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1. MAKING YOUR PARTNER EXPERIENCE A COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE
These days, it’s not enough to simply have a partner program. To have a truly successful partner program, you must invest the proper amount of time and resources into preparing and educating your partners. In many cases, your partners sell many products, some of which could include your competitors—so what makes your brand stand apart from the rest?
The experience you provide your partners is just as important to partners as the product itself. When partners have tens to hundreds of vendors to choose from, having a one-of-a-kind partner experience can become one of your top competitive advantages. In this guide, you will learn 19 ways to elevate your partner experience and how you can apply them to your own channel partner program.
2. GET UNCOMFORTABLE
The only way you learn is by doing. Often times, learning requires you to step outside of your comfort zone and get your hands dirty. As a business, even the best strategy in the world will go to waste if you’re not willing to implement and execute those tactics.
We can all admit that it’s uncomfortable for most people to make phone calls, or give a speech. But like any muscle in your body, your confidence needs to be worked on to build strength. If you start practicing and building those “muscles”, through repetition, your comfort zone will expand and you’ll be able to take on new challenges. The process of getting uncomfortable applies to almost every sector of business, including partner recruitment.
In many cases, you have to be the one to start the conversation, you have to be the one to define the needs and the nature of the relationship. If you’re uncomfortable, that’s most likely a good sign that you are learning to flex those “muscles”.
3. RELATIONSHIP, NOT DICTATORSHIP
Partnerships are all about relationships. When managing any relationship, whether that is a partner relationship or a team relationship, the communication between both parties truly defines whether the interactions will be relationship or dictatorship based.
What Causes a Dictatorship?
If you are in a leadership or management position, think of the way you interact with your team. Are you a boss or a leader? A boss will issue ultimatums, will demand, will rely on authority, take credit without giving credit where it’s due, place the blame, and live by the motto “my way or the highway”. A “boss” is not open to collaboration, which can make their employees and partners feel like they have no voice in the matter.
Alternatively, a leader listens to the needs of their team, coaches their team to learn from mistakes, that says “we” at every turn, gives credit, accepts blame, and lives by the motto “there’s strength in unity”.
If you’ve noticed that your partners are unmotivated, downtrodden, or have a high churn rate, focus on becoming a leader rather than a boss. Ask your partners what they need to be successful in their role and actually listen to their responses. When partners feel like their ideas and needs have been heard, they are likely to increase their loyalty to you, which can lessen churn.
4. ELEVATE YOUR EMPATHY QUOTIENT
The greatest skill anyone could have is empathy. Empathy is the ability to see things from someone else’s perspective. However, too much or too little empathy can be detrimental to you as a person, as well as a professional.
Within partner sales, your team needs to have a balance of how much empathy they have for their prospects—understand the prospect’s situation and help them if you can, but don’t give everything away for free.
To practice empathy, look at every situation from your prospect’s point of view. If you can understand their point of view, you can then speak to their challenges, better relate to them, and craft solutions that are completely aligned to what’s important to them. The key is to be intentional about your willingness to listen.
To really get to know your audience and what matters to them, just ask. Ask open-ended questions and listen to everything they are struggling with and hoping to solve with your product.
5. ASK. DON’T ASSUME
Everyone in a partnership needs to be on the same page when it comes to strategy and execution. Making sure everyone is set up for success can only be achieved by asking questions about what each party knows, doesn’t know, is struggling with, and what the needs are.
Basing actions upon assumptions is one of the most dangerous things you can do in business. If you assume your partners are acting in a certain way, following up with a lead, completing all the steps in the sales process, or are well educated on the topic, you are risking having under-prepared partners that don’t know what questions they should be asking. The moral of the story, it’s much less of a hassle to ask how you can help before mistakes are made.
6. TEACH PROSPECTING
The number one reason for failure in sales is an empty pipeline. Long-term partnerships need to have a foundation of empowerment and the full lifecycle of that relationship needs to be considered before bringing on any new partner. As you would train a new internal employee, partners also need to be taught to be intentional with their words and actions when prospecting. Like any new skill, prospecting needs to be practiced and developed. If you’re able to coach your partners to be intentional with their conversations and gather the right information up-front, you’ll be able to successfully pre-qualify more leads at a higher velocity.
It’s crucial to have a strong prospecting strategy, after all, prospecting is like a first impression. If you’re looking to revamp your prospecting process, consider adding a multi-touch plan where your sales and marketing team reaches out to the prospect a number of times, with a variety of mediums.
The current buyer, whatever the industry is no longer found in just one location. Having a variety of prospecting tools, strategies, and locations can help your team successfully make contact with your intended buyer.
7. ALLOW TECHNOLOGY TO ENHANCE HUMAN INTERACTION
Technology can never replace human interaction. Innovation in technology should be driven by the need to enhance and empower the human connection. New technologies can enhance any type of relationship, whether that’s partner vendor, partner-prospect, or prospect-vendor—the key is to make sure the technology is truly enhancing rather than detracting from quality communication.
8. DELIVER DIFFERENTIATED QBR’S
Traditionally, Quarterly Business Reviews (QBR’s) are sets of reactive data that only reveal what has occurred in the past. If you want to differentiate your QBR it needs to be set up to work as a business planning tool.
During your next Quarterly Business Review, it is important to address the historical data but to also go further to define how the partnership will operate in the future and how you plan on supporting the partner in their journey. Differentiating your QBR’s will help make sure you and your partners are able to walk through the steps, tactics, and timelines to achieve the goals in place.
9. EMPHASIZE TEACHING
Teaching is the cornerstone of a great partnership. By emphasizing teaching, you start to create an opportunity to scale. When partners can make decisions for themselves because they are confident in the material, momentum in the sales cycle increases and the dependency partners have on you decreases.
10. CHANGE YOUR MESSAGING
Your message matters now more than ever. People buy products not just based on the product itself, but on the brand.
Failed companies will tell you that the number one reason why they were not successful was due to their failure to communicate their product differentiation and brand value when compared to competitors. To make your messaging resonate with the buyer, there are three main components to consider:
1. Engage With Consumers On An Emotional Level— People buy on emotions, but justify with logic. If you can tug on the consumer’s emotions enough, they can disregard their need for logic.
2. Give Them Insight and Engage Them With Curiosity—Consumers want to know enough about your product to feel safe about their purchase decision, but not enough where there is no opportunity to be delighted by the end results.
3. Demonstrate Tangible Value— Appeal to the logical side to help give grounds for purchase.
If you create your messages around these three components, your messaging will disrupt the market.
11. AVOID THE FORGETTING CURVE PROBLEM
Partnerships rely on training and enablement, but how do you teach your reps so that they learn and retain the information? The “Forgetting Curve Problem” is the understanding that when you teach a large chunk of content, your audience will lose a percentage of the information after certain lengths of time.
- Within an hour after the content is presented, 50% of the information will be lost.
- After 24 hours, 75% of the information will have been lost.
- After 48 hours most people will have lost up to 90% of the total information presented.
How Do We Get our Reps to Remember?
Since it’s so easy for humans to forget, it’s important to reinforce the information by continuously teaching, and developing learning tracks that teach in increments. Focus on allowing your partners to learn in the way that works best for them. Just like students in school, there are different styles of learning such as visual, auditory, kinesthetic, or multimodal learners and it’s important to offer multiple styles of learning to accommodate those different learning styles. Unique opportunities for learning can include workshops, role play, webinars, peer discussions, worksheets, and downloadable resources.
12. TRIANGULATE THE TRUTH
There are three areas to focus on when creating a great partnership:
1. Technology—The product technology must be forward-thinking and market-moving. Without a product that can stand the test of time, other technologies can be brought to the market quickly and overtake your market share. Your partners are relying on the technology to make a use case for the prospect, so it’s important to make sure there is longevity in the product and the use case is clear.
2. Executive Support—Testing a partnership never works out. A strong commitment is needed from both the vendor and the partner to make it work.
3. Investment— Channels and partnerships take time. Getting a partner program up and running is not a three-month process you must invest your time and resources into making sure your partner program is a success. In many cases, a truly successful partner program can take about 18 months to build. While you’re building your plans for a partner program consider stimulating the market by investing in tools and resources that support your partners, lead generation, skill-building, and people.
13. CREATE MORE VIDEO
Videos have become a staple of communication in today’s market due to the high amount of content consumption via social media. According to Sales Gravy, “7 out of 10 B2B buyers claim that videos influence their buying decisions”. B2B and B2C alike, people respond well to video marketing because they want to get to know the faces behind the brand. The video should be used as a piece of your marketing strategy. Whether that strategy is to recruit partners or reach out to prospects, the need for video marketing is real and immediate.
14. ENABLE, NOT EXPECT
We live in a society filled with expectations. When signing up partners, it’s an expectation that they will produce leads, deals, etc. But how do partners go from zero to hero with immediate expectations? It’s time to enable your partners to have the training and resources needed to be successful.
Winning organizations disregard all expectations and focus on enabling their team. With an enablement mindset, you’re looking for ways, tools, and resources to set partners on the right track to achieve success.
Enablement isn’t limited to providing the right content, enablement in the workplace is driven by the right messages, tools, mindset, skills, and systems. When all these factors align and work together, your partners will be able to have a cohesive learning experience and in turn, become a strong representative of your brand.
15. DEVELOP A CROSS-SELL/UPSELL STRATEGY
You have gold in your current customer base and the ability to mine it with a strong cross-sell/upsell strategy. So many cross-selling and upselling opportunities are missed simply because representatives don’t know the depths of all product offerings, how to recognize the need, or how to start that initial conversation. Educate your partners on every possible way to delight the customer—it’s less expensive to sell more to your current customer base than to recruit new customers.
16. LISTEN, REALLY LISTEN
The most insatiable human need is the need to feel important and that can be achieved by listening. In most conversations, people are simply waiting for their next turn to talk instead of intentionally listening. When you give someone the time to hear their needs, concerns, and questions, you are showing that they are more valuable to you than your time, which highly resonates not just in the sales process but in life. Strong relationships are built when both parties fully understand the needs, fears, and desires of both parties. How do you find out those things? Listen.
17. CO-SELL, CO-MARKET, CO-SERVICE
Partnerships allow for an amazing opportunity to co-sell, co-market, and co-service with partners and vendors. When you have the philosophy to work together, market together, prospect together, execute service engagements together, and share information, the partnership is stronger and is more effective. In most cases, when partners and vendors work together, because of the collaboration and mutual understanding of the goals, the quality of the output is much higher than when one party executes alone.
18. DEVELOP A PARTNER MASTERMIND GROUP
The best ideas stem from collaboration. To gather the best ideas on how to better a partner program, collaborate with actual partners to evaluate if your solution is meeting their needs and how you can improve their experience. Two styles of groups to implement to drive collaboration are:
- Partner Advisory Council, this group is reactive; the vendors will make suggestions on how to improve the partner experience and the advisory board takes it into consideration and chooses which ideas they would like to implement.
- Partner Mastermind Group, this group is proactive; this is a group of partners who make suggestions and collaborate on the changes they would like to see implemented into the program.
Both groups can have an impact on the quality of your partner program because they are driven by those who will be experiencing the changes.
19. ALLOW REAL-TIME DEAL ENGAGEMENT TO OCCUR
We’re in an era where technology is not only readily available but where it’s necessary to leverage technology to provide flexibility within your sales cycle. Keith Lubner from Sales Gravy states “buyers now know more than 60% of your product before they ever interact with your brand”. When customers are able to research so much information on their own, the sales cycle must be enhanced with relevant information and technology that allows for real-time engagement to occur.
When engaging with prospects, don’t simply give them the requested content, add value to the conversation. Ask what is important to them and tailor your messaging to fit their needs. A unique tailored solution will make your prospects feel heard, valued, and in many cases will play a role in helping to close a deal.
20. FOCUS ON PEOPLE, NOT PROCESSES
The ultimate lesson in any business — B2B, B2C, partner to partner— everyone is a unique and valuable individual and it’s important to treat them as such. People are the driving force behind any business. Closing a deal, having a conversation, creating a product—it’s never about the processes or the technology, it should always be about the people using it.
Inside the Brain of a Prospect
When a prospect meets you, they will have five questions they need to self-address before the product is pitched. These questions will define the nature and longevity of your relationship with them. The prospect will ask themselves:
- Do I like you?
- Do you listen to me?
- Do you make me feel important?
- Do I trust and believe you?
- Do you understand me and my problems?
These are questions that every single person, in every single interaction is thinking about before they will even consider purchasing your product. As a professional, it’s important to start leveraging emotions and start locking in the people-aspect before getting into the nuts and bolts of your product. When strong relationships are established, whether that’s between vendor and prospect or partner to partner, you’re able to create a longer-lasting relationship.
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