Channel recruitment: The partners are here, but where are the sales?

Kirsty Gilchrist, MD at twogether, explores five ways to gain mindshare and drive revenue with your channel partner

The champagne corks popped a few months ago, and you’ve moved on to fresh challenges. You’re satisfied that your new channel partner has successfully completed your on-boarding process. Their sales reps have been through the necessary training courses on your solutions. The partner’s business plan has been agreed, and you’re confident in its ability to deliver.

In short, all the planets have aligned, and your partner is set for a great future selling, installing and supporting your solutions.

Everyone is going to make lots of money and live happily ever after.

Except that there are no sales.  Or, at least, there are no sales of your products.  Which is odd, considering the above.  And even odder, since the partner’s reps seem very proficient at selling – similar technologies in their portfolio are flying off the shelves.

So what’s the problem? And, equally important, what can be done to fix it?

Don’t just manage the partner. Manage the expectations.

That’s your expectations, by the way.

You see, you can’t assume that ‘signed up’ automatically means ’successful’.  Partnerships aren’t set-and-forget – you have to work at them.  And that involves looking for the reasons why sales haven’t taken off.

The best place to start is with the people at the sharp end – the partner’s sales reps. Paradoxically, although they sell some pretty advanced technology, reps tend to be conservative. They will go to any lengths to protect their relationships with customers. That means they’ll promote what they know customers will buy.

And your new-to-them solutions are a leap in the dark.

Your job is to understand their fears, manage the transition to the brave new world of your solutions, and gain their trust.

Here are five ways to build relationships – and sales:

1. Meet the team

Not just once, at the walk-through of your partner’s office when you were scoping each other out, but regularly.   Chances are, your negotiations were with the partner principals. Now you need to connect with the people who hold the day-to-day customer relationships. It’s not enough just to turn up and expect an audience.

And don’t imagine ‘death by PowerPoint’ presentations will do the trick.  Keep it simple. Informal small group chats are a great way to sell your business, your solutions and your processes.  While the reps are learning about you, you can be assessing their strengths and weaknesses.

Where do you need to put resources and effort? You’ll find out the more you talk together.

2. Set ground rules right from the start

What’s the quickest way to alienate a partner’s sales team? Taking a hot prospect away from them after they’ve done the early spade work.

If your internal sales team deals with specific customer accounts – and there are bound to be some, official or otherwise – let the partner’s sales reps know straight away. That way, you avoid confusion and simmering resentment.

But you can go further. If you can show that you’re just as protective of their relationships by minimizing conflict with partners in a neighbouring territory, you build trust and goodwill

3. What makes the reps tick?

A lot of people assume that sales reps are like slot machines – just add money to make them go. And while it’s true that sales commission is a powerful incentive, it’s not the only one.

The better you get to know the individuals in your partner’s sales team, the more closely you can tweak your rewards.

But a word to the wise. You’re not doing this in isolation. Never forget that other vendors have exactly the same motivation, and similar ideas. You have to work at making your incentives more enticing and engaging.

4. Show them the money

Sales reps need leads. So unless you’re their default vendor (in which case this article is surplus to requirements!), make sure they know about opportunities for your solutions.

Can you throw an ice-breaker sales opportunity their way? Hold their hands through your sales process, grab some low-hanging fruit together, then watch the results come rolling in.

5. Make sure they feel they have ownership 

Nobody likes to be kept in the dark.  And sales reps aren’t performing seals, to be brought on to do tricks. So when there’s a deal which will involve the partner (perhaps in long term post-sales services or support) always bring in the reps early in the process. Not only will they own that process, they’ll also have a better understanding of how you got to the point of closing.

The key message is to look beyond the obvious. If something’s not working, investigate. And even when things are going well, don’t take your eye off the ball – nurture the relationship. You’ll find more tips to help get the best from your partners here.

What’s your experience of gaining partner mindshare? I’d love to hear from you. And watch out for the next post in this series.