As I write this, it’s the Monday before Thanksgiving. For me, at least in my professional life, that means my thoughts are squarely on one thing: next year.
Around Halloween every year, I start to think about planning for the following year. Come Thanksgiving, it’s time to get serious, because there are only a few precious weeks left before the holidays come and resources become scarce, both inside the company and with our customers..
It’s really a time for reflection, where together with our partners we try to align our alliance activities to ensure we are focusing on areas that translate into solutions that delight our customers. During this process, we’re also looking for that ideal solution that incorporates the best of each partner and exceeds customer expectations.
The process takes about 8 weeks. It starts with internal discussions about strategy in each of our nine market segments, such as Mining, Minerals and Metals (MMM), Oil & Gas, Data Centers and so on. Members of the partner team meet with VPs from each of the segments to understand their plans for the next year and whether there are any gaps partners could help us fill, or if there’s a customer segment that we haven’t yet adequately addressed.
Once we understand our segment strategies, we take that information to each of our alliance partners – such as Cisco, IBM and Microsoft – and work with their solution development teams to uncover areas where a joint solution makes the most sense. In some cases, we find areas where we’re more powerful together than either side could be on its own. That’s like finding a gem-quality diamond in a bunch of industrial diamonds; it’s partnership nirvana.
While we may be tempted to try to “boil the ocean” at this point, we actively try to whittle the list of possibilities down to the top two or three things we want to focus on in the coming year. Then we look at what we need to do to execute on the plan. Do we need to develop a joint solution? What resources will we need to make that happen? How long will it take? Who leads the selling effort? (Add about 100 additional questions here.)
Lastly, we target the appropriate group responsible for sales of the proposed solution to ensure their management is on board with the plan and to set sales targets. By this time we’re ready for big holiday meals and watching lots of football on New Year’s Day. (Now we pause and silently wish Ohio State makes the national championship game. Go Buckeyes!)
I’ll give you a real example of how this is playing out for 2014. With our partner Cisco we identified a mutual desire within the MMM segment to improve the automation solutions offered for mining operations. These solutions typically operate over wireless networks, where security is paramount. We wanted to improve the security of our solution while Cisco wanted to get more of its gear into the MMM segment.
So Cisco will be working to deliver hardened versions of its hubs, routers and switches with security features that go beyond what we currently deliver. The solution will help the entire mining process become more efficient. It’s a good example of finding that gem-quality diamond.
Now, eventually, each of these new solutions will become public. We post information about them internally and formally share the information with all of our alliance partners.
And that gets me to the real reason I wanted to offer this little inside look at our planning process – because our channel partners are close to our customers every day. You see the pain points customers have and the kinds of solutions they want. I encourage you to share that kind of information with us, so we can get to work on developing solutions that customers will find valuable – and that we will have mutual success in selling.