Episode 216: Joseph Tonye on Enablement in Channel Partner Ecosystems

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I am Shawnna Sumaoang. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so that they can be more effective in their jobs.

Today, I’m excited to have Joseph Tonye from Ivalua join us. Joseph, I’d love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Joseph Tonye: Sure. Thank you very much for the opportunity. I’m really happy to join this session with you today. My name is Joseph, I am a director of sales enablement for the EMEA region. I just joined a company called Ivalua in Paris. I have a background in sales, channel sales, partner relationship management, business development, and also sales enablement. I have had the opportunity to work with various companies in France, Ireland, and also Cameroon in Africa and across different industries, various fields going from sales, SaaS, cloud computing, recruitment, and now procurement.

SS: We are excited to have you join our podcast, Joseph. Just one of your areas of expertise is enabling channel sales teams. I’d love to talk about that a little bit. What are some of the unique challenges that can arise when you’re delivering enablement programs to sales reps who may be from external organizations?

JT: Yes, I think it’s a very interesting question because you might face many challenges working with channel partners. I think one of the first reasons why you might have challenges working with channel partners is the fact that you’re not part of the same organizations. If you represent a vendor and you have to work with sales teams from various partners, you’re not part of the same organization, so you need to talk to them, you need to create close collaboration and relationship with them, but you’re not part of the same organization, but at the same time, you need to be part of the same team because you will have common objectives, common goals to reach, and the same challenges and issues to address together. I think the main challenge here is to make sure that you can build collaboration and relationships with the partners, and make them feel that show part of the same thing, but at the same time you need to be aware of what is their approach to the market, what are their habits, how do they address the market, the customers that they have, what are their priorities?

All these challenges need to be addressed at an early stage. I think this is not a situation where it should be partner versus vendor, but at the same time, you need to understand the mindset and the organization you’re gonna work with. One of my recommendations here would be to first understand the organization by talking with the external stakeholders. The main stakeholders that represent these partner sales teams, so you might have to work with alliance managers and partner managers. These are the people who build and maintain the relationship with the vendor that you all represent. The first step here is to gain their confidence, and their trust, and make sure that they understand what is the outcome of the program that you want to implement. This is the introduction, you need to make sure that you align on the same objectives.

For example, in the cloud space, I had to work with a partner but this partner already used to work with different cloud providers, so I had to understand. We had to create a joint business plan together because I was in charge of business development and sales enablement at the same time. I was a channel manager. The objective of the joint business plan is to create some KPIs, objectives, and common goals, and then they can understand the value, and why they should resell your solution because if it’s beneficial for us, it’s going to be beneficial to everyone.

Then, after getting the approval from external stakeholders, the main point of contact, I think what is very important here is to gain attention and interest from salespeople. The sales reps directly, because this is all the people who will face the customers. One of the challenges here is the fact that they don’t have much time to spare in general. I mean, salespeople are very, very busy. They might have conflicting meetings. Sometimes you might face challenges in scheduling some meetings with them because they are not available. Sometimes they might also be more reticent because maybe they used to work with another vendor, and they already have a close relationship with them. They all used to sell a specific solution and they might not understand your product which comes as a new product or new service. They might find the project of your dissolution complex which can be another challenge. It’s not just about some challenges, but these are a few examples that I can mention.

SS: Yeah, absolutely. You went through a lot of the ways in which you overcame those challenges, but how have you overcome specifically the challenge to reduce the complexity of channel enablement?

JT: I think the key here is to be able to get to know each other first because if you don’t know each other if you don’t know the people you’re gonna work with, it’s going to be very, very difficult to be able to create a joint business plan and all the key actions or the sales enablement programs that you want to implement. Create proximity with partner sales teams. You can use the main stakeholders, such as the managers of the sales team because first they can open the doors and introduce you to the team which can be more effective since they already know their teams. They can help you identify who all the champions are, like the sponsor in these teams. They might have one or two sales reps that have an influence on the rest of the team and they can easily spread the message within the organization. You can use these champions in order to spread your message within the team and make it easier to come up with new sales enablement programs and make it easier to start and initiate the directions with the whole team.

With proximity, there are many examples. This is something I’ve done in the past, we used to organize on-site events at the office. It’s a good idea when you want to create proximity because they can visit the office, they can have a drink with you or lunch. It’s like an informal introductory meeting where you can get to know each other and gain trust and confidence from these sales reps. Like I said before, I think in order to overcome these challenges, you need to make sure that partners understand the value of joint collaboration.

As mentioned earlier, from my experience, sales enablement is not just about content management or maybe training or coaching. I’ve worked with sales reps and business developers and they have an objective at the end of the month or at the end of the quarter of the year, they need to reach a specific goal, close a certain number of deals opportunities, and need to understand what is the value of your products? Is it valuable? Is it beneficial to them? Is it going to help them close opportunities to generate more revenue and maybe more sales? I think it’s very important to make sure that everyone within the organization understands the value of this joint collaboration and anticipates the blockers. Once you have created a plan together, you understand the partner goals, you have your own goals, and you are aligned together on these goals, you can then add the sales enablement problems or initiative that you want to lead because you can present this as a tool that will have them reach these goals.

Finally, I would say what I’ve done in the past, I’ve also scheduled weekly sales meetings, and monthly operational meetings, and these meetings are very important because this is where you can propose new initiatives. So for example, if you have a meeting in the first week of the month and you see that there is a need for salespeople to better understand the product or maybe there is a need for them to better understand how to use a reseller console, for example, you can then introduce or propose new ideas initiatives to these partner alliance managers and they will help you implement the solution to the problem. Then for the implementation of the programs, whether it is about sales, how to manage a sales cycle, or how to manage importance, I think for every problem that we have tried to implement in the past I would always prepare a session in advance. A preparation meeting where we can scale together, I’ll have the alliance managers, I have some regional sales managers and we can discuss together what would be the best topics for their sales reps. What would be the priority? They can give insight and give ideas, they can propose some initiatives, and getting validation and getting a recommendation from the partner organization is valuable because once you start implementing a sales enablement program you do it not because you want to do it, but because you got some advice, recommendations, and insights from the partner in the first place.

SS: Absolutely. Now, in addition to your background enabling channel sales teams, you also have experience as a channel manager and business development manager for channel sales as you had mentioned earlier. Through that experience would have been some of your key learnings about how to build effective partnerships with channel sales teams and how has that helped you shape your approach to channel enablement?

JT: Thanks for this question, because sometimes when we think about the partnership we think that the approach can be the same with different partners, and what I want to say here is as a channel sales manager, I have to work with different partners in different regions. Every partner has its own way to address topics and challenges. Some of them like your brand, some of them just started working with you and some have long experience working with your organization or maybe with competitors. This is something that you need to be aware of before implementing any type of programs initiatives. We’re just talking here about the background, so be aware of the background, the history, the context, because this is something that’s gonna help you address the situation and make sure that you’re gonna be relevant to these partners. I would say for a little bit of context when starting as a channel sales manager, I used to ask questions to my director and to my manager in order to understand what has been done in the past with these partners. Then during the first introduction call with the different partner leaders, I would always try to understand what had been done in the past, what was relevant to them, what could be done better in the future, and what are the benefits of the competitors? What is the reason why the sales rep prefers another vendor, for example? What are all the blockers and what can be improved?

This is partner knowledge. Once you have this part of the knowledge of the complex and the history, you can start watching them much easier. I would say one of the first steps would be at this stage, to make sure to understand what are the sources of motivation. So the motivation factors and success factors and what I want to say here is for sales reps, what counts the most for them? Some sales reps or motivated by money. Some of them are motivated by learning more about the products and getting more knowledge. Some of them like recognition. If you’re aware of the success factors, the motivation factors become much easier to work with people. Everything should be linked to success and motivation factors. For me, this is something that I’ve done in the past that was really helpful for me, but of course, there are plenty of, many more examples.

SS: Yeah, absolutely. I’d love to dig into maybe some of the best practices for driving adoption of your enablement programs amongst channel sales teams. How do you gain mindshare from channel sales reps, especially if they have other competing priorities as you mentioned earlier?

JT: Yes. I think one of the key points here is, I think it’s crucial for every sales enablement practitioner to be available. When I say available is what happens after the sales training session. What happens next? For example, we’ve organized sales training sessions with 60-plus sales people in my previous company. After this sales training station, what I try to do is to see what is the progress. Is there anything that we can measure in terms of metrics? It’s not always easy, but being able to measure the impact of the sales training or maybe a sales program, it’s not always just about training, but being able to measure the impact is key because you can see how it has been implemented and what is impactful to the department organization, so therefore there are different factors here. Different metrics can be certifications, opportunity is not always easy to measure.

Another thing here is when I mentioned availability, I was talking about the fact that reps might have questions after the sales training session. They might prefer to work with a specific vendor just because the sales enablement or the sales coach from this organization is more available. This is something very simple but very important for us to have someone that you can talk to. Someone you can contact in case of need. If a sales rep has a question about the product and is looking for answers for a specific type of customer looking for advice and recommendation, being available for this sales team is crucial because they will have confidence, they will trust you, and it’s something that really counts. This is where you can make a difference as opposed to the competitors. About the responses and the elements that you provide to the sales reps, I think that being accurate, and making sure to provide the right information at the right time is very important, even if it takes time, but make sure to provide the right information.

To your question regarding mindshare, Shawnna, what I mentioned in the past regarding the introduction called gain confidence within proximity, this is something that has to be maintained during the whole cycle during the whole year, every time. This is not something that has to be done in the early stage only, but all the time. An example here is to schedule 1-1 conversations, maybe monthly meetings with the sales reps, they can be a formal or informal conversation about how it goes, what all the challenges faced by the sales reps, how we can help, what has been done since the last training session. Make sure to have this monthly conversation where you can measure the impact and at the same time gain more insights from the sales reps and be able to help with whatever is needed.

SS: That’s fantastic. Now, how can enablement motivate and incentivize channel sales teams to improve performance specifically?

JT: Yes, so in sales enablement, there is a little bit of psychology. Being able to understand what motivates salespeople is key, as understanding their personality. As I said before, I think that enablement is not just about the content, it’s not just about training or coaching, but since you’re working with salespeople, you need to understand what the outcome of the enablement process is and what is the motivation for the partner organizations, but also the direct sales teams. I said this before, but there are many motivating factors. Once you get a better idea of what is important for salespeople it becomes much easier. Some people like activities, like kickoffs, some people like to be recognized for their efforts, and some sales reps like to get better knowledge or experiences.

I remember in the past example, during the sales training session we used to mention the value of the certifications for sales reps. We were going through the session and at the end of the training session, we can get a new certification these certifications can be valuable because you can receive more leads from the vendor because the vendor will recognize your expertise or specialization in a specific area and at the same time you can get more credibility in the market because customers will see that you are certified in a specific field. This is maybe the type of problem I will say that can motivate channel sales teams, but there are many other examples, challenges, incentives, everything. Once the enablement program has been implemented I think it’s important to link enablement to the performance and to motivation factors in order to drive initiative and inject the dynamic.

Regarding the question, how can enablement motivate sales reps, I would say that as sales enablement professionals, if we are able to make it easy for them to sell the solution, they will get more comfortable in selling the solution, especially in the SaaS space on cloud computing where solutions can be complex sometimes. I mean if the process is difficult to understand, if the product of the solution or complex, it will be very challenging and difficult for us to implement programs since everything seems to be complicated, so make it easier for salespeople to understand that they can do it easily. I think that this is very important and it can be a source of motivation because you will get more motivation from a sales rep if you sell a solution that you understand. In some cases, a person prefers to work with a specific vendor because they find the competitor is more complex to understand.

SS: That’s fantastic. Now in a quickly changing sales environment, can you share some ways that you’re able to stay on top of changes impacting your channel partners to ensure that the enablement programs you’re delivering remain relevant?

JT: Yes. As I said, I think the safe environment is changing constantly and very quickly. It’s also important to get updated on the market trends, understand the customer behaviors, and understand what is relevant to customers because, in order to understand what is relevant to partners, we need to understand what’s relevant to customers because everything is driven by the customer. You can see values and messages from companies who say they are a customer-centric company, with a customer-centric approach. Everyone is driven by the customer’s needs and I think it’s the same thing at any company in any industry. Being able to understand the market trends, and work with marketing is important. You can also review success stories. When I was walking in the cloud space, we used to have customer success stories for some wins and opportunities that have won in the past and in different regions of the world. This was very helpful for me because I was able to understand how the opportunity has been won in the past and what can be important for the partner to know.

Additionally, it helped me understand what is important for the customers. Every week you have new customers with stories, you have case studies, so you have different scenarios and you can understand how the technology is evolving, how the sales environment is changing because you have examples of customer objections, how the sales rep was able to handle these objections, which argument or maybe which resources this sales rep was able to use, so you can think of the solutions. Once you get this knowledge, it becomes much easier to understand what’s happening in the market and talk to partner organizations. Say, “okay, so this is what you can do, this is what could be beneficial to you because it has been done in the past, it worked and it helped us generate more revenue.” When I say success stories, I’m talking about vendor success stories and so it can be success stories or opportunities that have been closed by the vendor or between vendor and other partners because you can have public success stories. Using this is very helpful to understand how the environment is changing.

I would also say attend events, and conferences, like the events that Sales Enablement PRO is organizing. These are very relevant because you can hear from other professionals and understand how the market is changing and you can get insights and then it is much easier than to implement new ideas, In addition to success stories or market trends. You can also use internal tools such as CRM where you can see opportunities that are closed every week and talking with internal regional sales managers, for example, can give you a good idea of how the environment is changing because they can give you insight and then you can use these inside ideas to talk to your partners in order to work together and adapt to this changing environment.

SS: I’ve loved this conversation, thank you so much.

JT: Thank you, Shawnna. It was great speaking with you.

SS: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there is something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know we’d love to hear from you.

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