Thinking of Partners as More Than an Extension of Your Sales Team

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A core goal of enablement is to empower revenue growth. Meanwhile, partner sales can be a force multiplier to scale organizational growth. With dedicated enablement for partners, a virtuous cycle can be created where enablement amplifies the success of partners, and the impact that enablement can have on revenue growth is exponentially increased.

“With partners, your deals are going to close 69% faster, and they have a conversion rate of 50% higher,” said Sam Carlile, global director of sales enablement at Databricks. “As an organization, I think the earlier you can begin to work with partners, the quicker it’s going to help your company scale.”

Maximizing the impacts of partner enablement requires a deliberate shift in mindset. The common notion that partners can be considered as an extension of an internal sales team can limit the potential for partner teams. Rather, partners can be thought of as a key lever to drive revenue in their own right, with unique needs that enablement can help enhance with dedicated enablement programs.

Here are three best practices to design and deliver partner enablement programs that leverage partners’ unique abilities to scale revenue.

Understand the Unique Needs of Partners

Partner teams have intrinsically different needs than internal sales teams. With varying knowledge bases, tools, and modes of operation among partners in regard to how they work with specific organizations or products, enablement programs are best positioned for success when they are catered specifically to the unique needs of each audience.

“The first challenge, is every partner’s going to have a different knowledge base, different expertise, different resources, and a different level of commitment to the partnership,” said Hannah Ensler-Rivel, director of revenue enablement at Red Canary.

While a partner could solely be selling one product for an organization, another could be selling hundreds of products for multiple companies. Building enablement to account for the different levels of knowledge and attention levels is one of the more challenging feats of partner enablement – and it requires careful design.

To create the right enablement programs for partners, the content needs to be flexible and adaptable for the needs of different partners. Since partners might not have the same knowledge base as internal teams, enablement programs need to meet partners where they are. Giving partners different options to learn at the time, pacing, and level they need to is fundamental to successful partner enablement programs.

“You can’t always just lift and shift your existing enablement content because the partner perspective and the partner voice are different,” said Ensler-Rivel. “It’s different depending on what side of the table they’re sitting on: are they looking at integrating your product with a variety of other ones? You have to make it applicable to their mindset.”

Delivering enablement programs to partners requires the internal enablement brand to be aligned with the values of partners. Understanding the needs of partners and acting as an ally through enablement initiatives can create a mutually beneficial relationship.

Demonstrate Enablement’s Value to Partners

A common challenge to partner enablement is effectively communicating the value that enablement programs can add to partners’ work. When both internal and external teams have overwhelming schedules, it can be hard to deliver messaging to partner teams about what enablement is offering, and why partners should consider it as a tool for growth rather than another responsibility to worry about.

Partners need to understand and see the value that enablement provides. Gaining this mindshare takes deliberate communication and tact to show partners what is in it for them by participating in enablement programs.

“What I call this is enablement with intent,” said Lewis Baird, head of partner enablement at Mulesoft. “When we design our programs and we start getting that pushback, we ask, what [value] can we add to your role specifically?”

It can be detrimental to partner relationships to assume the right to deliver enablement programs to them. Rather, that right must be earned through intentional and digestible messaging that effectively communicates enablement’s value.

Partners have competing priorities, and it is often unrealistic to assume enablement programs are at the top of the partner’s list. Rather than forcing enablement programs on them, entice partners to engage with enablement by demonstrating how it can help them excel at their jobs. One meaningful way to demonstrate this value is to highlight key wins with partners.

“When you have wins together, when you have enablement content that helped lead to sales, when you have certified partners who helped do the services, you need to highlight those wins publicly with your partners and show them how much they mean to your business,” said Ensler-Rivel.

Bridge the Gap Between Internal and Partner Sales Teams

Enablement can serve as the connective tissue between internal and external sales teams to help both teams enhance the efforts of the other. To effectively bridge the gap with partners, it is important that enablement is aligned with the priorities of both in order to remove ambiguity and enhance collaboration.

“As external enablement, if we’re not providing that information to our internal teams, that’s not going to work in terms of being successful,” said Baird. “I like to call it one team, one dream.”

For organizations that have both partner and direct sales teams, approaches to sales enablement must simultaneously differ based on the audience’s needs and adequately balance shared goals.

“The thing that can be difficult is you have to understand, what is our combined solution?” said Carlile. “Instead of viewing it as partner A and partner B, what is our combined solution that’s going to be more valuable than what we can do on our own for our customers?”

By focusing on the mutual goals, a strong sense of allyship and trust can be built between internal and partner sales teams. This strong partnership can lead to bigger deals and ultimately, accelerated revenue for the organization.

“What we have to do is create programs that not just enable our partners and the context of what our sales teams are trying to do, but also take that information from our partners, take it back to our sales team, and enable them on what our partners are doing,” said Baird.

Enablement is a powerful tool that fosters immense success for both internal and external teams. With a mindset that positions partners as more than just an extension of internal teams, prescriptive enablement programs can empower growth and productivity for both partners and internal teams. By identifying the different needs of different teams, communicating enablement’s value to partner teams, and balancing partner and internal needs effectively, enablement can work to maximize the collective success of both teams.

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