By Paul Demore
Equipping your top-tier partners with the tools to execute an effective sales talent process can increase partner mind share and revenue.
When you’re building out a channel program for your software company, growth equals productivity times capacity. There are two key ways to achieve growth in this equation: You can recruit a new partner from scratch, or you can work with your existing partners to help them add more capacity and be more productive. Typically, enabling an existing partner is the easier option.
When you’re trying to enable your channel partners, you can’t ignore the importance of talent — specifically, having a process around how you select, attract, and retain top channel partner salespeople. While not effective for all your channel partners, equipping your top-tier partners with the tools to execute an effective sales talent process can increase partner mind share and ultimately revenue. If quota attainment is down with your partner, helping them find the right sales talent can help.
Your own software company has hired people over the years that have been successful in selling your solutions (and you’ve fired unsuccessful people too). If you’re a large company and you hire and fire a few salespeople throughout the course of the year, it’s typically not the end of the world. But it’s likely some of your partners are smaller businesses, and the cost of a bad hire has a much more harmful impact. You want to provide partners with your best practices for how to find the right people.
You have to take ownership of your partners’ success. Just like you need to enable them with critical sales skills, and with value drivers and differentiators to sell your product, you also owe it to them to help define what success looks like at the individual level from a talent perspective. When you’re trying to drive growth and improve productivity and capacity, you can’t just enable channel partners with great brochures or an email campaign. You can’t ignore the role that attracting and attaining top sales talent has in that channel equation.
MEASURE YOUR PARTNERS’ TALENT
It’s all about increasing mind share if you want a partner to sell more of your software. If you could provide them with the necessities on how to identify the right talent, they’ll become better partners. Ask, “What are the skills, knowledge, and attributes required to perform the sales role effectively to sell your solution?” Then ask, “What are the characteristics of a successful person within your own company, and what is the process to follow to identify the right person?”
You need to work with either the CEO or the head of sales on this — they will be the most interested since they are the ones driving revenue. You’ll want to track the metrics such as:
If you’re providing your partner a quota — and you should be giving partners quotas — and you have partners that are underperforming, how do you fix that? It’s all about recruiting and helping them find the right talent.
FRAME THE CONVERSATION
This is not going to work for all your partners. We’re talking about your top-tier partners, your strategic partners. The right thing to do is to give them the right of refusal.
Frame the idea by saying, “You are a successful partner of ours. You do 5 percent of our partner revenue. We would like to grow it with these particular products, and we would like to give you the opportunity to bring in the right people to go off and sell those products. If it doesn’t fit your business plan, we are going to recruit another partner to cover this space.” A lot of times, that’s when the question from your partner becomes, “What do we need to do?”
This can’t be a one-way conversation about just inspecting data and reviewing KPIs. The role of a channel manager is to do business planning with partners. As we head into the beginning of 2019, channel managers are already planning with their top partners. Plus, they’re doing quarterly business reviews with these partners. It doesn’t matter if your partner is doing $4,000 or $4 million with you; you can still have a conversation about how to increase that capacity and productivity by 25 percent next year.
And you don’t need to hide behind exclusivities in order to provide this kind of planning and support. Being afraid of a partner selling competitive software solutions just doesn’t make sense anymore. You need to be able to get more aligned with their business and help them grow, and if you show them how to do it, the revenue will follow. At the end of the day, if you’re providing your partner with additional value — not just providing a product — but if you’re truly working with them to better their business, then ultimately, they’ll give you more mind share and focus more on your software.
DEFINE THE SUCCESS PROFILE
When I was VP of Worldwide Channel Programs at PTC, we worked with Force Management to define what a successful profile looked like for our partner sales representative. We sat in a room and mapped out the success behaviors. What are the fundamental attributes of a successful partner seller in this space? This included sales execution skills such as effectively building pipelines through prospecting, efficiently aligning and utilizing internal and external resources, and closing deals that provide good outcomes for the customer and for the company.
We built that out, and then from there we provided partners with training and interview guides. These educated them on how to effectively interview and ask the right questions to match up to these profiles. Of course, once the right sales talent is in place, you’ll still need to give partners the right tools. This means a messaging framework that gives them the ability to articulate the value of your solutions and its differentiation in a way that has meaning to the buyer (features the buyer doesn’t want can’t do much for you).
PROVIDE HIRING ENABLEMENT TOOLS
If you want to help your partners optimize their sales talent, there are a few different ways that could play out in practice through incentives:
All of this assumes both parties already work well together, and that you and your partner trust each other. Of course, there is usually some type of contract that comes with these kinds of incentives. You can expect to track the salesperson’s progress over time with specific metrics, and then if the partner does break the contract, you’re protected.
DIFFERENTIATE YOUR CHANNEL PROGRAM
The expression I like to use about partners is that they’re not like your kids, they’re like your neighbor’s kids. You don’t have the authority to discipline them, to hire or fire their sales reps. Instead you have to coach and develop them as best as you can. Whether or not they follow your advice is truly up to them, because it’s their business. But they’ll want to follow your advice when you say, “Listen, based on what we know in this marketplace, we know a successful seller has these attributes, and this is an interview guide that you could use to help identify the right people.”
Helping your top-tier partners find and retain the right talent can be a differentiator for your channel program. If you’re working with a partner, you’re aligned to their organizational goals, and if they see you as a value-add to their business, they will do more to drive success with your products.
Effectively recruiting the right partner is like recruiting for the right sales rep. To recruit the right hire, it could take six, nine, even 12 months. We use a “rule of three” concept when it comes to hiring.
That will always happen as you’re leading a sales organization. If you translate that to partners, it’s the same thing. At the end of the day, you always need to be thinking about recruiting. Another rule of three for maintaining recruiting bench strength is to:
PAUL DEMORE is the senior partner of channel strategy and programs at Force Management, a B2B sales effectiveness consulting firm that specializes in helping software companies improve sales productivity, driving predictable revenue growth. He has 25+ years of experience in software sales, enablement, and leadership.