Best Practices From Cisco’s World-Class Partner Ecosystem
This eBook is based off of a webinar hosted by Scott Barker, Head of Partnerships at SalesHacker and Evangelist & Podcast Host at Outreach, and Greg Reffner, VP of Sales at Allbound.
We’re going to take a wild guess: your partner roster consists of some partners who are more benchwarmers than they are Willie Mays’. Attempting to work with partners who aren’t stepping up to the plate will stretch your team, leave critical partners feeling neglected, and blow through your budget. That means you need to focus on the quality of your partners rather than simply the quantity. Finding partners who best fit for your business and training them to become truly great is the key to your partner marketing program’s success.
This eBook will dive into:
- How to understand which partner companies are the best fit to represent your product and brand
- Potential strategies to help them sell more efficiently
- Lastly, repeat the process so that you have a strong partner channel running effectively and adding to your bottom line regularly
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THE WARM UP: WHERE DO YOU WANT TO START?
It’s important to identify how you want to improve partner marketing. Of course, everyone wants to increase revenue in the long run. But get specific: what exactly are your pain points? Are your partners not selling enough as a whole? Are there a few underperformers holding you back? Do your partners’ values and expectations align with yours?
Once you pinpoint how you want to improve your partner marketing strategies, it becomes easier to choose partners whose goals align to your own.
Talk to your sales team and make sure your channel marketers, marketing team, and sales professionals are all on the same page and objectives are aligned.
FIRST BASE: RECRUIT THE RIGHT PARTNERS.
You can’t take every rookie and turn them into Babe Ruth. Be aware of what your requirements are — your roster is important. It’s okay to not let every person who tries out on the team.
Finding quality partners who can mutually benefit from marketing campaigns can be a daunting task. Many think that the more partners the better; they get their name out, reach a wider audience, etc. But in this day and age, it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality.
Just like how your marketing team has created ideal customer profiles, you should do the same for your partners. List the characteristics that represent your company’s ideal partner, such as demographic, geographic, and psychographic characteristics. Analyze past partners and the shared behaviors of the companies which proved reliable. Identifying ideal qualities evident in already successful partnerships will help you understand exactly what makes each partnership fruitful, allowing you to strategically seek out these same characteristics in future sales reps. You can also take a look at your competitors’ partners and where they’re finding success. Perhaps you can talk to these partners and ask why they chose your competitors.
Who knows – maybe when you speak to them they’ll learn that your buying model and incentives are more attractive.
How to Weed Out Partners With Low Potential
To determine whether you and a potential partner are a good match, discuss with them how you can help reach their goals. Ask about their budget and operational capacity, as some partners might not have the resources to work with you. Additionally, it’s important to keep reciprocity in mind — it’s not fair to take on a partner who you can’t assist as much as they support you. That will lead to an unbalanced relationship over time, which is guaranteed to be unsuccessful in the long run.
Narrow down your list of potential partners to those who really fit and focus your energy on those. Don’t have “yes” syndrome and partner with an organization “just because”. In short, don’t be afraid to disqualify partners.
If a company seems like a solid partner, test the waters. A good way to see if a partner is excited about working with you is if you call them during regular business hours — are they happy to hear from you and discuss ideas? Give some thought to exploring shared accounts and targeting ideas. Or, a working session might be productive to see if you collaborate well together. Do you both bring insights on new avenues to market or untapped verticals to tackle together?
If they aren’t willing to invest in business conversations with you as the vendor, they’re likely not the best partner for your organization. Creating email drip campaigns or posting to LinkedIn about what’s going on in your company helps get your name in front of potential partners, making your organization the front-of-mind choice. By utilizing lead scoring, you will quickly determine which partners are interested in hearing from you.
When solidifying a partner agreement, consider which KPIs they prioritize. If a partner prioritizes trade show attendance over digital marketing campaigns, such as email and SEM, while trade shows aren’t even on your radar, then they may not be the right fit.
Many of our clients use a shortcut when it comes to deciding if a potential partner “makes the cut”. Ask your own sales team for a list of top 50 accounts they’d like to break into next year. Then ask future partners for the same list from their account executives. Ideally, you’ll see a lot of overlap in target accounts. If so, your partnership is probably natural and can lead to mutual success. If not, you might have another conversation about what each of you hopes to achieve with your partnership.
WHO’S ON FIRST, WHAT’S ON SECOND: STARTING TO WORK WITH PARTNERS.
When you’re bringing partners on, it’s important to recognize that not every partnership is going to be a “home run”. Onboard your partners by giving them the right expectations — ones you and your partners can both manage. Sit down with your internal enablement team and learn how they train new sales and customers success reps. Consistency in onboarding and enablement is key when partners and vendors are going to market together.
Bringing your partners on the team is a careful balance of partner benefits and realistic expectations.
Be upfront and transparent in order to limit surprises along your partner’s journey. Address potential problems you see down the road, but also have a solution in mind that will keep your partners around — and interested.
Now, it’s time to double down on training and relationship-building. It’s up to you to make sure your partner has the tools for success, not the other way around. Leveraging your existing technology stack and allowing your PRM software to act as the partner facing layer will drive consistency from the beginning.
A consistent experience for your partners ensures trust and dependability. Provide current collateral, updated marketing materials, and share data on ongoing campaigns. You may even consider developing a dedicated team (see more on that below) who can focus on engaging with these partners and sharing successes.
THIRD BASE: HOME IS IN SIGHT.
You’ve found your partners, you’ve started working together. Now, enable your team. Forming a partnership with another organization is a good start, though it doesn’t mean that both teams will immediately hit it off. They might not know how to collaborate quite yet. Work with your partners to strategize about the best mutually beneficial way to perform marketing and sales processes.
Teach your partners to sell better by creating and implementing processes to help them educate and engage with prospects. This may require some trial-and-error from which you can ultimately grow as a partner manager. Look internally to see which selling motions and strategies are delivering your highest dollar value deals at the quickest velocity.
You can use this as a baseline to begin building a training program for your channel. When you see some success, try to make the model repeatable and scalable. Once you find a process that works, break it down into simple steps you can later apply to other partner relationships.
Keep in mind: Although you’ve found a process that has proven to be successful, it’s important to note that the key to success is consistently testing and experimenting. Having a tool in place, along with a systematic process to test and measure, ensures that you are tracking attribution of successful partner activity as it pertains to delivering on your key channel KPIs.
Using your established process as a blueprint, tailor your specific gameplan to each partner. Consider the organizational structure, processes, and technology that will be engaging in these processes. What technology could you bring in to ensure this process goes as smoothly as possible?
With all these things in mind, write down what your ultimate outcome should be and map steps to reach that goal.
As a channel manager, your role includes being a great PR professional for your partner program within the organization. When your partner closes the first few deals, promote this within their company and yours. The best way to keep partners motivated and engaged is to celebrate their wins, let them know that you’re a team that celebrates together.
Once you have a process in place, you can leverage technology to make it repeatable and scalable. For instance, Allbound is a tool that can help you manage all of your partners and resellers in one platform. Software features — such as content storage, partner engagement and pipeline management, and real-time reporting — help managers communicate vital learnings and track performance.
TIME TO TAKE IT HOME.
You’re all set up to get the “homerun” sale. The only way to keep your partners “winning” is to keep them motivated, engaging with your content, and keep your content and PRM platform up-to-date.
By now, you’ll likely have a few wins on your board, so it’s time to analyze your data. Note what companies, roles, and employees are most engaged. Are there similar trends among them? Who has invested in this process and raised their hand to be part of it willingly? Allbound enables you to collect and analyze these insights by tracking who participates in trainings within the platform or engages with which materials.
Let the data dictate how you spend your time and resources. You’ll want to nurture partner campaigns that show results, as well as identify weak points within your own marketing content, sales enablement efforts, or training. Ultimately, these insights should enable you to reach your overarching goal of increasing revenue.
As you grow, think about forming your own special channel partner team who can focus on improving opportunities; which should include many different members of the organization including channel, marketing, ops, sales, etc. The most successful internal channel teams, when you don’t have a channel department, tend to be comprised of various members of your organization from as many departments as possible.
This group’s sole responsibility doesn’t have to be working on partner deals if your organization isn’t there yet. However, make sure this team is empowered by setting them up for success — provide them with space to meet, freedom to discuss, and resources to elevate your partner program. Once you form this team, ensure you’re communicating their efforts and successes within the organization. Allow other employees to raise their hands to be part of this taskforce. Meet quarterly to understand what’s working and what else they need to be successful. Ensure you’re taking proactive measures to address any changes needed.
When you look at different partners and evaluate your relationship, you may start identifying key performance indicators (KPIs) that indicate healthy versus poor partner engagement: how often they log into your partner portal, the amount of content they download, and whether or not they’re utilizing co-branding functionality, etc. It’s important to consider if the partner is engaging with you. Identify which individuals within your partner organization are hand raisers who come to the table with their own ideas. These are the people that will serve as your advocates, so prioritize your relationship with them through regular communication and assisting with their own barriers to success.
Review each partner’s “win” rate and lead quality, ensuring that they continuously send leads that meet your standards. Your PRM, with all relevant data inside your CRM, should enable you to compare channel success and contribution against other areas of the business. Having siloed data leads to poor decision making. After all, the goal is to close on these leads, not just have lead volume. In turn, be reciprocal. If a partner regularly sends you leads and you never send them any, they won’t be your partner for long. After working with a partner for a while, continue to evaluate if you are still a good match.
Once you understand your partner channel data — and of course, a technology platform like Allbound can help — you should be able to create a breadcrumb trail of what leads to revenue. Share this with the team dedicated to partner success so that they can build tactics around each of these steps, paying special attention to what has worked in the past.
YOUR WINNING STRATEGY.
No one is saying it’s easy to create a partner program, let alone optimize one and nurture it for growth. However, a few areas of opportunity to make your own game day luck are choosing the right partners, focusing on training and onboarding, communicating and collaborating, and leveraging real data for continued success. If you have the right tools in your tech stack, you’ll start to see an uptick in partner engagement.
The New Generation of PRM:
Partner relationship management (PRM) enables you to optimize relationships with resellers and distributors so you can focus your time on other partner channel efforts. Request a demo to see how Allbound can help simplify communication and collaboration with partners, automate partner training and onboarding, increase pipeline management and visibility, and get improved content management and seamless distribution to partners.
EMPOWER YOUR PARTNERS.
When your business relies on partners, it’s vital to empower them to sell better and more efficiently. Allbound is a flexible Saas platform that helps any size business recruit, onboard, measure, and accelerate growth through sales and marketing partnerships.
Make every engagement between you and your partners-and between your partners and their prospects-simpler, productive, rewarding and engaging.
- Recruiting the right partners can be daunting. Ask your own sales team for a list of top 50 accounts they’d like to break into next year. Then ask future partners for the same list from their account executives. Ideally, you’ll see a lot of overlap in target accounts.
- Consistency in onboarding and enablement is key when partners and vendors are going to market together. Sit down with your internal enablement team and learn how they train new sales and customers success reps. Leverage your existing technology stack and allow your PRM software to act as the partner facing layer to drive consistency from the beginning
- Work with your partners to strategize about the best mutually beneficial way to perform marketing and sales processes. Teach your partners to sell better by creating and implementing processes to help them educate and engage with prospects.
- The only way to keep your partners “winning” is to keep them motivated, engaging with your content, and keep your content. Note what companies, roles, and employees are most engaged. Are there similar trends among them? Who has invested in this process and raised their hand to be part of it willingly?
- Start identifying key performance indicators (KPIs) that indicate healthy versus poor partner engagement: how often they log into your partner portal, the amount of content they download, and whether or not they’re utilizing co-branding functionality, etc. It’s important to consider if the partner is engaging with you.
- Identify which individuals within your partner organization are hand raisers who come to the table with their own ideas. These are the people that will serve as your advocates, so prioritize your relationship with them through regular communication and assisting with their own barriers to success.
Take the quiz to see if it’s time for you to invest in a modern PRM tool.