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Confirmation Bias: Why Your To-Partner Marketing Is Failing

Confirmation Bias: Why Your To-Partner Marketing Is Failing

Warren Buffet said “people interpret new information so that prior conclusions remain intact.” This is called ‘Confirmation Bias’ and we all experience it. In to-partner marketing it is responsible for the failure of channel partner growth and channel partner recruitment programs, often without those involved realising it.

Confirmation Bias is an error in thinking. It leads you to accept new information that confirms anything you already believe to be true and to minimize any contradicting evidence. It happens because we want what we think is true, to actually be true.

Research project example

Consider this example. You have been asked to carry out research to validate that a new product will be just as successful in the market as the Product Development team believe it will be. Research shows that it’s likely you will:

  • Develop research questions that ‘lead the witness’. You might ask what problems the product will solve, rather than asking about problems that the product will not solve.
  • Seek out interviewees who are likely to see the product’s value. You might get feedback from people who use this type of product, rather than asking people who don’t.
  • Reject negative feedback about the product. You might rationalize negative responses as lacking in relevance due to the profile of the interviewee.

This example of Confirmation Bias is explored more in a great paper by the Harvard Business School.

Confirmation bias and mutual interest

Confirmation Bias is relevant to the way that technology vendors go about growing channel partner relationships. Here’s how.

Technology vendors approach potential and current channel partners to grow profitable relationships. To do this, vendors need to present the ‘gives and gets’: what the channel partner will get from the vendor, and what the channel partner will need to commit to in return. Identifying these gives and gets, and ensuring they are beneficial to everyone establishes the mutual interest between vendor and partner. Aligning on mutual interest is the first step in ensuring a long-lasting, profitable relationship. However due to Confirmation Bias many vendors over-value their ‘gives’ and undervalue the partner commitments. “Partners will jump at the chance to work with us because this sells itself.” Rarely the case.

Let’s explore this in greater detail and understand what steps can be taken to re-balance.

Problem 1: ‘preaching to the converted’

For many vendors a core problem is that partner messaging is developed by and for stakeholders in the business who already believe the story. This means that the vendor replays perceived vendor benefits without dealing with potential partner concerns. Mutual interest is never established. That’s Confirmation Bias at work.

Problem 2: ‘competitive battlegrounds’

A failure to understand where you can win – and where you can’t – means any conversation may be over before it begins. Simply, not every battle can be won. Vendors consistently over-value the benefits of their offer, and under-value the benefits of competitive offers. At worst, being informed and realistic about competitive strengths can even be perceived internally as a betrayal of trust, a lack of commitment. That’s Confirmation Bias at work.

Problem 3: ‘devil in the detail’

Partners – and customers – will only move if there is a better offer, or a genuine difference. Even if your overall proposition compares favourably, some parts of a competing offer are so strong that a partner cannot be dislodged. Many vendor propositions fail to provide evidence to support their value claims and focus instead on providing evidence to support lack of value in competitive offers. There is little interest in understanding why competitive offers add value, much more interest in where competitive offers fall short. That’s Confirmation Bias at work.

How to combat confirmation bias

It’s very hard to avoid confirmation bias. Most of us aren’t aware we have it. Outside specialists like bChannels can be helpful because they are genuinely objective. An outside specialist can often identify, and be prepared to highlight, shortcomings that vendors might not see, or might not want to face into.

This can lead to difficult conversations where confirmation bias is strong. It is important that if you decide to work with an outside specialist that all those involved take part in discussions on where to target and why to target. Also in where not to target.

Here are three areas where you might consider involving an outside specialist when building partner relationships.

Establishing the right battlegrounds

Confirmation bias means vendors too often assume they can win against all brands with competing products. That’s not always the true.

Start any exercise with identifying where you can win, and where you must avoid. Too often vendors believe they must target the biggest partners and the biggest brands. Use outside specialists who can provide a view of the competitive battlegrounds, your relative strengths and weaknesses and guidance on where your wins can come from.

Finding channel partners for growth

Confirmation bias means vendors too often go after new partners who look like current partners. Or, they build out a complex profile of the ‘perfect’ partner and then struggle to find enough of those partners at all, or enough who are interested. That’s not the right approach.

Use an outside specialist to identify partners that are genuinely interested in your product and in growing with your product. These may be partners you have, but have overlooked. Or you may need to look at your whole addressable market to find potential new opportunity partners that you don’t currently work with. Don’t focus solely on the ideal or ‘more of the same’.

It’s important that these two areas are driven by repeatable, scalable data. You need to be sure your specialist can repeat any exercise and track change over time. To-partner services such as Growth Capability from bChannels helps vendors establish where they can win, why and deliver precision targeting of the right partners for growth.

Engaging partners

Confirmation bias means vendors see the strengths in their proposition and underplay competitive offers. That’s not always going to be successful.

Use an outside specialist to engage partners and to refine your proposition to them based on what the specialist learns. Specialists are expert in providing independent assessment of where there is mutual interest to develop a partnership and the intent to do so.

Remember that confirmation bias is an error in thinking. It happens because we want what we think is true, to actually be true. That’s not always the case.

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