This is a trick question, but we’ll get into that in a moment.
We know that to meet sales goals, for most industries today, it’s critical to have a strong network and the support of sales partners. Regardless of the type or mix of resellers you may utilize, having a diverse and robust sales ecosystem is one of the keys to meeting revenue targets. This is particularly true for organizations with big growth goals in a world of shrinking direct sales headcount.
If you are working with exclusive partners (while it can have rocky moments), it’s typically a well-defined relationship. But it isn’t as easy to get your partner’s mindshare when you’re reseller represents you and your competitors when selling to customers. One critical piece to getting that mindshare (that we won’t go into detail about here) is your compensation model. While that is key, there are a lot of other known and unknown factors influencing the relationship and sales results. How do you start uncovering where you fit in your partner’s priorities and influence the sales process?
One thing you can do is ask. In my discussions with sales leadership about how to enable partners to do a better job selling the organization’s solutions, some common issues come up. A frequent concern I hear from Channel or Partner Sales Managers is, “How do I influence partners to give maximum selling time to our product or solution over the competitors?” “How do I get them to take the initiative without relying heavily on our limited support resources?” When I’ve asked them what their partners have told them about selling their product to customers, the answer I hear most often is, “I haven't really asked.”
We have to stop trying to read their minds! (Told you it was a trick question.) We’re missing some key information only our sales channel knows. It takes dialogue to get these answers.
We need to meet with, talk with, and listen to our partners. With increasing numbers of partners, limited travel budgets and sales resources, we’ve got to be good at having these conversations in virtual meetings. Here are some things that can help you start building that collaborative communication you need to succeed when speaking virtually to partners.
1. Start the conversation on their turf.
Particularly in a world where working virtually is becoming more the norm, we’ve got to capture their attention immediately. You have about 60 seconds to get my attention and keep me away from email and chat. You need to know your listeners are engaged, even intrigued. That means the context for the conversation is their world not yours. If you want me to give you information about my selling environment, make sure I know that is what the conversation is about. Start with something like, “You’ve been a strong partner in our business. We want to get your perspective on what works and what needs strengthening. Can I ask you some questions?” Then be true to your word and focus on them. It’s about trust if you want to get them talking.
2. Suspend the telling and find out how they are selling.
Wow, we talk a lot. We spend a lot of time telling partners about our requirements for them and the merits of our solutions. We forget to ask them how it really works in front of a customer. Ask them some key questions like:
• What are your customers demanding of you in this solution space?
• How are customers buying?
• What’s hard about/what’s easy about selling our solutions to customers?
The key after you’ve asked a question? Stop talking and listen deeply!
3. Leave the call with the door open and a path forward.
Now that you’ve invested in learning what’s really going on in your partner’s world, outline a plan of action. What are each of you going to do as a result of this conversation? Is there a bigger conversation needed involving more players? Do you need to come back with a proposal? We would never leave a sales call without a plan of action.
Then, confirm. It’s just like when I fly and have an exit row seat. You need a verbal confirmation of “Yes!” at the end of your discussion. Particularly in virtual meetings, you have to get them to agree and confirm their commitment out loud. Silence is not golden or agreement. Follow up your call with an open invitation to review progress at a later date.
To get a better handle on how to get your partner ecosystem functioning smoothly, you are going to have to shift your agenda. Stop trying to read their minds. Use dialogue and collaborative planning to influence your partner’s sales process and produce the revenue growth you need.