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Technology vendors are exploring Generative AI to improve partner experiences, and many partners agree it can help improve efficiency and productivity, having experimented with the technology themselves. While partners see Gen AI’s strongest relevance for them in marketing and sales, they are not always sure how vendors can, or should, implement these technologies with them as end-users. More widespread enterprise-level adoption still depends on overcoming concerns such as cost and data protection compliance. In addition, the broader range of concerns channel-led vendors have, such as how to bring their network of partners onboard, how existing partnering processes should be modified, and the need to be mindful of implications when asking for changes from partners, also sees them being more cautious. Nonetheless, vendors’ interest in Gen AI is emerging as they increasingly look to digital for help to manage their expanding channel coverage, portfolio of products and customer reach. Key questions vendors should ask are where and how can the technology further support them in supporting partners if employees in both vendor and partner organizations are already using Gen AI on their own? And where can returns outweigh costs for everybody?

Bringing Generative AI into a vendor organization

The decision of a vendor to apply Gen AI at an organizational or departmental level for channel management is influenced by a variety of factors including availability of products, API readiness, and implementation costs. The promise of Gen AI is attractive, if it allows the average employee to complete work in less time with more accuracy, and make mundane or complex tasks, such as data entry or learning, easier. Furthermore, it is often layered onto current workflows and processes rather than creating new ones, making user adoption relatively simple. But if it is to be used to manage third-party partner information, vendors must meet stricter data protection standards, requiring higher accuracy, better compliance, and specific capabilities such as offering answers using only approved data sources (customer history and company policies for example), and tracing answers back to source documents. Until Gen AI becomes a standard among channel management tools, chances are a vendor will have to choose from customized options, which grant vendors specific uses, but they also need a higher ROI to justify the implementation costs and timeline, especially with the complexity involved and a scarcity of AI talents.

Vendors are starting to internalize Gen AI and its benefits, but those experimenting with it should not be overly ambitious. They need to first narrow down existing processes where Gen AI implementation makes sense, identify business constraints, and determine the extent Gen AI will support growth. Success KPIs will differ based on the use-case, such as sales acceleration, number of validated services/products, new customers, and so on.

Generative AI can be infused at multiple points in a partner’s journey

Gen AI can benefit vendors in terms of faster time-to-market, improved channel insights and better partner segmentation while expanding customer reach. Creativity, and ongoing content output quality monitoring, will also be key in extracting the most value when implemented across various partner roles in marketing, sales, technical and others. Ensuring confidential or sensitive data remains safe is also critical. As more products and/or processes become embedded with AI/Gen AI, new inventions or new ways of working are expected.

Areas where Gen AI will help vendors most in channel management include:

  • Partner portal and communications: For lower-tiered partners that have little interactions with a vendor, a Gen AI-powered chatbot embedded within partner portals can help quickly and intelligently retrieve information they are looking for, communicate the latest updates, guide them through onboarding processes and training, as well as act as a business partner by creating business summaries, formulate strategies with recommendations, and more, just with a few clicks. While Gen AI can enhance the partner experience for lower-tiered partners, higher-tiered partners will also see the utility value for them increase as Gen AI gets integrated with other parts of the partnering process.
  • Improve partner recruitment and onboarding processes: By building onto partner locators, solution locators, or other internal databases and tools, Gen AI can identify partners with appropriate skill sets or profiles, which a vendor may not manually be able to do easily. This also offers vendors an agnostic method for recommending partners. By extracting information from documents and reducing manual entry using AI algorithms, the onboarding process can be faster, enabling partners to go to market faster. It can also quickly match partners to customers as soon as opportunities arise, ensuring a pipeline of warm leads while saving time and money on partner recruitment/collaboration process for vendors, partners, and clients.
  • Product customizations and shortening time to market: Developers face ongoing pressure to produce high-quality apps more quickly, especially smaller ISVs vying for sales on cloud vendors’ marketplaces. Gen AI can speed up software development by using text predictions and generate dummy data in bulk to test code, as well as speed up technical documentation, to deliver value to customers faster. Rather than putting customers on hold over the phone for minutes while locating specific information, it can assist a helpdesk by locating the needed details and deliver better and quicker resolutions to enhance partner or customer services.

  • Increase sales conversion rates at reduced acquisition costs: When incorporated correctly, Gen AI empowers salespeople by drawing information from a broader range of sources, such as browsing behavior and social preferences, that are useful for opening sales conversations and closing sales. Similarly, it supports partner sales selling across a wider product portfolio by retrieving information quickly as needed. As customers’ purchase intent spikes, Gen AI can connect those customers with partners best suited to them. As a lead generation or networking tool, chatbots powered by Generative AI can respond in a natural and comprehensive way, competently handling customer queries instantly in different languages 24/7. As an analysis tool, it can identify opportunities for upselling and cross-selling, score leads, optimize solution configurations and inventory levels, as well as generate better forecasts based on historical sales data, market trends, and external factors. Depending on where sales conversion rates typically drop off for a vendor, the ROI delivered also differs.
  • Marketing automation and enabling faster creative work: Marketers are often short on time and resources as they strategize marketing activities. Gen AI can keep marketers updated on trends, assess marketing results, even create buyer personas, or perhaps enable hyper-personalized marketing content based on an individual’s browsing behavior. As a creative tool, Gen AI supports text, 2D and 3D graphics, audio, and videos, and can synthesize new content from them, allowing marketers to quickly create ready-to-go localized marketing assets in a matter of seconds instead of weeks. This not only helps cut spending in terms of time but also offers more value with the same marketing development funds. Gen AI provides many potential opportunities to enhance marketing automation. As marketers moving faster between tasks, new and creative forms of marketing could emerge by bundling various mediums and content together, also amplifying vendors’ marketing as partners construct more cohesive and consistent campaigns aligned with vendor guidelines by laying brand controls onto the centralized AI engine, helping to develop materials and messaging.
  • Training and enablement: As vendors expand their portfolio of cloud products, Gen AI can help partners get trained on a wider range of subjects to support sales. Its text extraction and intelligence abilities can help individuals locate information quickly from support forums, support ongoing training with explanations of concepts, recommend and formulate customized training plans. However, Gen AI also has limitations when used for learning and training where students are expected to become well-versed in their subject topics.

Gen AI presents exciting opportunities, but risks need management

As with most technologies, Gen AI has the power to augment existing processes, and replace certain jobs. Grey areas surrounding Gen AI also have implications for partners, such as existing laws disallowing AI-generated content to be copyrighted. Would customer recommendations using AI algorithms be based on what is best for the customer or the bottom line of a vendor/partner? Would renewal deals closed or influenced by an AI mean lower sales commission for partner sales? What happens if a dispute arises from inaccurate recommendations or resolutions? The blackbox of AI algorithms can be a double-edged sword, particularly for sales and financial matters. Unintentional incorporation of unconscious social bias into marketing materials is also a common concern. More validation of data output accuracy can certainly be useful, and training among users to avoid unintentionally sharing confidential or sensitive information is critical.

Nonetheless, Gen AI is a promising technology for supporting vendors’ channel management and may even be the long-awaited solution to vendors’ longstanding channel complaints. It can improve partners’ experiences, save time and costs, make it easier for partners to do business with vendors and allow partners to place greater focus on acquiring new customers. While Gen AI adoption among vendors is still in its earliest stages and needs to start carefully, those that reject adopting Gen AI entirely risk becoming obsolete as their partners achieve declining returns. Channel-led vendors regularly collecting volumes of quality partner data through their global partner programs are better poised to customize the models they need. As more Gen AI-infused channel management tools become available in the market, vendors could adopt these third-party products supporting partners’ journeys. We know for sure the age of AI has arrived. Expect more vendors to begin embracing Gen AI for channel management to preserve leadership dominance or gain a competitive advantage.

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