Over the last 6 months, our single most requested workshop has been training Enterprise Account Executives to better leverage partners to win business and grow revenue. From our experience, vendor account executives (ie. salespeople who engage directly with end users) can be one of the best, or worst, resources a vendor can provide for their partners, depending on how they operate.
Done well, it can accelerate the sales process, educate partners on how to sell your products, and build a strong relationship between your two organisations. Done poorly, it can breed a lack of trust, leading to partners actively concealing information from you.
Given the interest in this topic, we thought we’d share our Top 10 Tips for AEs to better engage with, and leverage, partner salespeople to win business.
1. Understand the partner’s business model, and the customers they support
Simply put, a business model describes who they sell to, what they sell, and how they support it. Understand where and how your offering as a vendor fits into these three components of the partner’s strategy, and align your messaging around that. Make sure you play to the partners strengths, and work on deals where they have expertise.
2. Understand their goals and how they get compensated
Many partners are going through a business model transition increasing their focus around managed services and recurring revenue. So, what might have been a valid assumption 6-12 months ago may not be where the partner is headed today. Take the time to understand their current and future goals, and their internal metrics/compensation plans, and look for opportunities that support those goals. Remember most vendors are compensated on revenue, while partner salespeople are generally compensated on gross profit.
3. Understand the partner program rules and where they fit
When working with partners on any joint engagement, it is critical that the AE understands where or how the partner fits into the program i.e. tier, requirements (product access, certification & skills) and benefits (pricing, deal registration & rebates) as these will have an impact on the joint customer value proposition. Look for ways that your program can accelerate a deal, or increase its profitability.
4. Engage the partner early to help them position their value
Partners hate being brought into a deal at the last minute as a vendor fulfillment mechanism. Today most partners make most of their profit from services or managed services. Bringing them in early gives them the opportunity to establish a strong customer value proposition that protects their margins or incumbency within a customer. Otherwise, the deal is purely the margin from fulfilling the product sale, which is not very profitable. AEs should never just quote their product price directly to a customer!
5. Swap roles – you present their value prop, and they present yours
One of the most powerful messaging tactics you can adopt on a joint sales call is to swap roles – ie. the AE explains the value of the partner to the customer, and the partner explains the value of the vendor to the customer. Positioning a partner to a customer in a way that highlights their capability and helps them win the deal, is far more valuable to a partner then a few points extra discount.
6. Give before you get – training, leads, co-selling
“Trust has to be earned and should come only after the passage of time”. Why would a partner want to introduce a new vendor AE immediately into one of their long-term accounts before getting to know the AE and feeling the relationship is two way and can be trusted? Even if you give the partner 4 leads before they give you one, you’ll find that you’re still ahead. (note: if you don’t believe me, ping me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you the calculation).
7. Business reviews are mutual exchanges, not just asking what their pipeline is
A business review or QBR is exactly that. It answers the question of what is working, what is not and what/where should we focus on or how can we work together in the upcoming period. If done right a forecast will be a by-product of the meeting, not the purpose. If you are going to ask them to provide you an update on their opportunities, you should also be prepared to update them on yours.
8. Ask existing customers who they partner with, and why
To really start to understand how partner’s add value (especially around their offering), AEs should take the time to hear from existing or potential customers about what they look for in a partner. This could be a great discussion point in conjunction with the channels team and the partner at any partner review or QBR as mentioned above. Remember to always provide that feedback to the partner afterwards.
9. Pass customer leads to partners that have nothing to do with your offering
AEs are often in a privileged position to hear about customer bigger picture plans as they are being built. Often this includes technology that is not provided by the AE. Providing a lead to a partner that leverages their capabilities, even it does not involve your offering, builds trust and improves the partners profitability. In return, partners are more willing to give trusted AE’s a reciprocal opportunity.
10. Ask partners why they work with you whenever you win business
It is interesting that AEs are quite happy to ask customers why they lost business, but rarely ask why they won it! Whenever you win a deal with a partner, especially one that could have gone to an alternative vendor, you should always ask why. This will give you an insightful perspective on the actual value that you provide.
The concept of “four legged calls” is not a new idea, but when we see it done well it has a significant multiplier on the productivity of the partner and the AE, and of course the customer outcome. For AE’s if there was one simple takeaway from this article it would be take the time to get understand the partner’s business by putting yourself in their shoes. For partners, help the AEs by taking the time to refine that joint value proposition. If you do, you will find the cliché of 1+1 really does equal 3.