to accomplish that mission.

A team collaborates at a conference room table
by Your Edge Blog Team
September 23, 2021

It’s no secret that over 80% of Zebra’s revenue comes through the channel. We have always been a channel-first company, and we rely on our more than 10,000 partners around the world to deliver meaningful technology and business solutions to millions of public and private sector organizations.

That’s why we have declared September as “Partner Appreciation Month” – a celebration we hope to continue for years to come (with the company of other channel-focused vendors). We want the world to understand the value and the power of partnership, and we want to show our gratitude for the steadfast commitment our partners show to Zebra and its customers.

It just so happens that 2021 also marks the five-year anniversary of Zebra’s award-winning PartnerConnect program. So, we asked Caryn Scherer, Director of Zebra’s Global Channel Strategy, if she would be willing to divulge some of the channel team’s key learnings, best practices and future goals to help kickoff the celebration. Here’s what she had to say…

Your Edge Blog Team: First off, congratulations on the huge milestone with PartnerConnect! We know Zebra has had many partner programs over the years. But what would you say has been the cornerstone of the current program’s success? (Besides the partners, of course.)

Caryn: Everyone at Zebra is invested in building our channel ecosystem. Our partners serve as an extension of our internal sales, marketing, PR, engineering, and strategy teams. Because the entire organization is committed to their success, we have support from all levels within the organization, including the C-suite. This enables our team to develop and manage a program that, in turn, fully supports all partners in our ecosystem. It also gives our customers the flexibility to engage with the right partners for each project to give them the right solutions for their business challenges.

Your Edge Blog Team: What makes the current PartnerConnect program model different from other companies’ partner programs and even Zebra’s past partner programs?

Caryn: When we set out to create PartnerConnect, we didn’t just focus on Zebra’s business needs at the time or the existing partners in the programs. We were in the process of merging Zebra’s legacy partner program (PartnersFirst) and the Motorola Solutions Enterprise Program (PartnerEmpower.) So, we thought extensively about how we could best support them all in addition to the changing market needs: what new products we would have to deliver to help customers overcome their challenges as well as new routes to market. We knew we would be in uncharted territory in some cases. Industrial automation is a great example. Our program framework is flexible enough to be able to add an experienced ecosystem of partners who specialize in machine vision, fixed industrial scanning and more into PartnerConnect while still delivering the right value proposition for both those partners and the customers they serve.

Your Edge Blog Team: Did you restructure the channel enablement model, then?

Caryn: We have continually improved our channel enablement tools over the past five years, as it is extremely important to us to ensure our partners have everything they need to market, sell and support their customers. Our partner portal, Partner Gateway, provides a one-stop shop for all our PartnerConnect members. Partners’ sales teams can access product information, product comparisons, return on investment (ROI) calculators, vertical use case overviews, customer references, and training tools at their fingertips. Partners’ marketers can create their own assets using our media library for images and the copy blocks we provide for all our products. They can also utilize our co-marketing tool to co-brand our assets and make them their own. The more technical teams, such as pre-sales engineers, can access an easy-to-use tool we have built to help them configure solutions to meet customers’ needs. They can also access hours of technical training. In the coming months, we will be modernizing our portal to provide an even more personalized experience based on partners’ feedback. We are keeping a pulse on the channel to ensure we continually improve our processes and tools.

Your Edge Blog Team: Both Zebra and its partners have been credited with transforming the technology sector, vertical industries and customer efficiencies in many different ways. Can you talk a little bit about how Zebra’s channel ecosystem is structured to support innovation?

Caryn: In addition to our business model-based tracks, our partner program has product, vertical and solution-focused specializations that enable partners who meet a rigorous set of requirements to better support our customers in focused areas like Healthcare, RFID and Printer Supplies. Customers can find partners with these specialized qualifications using our Partner Locator. Their areas of expertise will be noted in their profiles. In some cases, these specialization track partners offer unique solutions that were collaboratively developed with Zebra based on specific customer or industry needs. For example, many have created software applications that leverage our hardware to deliver an optimal user or workflow experience.

Your Edge Blog Team: As Zebra’s global channel ecosystem continues to expand, how do you plan to adapt the PartnerConnect program? Will there be new specialization tracks? New resources? Tell us what you envision for the next five years.

Caryn: PartnerConnect will always be evolving as the needs of the ecosystem change. This year we added an Alliance track, revamped our radio frequency identification (RFID) specialization, and created a new track and specialization for industrial automation to support the new line of machine vision and fixed industrial scanning solutions we launched earlier in the year. With our recent acquisition of Fetch Robotics, we will once again look to evolve our channel program to meet the needs of that market. With all the changes happening in the world and in business, it is critical we continue to listen to our partners, our customers and the market. We conduct extensive research to ensure we are thoughtful in our changes and deliver an improved experience to all stakeholders.

Your Edge Blog Team: We know many vendors, like Zebra, are reassessing the strength of their partnerships right now. What’s the one most important thing channel program managers can do to grow their ecosystems and achieve more stability in their relationships and overall operations?

Caryn: Listen! Listen to your partners. Listen to the end users. Listen to the sales team. We spend a lot of time listening to our partners through surveys, councils, and other feedback mechanisms. This gives us the insights we need to adjust our channel program strategy which, at the end of the day, is all about ensuring partners have what they need to deliver the best solutions and experiences to customers. As a result of recent feedback, we’re currently transforming most of the tools and resources our partners leverage on a day-to-day basis to better support modern sales, engineering, marketing and implementation efforts. One of these key projects is what we are calling Channel Agility, which is dedicated to modernizing, transforming, and redefining our partners’ experiences with Zebra. 

Your Edge Blog Team: Can you elaborate on that?

Caryn: Over the last three years Zebra has been continually improving the customer and partner experience through a corporate-wide initiative called Customer First.  This is a key strategic initiative for Zebra which has support at the highest levels of the organization. We are driving this initiative through ongoing feedback mechanisms such as email and online surveys, live sessions with partners, advisory councils, and partner interviews. Much of this is real-time feedback on specific tools or interactions, which allows us to instantly address any concerns. We’re also monitoring key performance metrics that impact customers and gathering feedback from our employees who work directly with partners. This feedback is rolled up, prioritized and actioned through a Customer Experience Leadership Council, which is a cross-functional team comprised of leaders from all Zebra divisions. We want to ensure the entire organization remains focused on the end-to-end experience for our partners.

Your Edge Blog Team: If someone wants more information about the PartnerConnect program, should they visit the website? Or is there someone they can call?

Caryn: Yes, they can find more information about our program on our website. If they want to talk to someone about the program, they can call our Partner Interaction Center.

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