Vodafone revamps B2B partner programme

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‘Dated’ VPS model to be rebooted for unified communications capability focus

Vodafone has admitted its partner programme was dated and that transformation was needed, but reassured dealers the changes next year will not result in any cull.

The new programme, which will go live next summer, will be based around total communications capability and customer service excellence and will see the current Platinum, Gold and Silver tiers scrapped. These have existed since the formation of Vodafone Partner Services in September 2010, with partners measured on the quantity of the operator’s services they sell.

The changes aim to put more focus on the customer as being central to the sales and service experience.

Head of Vodafone Partner Services Rob Mukherjee (pictured) admitted the current programme is too mobile-centric and doesn’t encompass converged and unified communications products and services enough.

He also admitted customers perhaps found it hard to know what a Platinum Partner could offer in comparison to a Gold Partner for example, but that the new programme solves these problems and adds much more clarity to their business decision making.

“It’s definitely time for a change. The current programme is very successful but it was very mobile-centric. It doesn’t really incorporate our fixed partners, so we needed to do something to support that and something more total comms and customer-focused.

“It’s time for a programme that embraces all of our partners, around total comms capability and customer experience. Platinum partners could say they are top of the tree, but silver partners could say it was down to size.

“I’ve had letters from customers who have had a tender from both a Platinum and Gold partner, and they have asked me to explain the difference. The reality is I haven’t been able to explain the differences in a huge way that would mean something meaningful to them.

“With the future model, there will be no doubt for the customer around what the tiering means for them.”

Total comms
To be placed in the top tier, dealers will need to demonstrate the ability to sell a certain amount across mobile, fixed line, OneNet and WAN, and future products such as M2M and cloud services, as well as customers taking more than one product and even the whole set.

These top partners will also be expected to meet certain criteria regarding customer service in terms of how they manage their customers and how easy and enjoyable it is to deal with them.

Vodafone will measure this through customer satisfaction surveys, with testimonials not only praising the partner for the breadth of product portfolio, but about service. Vodafone declined to reveal exact targets at this stage.

The new programme will launch early next year. Vodafone will then assess each of its 400 partners over the coming months where they will receive training and gain accreditations before it places them into the various tiers. Partners will then be able to wear market-facing badges alongside any company branding to inform customers of what tier they have been placed in

Each tier will also come with a number of benefits for partners, including additional marketing support, bespoke customer service support, training and development.

The current programme, including the Platinum, Gold and Silver tiers, will continue until the end of Vodafone’s current financial year on March 31, 2016.

Mukherjee was also quick to make clear the mass changes to the programme next year will not result in a cull of its 400 active partners.

Vodafone director of partnerships and alliances Nick Birtwistle echoed this, and said the changes actually reaffirm Vodafone’s commitment to its partners and the indirect channel as a whole, claiming the operator is reacting exactly how the dealer would want them too.

“This is not a mechanism to change the number of partners we work with,” said Mukherjee. “We have no plan for a cull. In fact, if it attracts new partners that are aligned with us, then brilliant.

“We are continuing to see interest from that IT-type reseller as well. This programme will attract new partners and add clarity over what we expect from them.”

Partner commitment
Birtwistle said: “This new programme absolutely reaffirms our commitment to our partners and the long-term future of the channel. If you canvas the opinion from our dealers, they have always held our programme out to be aspirational.

“This whole focus on working with our partners is absolutely designed to continue to build that even further. We are absolutely targeting the partner in the way they would want us to do with this.”

Birtwistle described the new programme as a “step-change” and one that provides partners with a view of what the next two years will look like in the market.

Vodafone recently conducted a study, which revealed 45 per cent of SME and large corporate customers would choose an indirect partner for their total comms needs, making this multi-product strategy built ever-more important.

“We’re giving a view of what the next two years will look like – it will be a real step change in consumer demand and behaviour.

“There is a big shift away from just mobile to really starting to see a demand from customers for unified communications and converged solutions.

“Nearly half of the marketplace want an indirect partner for their total communications needs,  which is why building this strategy around our partners is really important.”

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