'I love our partners… they take risks' - Vodafone's channel chief

Trevor Treharne

As her first year as Vodafone's director of partnerships and alliances approaches, Helen Freestone reflects on the firm's changing partner programme and working with risk-taking resellers

Freestone explained that Vodafone took its time getting the new partner programme right, working with partners themselves to form its approach.

"The new partner programme was about helping partners and better equipping them for the changes that are happening around digital and how we can work with them to address this market," she said.

"The concept of the partner programme is that it doesn't matter about your size, it is about your capability and where you are on that journey. We have four levels in the programme, and whichever entry point you come into we have the systems, tools, people and support to help that partner build its capabilities to address its particular market. We are enabling partners as they are, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach."

Freestone said the partner programme was designed to be inclusive, enabling the firm to engage with all its partners.

"We want to help partners move into the digital age. We want to keep them updated regularly and we are doing so through video updates too, rather than just emails. I've just sent a video to all the partners, thanking them for all their help and support last year [in 2017].

"There are some aspects that we really wanted to support partners with. Firstly, we wanted to build the partner programme with the partners. We spent a lot of time doing research with the partners and we are now reassessing all that. This is not a partner programme that will remain static. As the market changes, we learn more in terms of what does and does not work well," she said.

Freestone said Vodafone is also concentrated on investing and making sure partners get value out of the programme.

"It was really important to me and to my colleagues that we did not do things to the partners - we did it with them. And if they are joining us on the journey they are getting value."

Providing partners with training is another core focus of the programme, said Freestone, with its Training and Certification programme providing 150 hours of learning materials.

"On the training front, partners have told us how much they have learned and it is great to hear from a really skilled partner, ‘I didn't know that'," she said.

"Another area of value we wanted to offer was to help our partners go to market. We created a marketing toolkit and over a third of our partners have accessed that already. However, after we got feedback we felt we could do a lot better. So we have spent the last year refining that. We have since launched a pilot of our new partner hub. That has gone to only a few partners, but we hope to fully launch it in a few months' time."

Staying on the investment focus, Freestone said Vodafone wants partners to believe it is working "with a strong brand and a strong network". Across the UK, Vodafone has invested £2bn in its network and services over the last few years, and claims it will invest another £2bn over the next few years. On the channel side, it has invested over £1m in its partner programme in the last 18 months, with plans to continue its investment on that front.

"This all gives partners the confidence we are investing in the network, technology and capabilities in the business," said Freestone.

"We live in interesting times, technology is moving quickly, so are economics and politics, and we need to make sure we are helping partners face into that kind of market. The response so far is that we are on that journey with them."

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