Lead Your Partner Ecosystem Through the Coronavirus Crisis: A Framework You Can Use

lead your partner ecosystem through the coronavirus crisis a framework you can use

Last Updated on May 3, 2021

Coronavirus pandemic is a black swan event. It is impacting us all. As individuals and as a community, we are feeling its impact on our health and our finances. We’ve also seen people coming together and adapting to this new way of life.

The Coronavirus crisis has also become a catalyst for unprecedented social change. It has created space for leaders to act and navigate their communities through the crisis with decisive action. A new normal is being shaped for our society now. And a major experiment has been played out over the last 8 weeks — “how may we work — can work be done and customers served remotely with minimal staff onsite?” Early results are in and it is clear that wherever digital processes and collaboration can be embedded, those processes are resilient, and that work can be done with high productivity.

As partner ecosystem leaders, our ecosystems face both challenges and opportunities at this time. We’ve also seen partners coming together and adapting to deliver value to their customers.

Some of the challenges that this crisis will inflict on our ecosystems are: (a) Partners will miss their revenue targets as customers spend only on “lifeboat” projects, (b) OEM and Channel will have shortages or surpluses, (c) Big or small partners will be on the brink of collapse, (d) Partners will experience cash flow problems, (d) Partners will be impacted by lay-offs, (e) Partner employees will seek additional training.

Some of the execution streams will get tough: (a) All planning done pre-crisis will have to be redone, (b) All marketing and partnering activities will have to shift away from events and workshops to being done virtually, (c) Coordinating your partners to align with your company’s response will have to be done digitally/virtually, (d) Leveraging your partner’s partner could be important for leverage, (e) New solutions and new offers will have to be assembled and pushed to market, (f) Apart from Zoom and Teams, team coordination and partner coordination tools will be needed to drive speed and productivity, (g) Receiving and reconciling pipeline data from your partners will be key to assessing and rebuilding pipeline, (h) Managing partners sourced and influenced deals will be key to improve win rates.

Before this crisis, ecosystem partner programs were designed for efficiency. Now, partner programs are being tested on resiliency. As partner professionals – and human beings – we must find a way to lead our partner ecosystem through and beyond this crisis. If we respond well to this catalyst for change, we can steer our ecosystems to be more resilient through the crisis to thrive and grow when the economy turns back to expansion.

With this in mind, here is a framework that you may find useful as you navigate this situation with your partners.


Partner and ecosystem work is primarily people oriented. It’s critical to acknowledge and understand people’s challenges and anxieties during this time and give clear direction. You may need to examine decision making and execution in your ecosystem programs, and drive changes. Companies who decide and execute fast will have a non-linear advantage over their competitors. Good decision done fast and improved upon with data is better than optimal decision done late.


This is a crisis of sales — assess your partner sourced and partner influenced pipeline daily or weekly. Identify your initiatives and your partners that are positively or negatively impacted. Form a special “Ecosystem Covid-19 Response Team” that is responsible for interpreting buying signals on a daily or weekly basis so you can respond appropriately. This team will track critical data such as partner sourced and influenced pipeline – where is buying increasing, holding, and cratering? Pay attention to new opportunities being added since the crisis began, and watch for trends.


There are things you can do to stabilize the downward trend. Make changes to partner program guidelines that allow space for partners to orient themselves to the new normal. Create priority offers to ease the financial burden on partners that are impacted by this crisis. Offer training and certification options to partner employees who have time and are eager to build their own skills. A great example is SAP providing subsidies for partner certification through the SAP Learning Hub. Identify and invite key partners to initiatives that are negatively impacted. In exchange for these benefits, ask for daily updates on joint pipeline and status updates – this will give your “Ecosystem Covid-19 Response Team” access to fresh data that will improve their decision making.


We’ve learned in previous downturns that customers will shift their spending to “lifeboat” projects only. Customers will fast-track decisions on lifeboat projects. So identifying “lifeboat” projects at your customers with your partners is critical. What solutions do you and your partner ecosystem have already, or could quickly coordinate with your partners to build and certify, that align with customers’ shifted priorities? Once identified, coordinate execution around these lifeboat projects, including revising joint account planning, sales targets and Market Development Funds (MDF) plans. For example, about 70% of MDF has been used in the past for in-person events, which won’t happen over the coming months. Re-directing that investment may involve moving downstream to Proof of Concept activities, critical technology investments, etc. Attach influence partners (e.g., Cloud partners, SI partners, MSP partners) to opportunities to improve your own win rates.


Digitize your ecosystem. Organizations across the globe are digitally transforming the way they work, and this transformation won’t be temporary. The changes we are seeing now in the way we work together, both internally to our companies and externally with our partners and customers, may be here long after the crisis has passed. As Bill McDermott, CEO of ServiceNow, notes, “Work is never going back to what it once was.”

Digitizing the way you work with your partners will provide tremendous business continuity, security and resilience to your company. Digitization gives time and leverage back – to you, to your partners, and to your employees. Digitization reduces or eliminates manual efforts while getting data faster to you and your partners, even across company lines. Digitization lets you know the status of your partner programs, in real time, and provides insights to drive decision making.

So much of the data that partner programs run on — joint pipeline data, joint account planning, joint solutions development, joint marketing activities — has been locked in spreadsheets or slide presentations that live in someone’s inbox. Meetings with partners are spent comparing data and updating action items. Reporting requires significant resources to collect and synthesize information, and often focuses only on what already happened, rather than on projecting into the future.

In my next blog, I’ll share ways to digitize your partner programs to increase collaboration and build resilience.

In the meantime, watch a replay of our webinar: Lead your Partner Ecosystem through the Coronavirus Crisis.

Mayank Bawa
Mayank has always believed in the importance of data, analytics, and applications in helping people make better decisions. Prior to founding WorkSpan, he founded Big Data pioneer Aster Data Systems, acquired by Teradata in 2011 where he served as Co-President of Teradata Aster division. He has a PhD in Computer Science from Stanford University and B.Tech from IIT Bombay.

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