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Winning Channel Mindshare with Sales Enablement

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As organizations aim to scale revenue, leveraging channel partners can be a strategic move to magnify results. In fact, 80% of chief sales officers say that channel partners contribute 50% or more of the yearly revenue for their companies. This impact is only projected to grow, as more than 60% of companies now collaborate with more channel partners than they had in previous years.

But simply having channel partners won’t lead to increased revenue; just as with a direct sales force, channel partners need to be enabled to sell.

As channel ecosystems grow increasingly complex, one of the biggest challenges is gaining mindshare. Today’s channel partners are independent entities with their own unique challenges and goals. No longer are they an extension of just your sales force, but work with multiple vendors in order to serve their customers and drive business. This means it is all the more important to keep them engaged so that they keep your organization top of mind every time the need arises in their deals to bring in your offering.

“For your sales groups, teaching them your own products is complex enough,” said Sam Carlile, global director of sales enablement at Integrate. “With partners what can be a challenge is they have to understand the products on the other side. You have to be able to speak to how you engage with those partners…For sure it can be a huge blind spot, but it can definitely be a force multiplier if it’s done properly.”

Many organizations attempt to tackle mindshare through incentives – think rewards, compensation, or events. While incentivization can certainly be a motivator, all of the prizes in the world won’t matter if your partner sales organizations aren’t set up for success through enablement. Here are five strategies to win mindshare with channel partners through enablement.

1. Define Clear Rules of Engagement

First and foremost, ensure you have clear rules of engagement for how enablement will interact with channel partners. Consistency is key so that partners know what they can expect and when.

It is a simple formula: the more attention they receive from you, the more likely they are to reciprocate that attention to you. At the very least, consider setting up a regular cadence of activities, such as a monthly newsletter with updates on any new information, materials, or events to be aware of. Or, host a weekly call with partners to give them an opportunity to share feedback, ask questions, or collaborate on new ideas.

“There just has to be that partner knowledge exchange,” said Carlile. “Those are the keys to be able to bring partners together.”

Setting expectations for engagement upfront can also help to combat challenges around participation and adoption of partner enablement programs.

“The people I’m trying to get to go through my courses and achieve their goals don’t work for us, so I can’t go to my VP of sales and have them mandate it,” said Penny Dakhil, sales enablement and project management consultant. “That makes things a little bit trickier.”

By collaborating with partners to define reasonable expectations on both ends for the enablement that will be provided and what participation looks like for them, you not only build trust but also make it easy for partners to engage with enablement programs. Over time, this helps you maintain long-term relevance.

2. Showcase What Success Means for Them

As early and as often as possible, display examples of genuine success as a result of the partnership. This will help grab attention and entice partners to engage with you deeper so that they can achieve results.

“You have to have real examples of where we work together well, and we win,” said Carlile. “That’s what has to be shared with the sales force so they understand how they can have that same success.”

The key here is that it must be real, unembellished stories from the trenches. For example, consider highlighting a “partner win of the month” showcasing different deals and scenarios when the partner collaboration led to success. Interview those involved in the deal to find out what challenges they experienced, how they overcame those, why they won, and most importantly, the outcome of that success. This positioning helps illustrate to your partners what is in it for them.

Further, sharing success stories publicly helps to reinforce the impact of a partner presence for both your organization and the partner. With intentional effort around acknowledging those wins, enablement helps cultivate a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with channel partners.

3. Center Enablement on Your Combined Solution

A common approach to partner enablement that can become a fatal flaw over time is a heavy emphasis on product training. While training on the technical knowledge and skills of the product or service is certainly one necessary component of the partner toolbox, it is by no means a complete package.

The main issue with a product-centered approach is that it reinforces a product hierarchy mindset wherein partner salespeople think in terms of “my product first, then your product if they have additional needs.” Rather, partner salespeople should be thinking in terms of your combined solution.

“Instead of viewing it as Partner A and Partner B, what is our combined solution that’s going to be more valuable than we can do on our own for our customers,” said Carlile. “Being able to focus training more on that versus separate is when you get bigger deals and then you build a stronger partnership with that company.”

To start, enablement must bring the partner organizations into the process. Listen to their needs and seek to understand what the commonalities are between both organizations as well as where you each bring unique value. With a solid message for how and why you can work together – rather than as an added step – enablement is more likely to resonate with what the partner sellers already know, and thus is more likely to gain mindshare.

“You need to have somebody that can partnerize content for you, that can put it into the voice of the partner,” said Marcela Piñeros, vice president of go-to-market enablement at New Relic. “What is meaningful to them? Everybody cares about different things, and unless you’re hitting them with what they care about, it’s going to be less effective.”

4. Make Resources Easily Accessible and Relevant

Just as it is critical for a direct sales team to have access to the latest and greatest information to efficiently and effectively do their job, it is even more essential to ensure partners have easy access to the most up-to-date, relevant resources.

Problems that can stem from the use of old messaging or out-of-date information are only amplified when working with partners, as it can weaken trust with partners and discourage them from seeking opportunities to bring your organization into deals. Not to mention, making partners hunt for materials is a surefire way to lose their attention and diminish mindshare.

“Partners are typically partnering with many organizations and it is easy to forget that you’re not the only one,” said Jen Spencer, vice president of sales and marketing at SmartBug Media. “Organizations need to have empathy for those partners, understand what they are going through, and try to make it as easy as possible for them to get access to the resources that they need, and never be in a position where they are going, ‘do I have the most accurate this or the most updated that?’ That should never be a question.”

Work with partners to create guidelines for how to access resources when they need them, as well as set expectations for when resources will be updated or made available. Committing to a regular cadence on enablement’s side to audit resources and assess whether they are being utilized effectively will also help the enablement team proactively address roadblocks to mindshare if and when they arise.

5. Provide Guidance on How to Best Utilize Resources

Beyond simply providing the most up-to-date resources, however, it’s also imperative to have guidance on how to turn that information into action. This guidance can come in the form of sales plays for different moments of action that channel partners will likely encounter, and how to approach conversations with the buyer while introducing your combined solution.

“I think everybody’s anxious to utilize our resources better,” said Jennifer Lopopolo, director of global sales enablement at Poly. “If you as an enablement person can show how you’re optimizing resources and still allowing them to drive their own requirements and initiatives, but you’re working together to solve the same problem, it’s a big win for the team.”

In sales, knowledge is just one part of the equation – people also need to understand when and how to effectively use that knowledge to connect to customer needs. Serving this up for channel partners will help them more seamlessly intertwine your resources and information with their sales process.

Gaining and maintaining mindshare is an ongoing process. After you’ve earned the initial attention of your partners, the burden is on enablement to keep partners engaged and interested in collaborating with your organization and sharing success together.

With clear rules of engagement for how you can work together effectively, an emphasis on celebrating wins, a focus on the power of your combined solution, and shared resources that are easy to access and consistently updated, enablement can ensure partners are always set up for success – and ultimately keep mindshare long-term.