By Wayne Monk, ASG Technologies Group
Vendors looking to go above and beyond in their business have likely considered building out a channel partner program, and if they haven’t, they should. Channel partners can help vendors access new markets, reach new buyers, extend their pool of resources and rev up revenue — driving growth and bringing in the numbers vendors want. Despite the quantitative benefits and the easy assumption that more is better, when it comes to leveraging the channel optimally, vendors must remember that if quality doesn’t trump quantity, it certainly enables the abundance of positive results.
Once a vendor has selected their channel partners, the onus is on the vendor to set those partners up for success. While the partner’s commitment to the business is an essential qualifier, the vendor’s ability to enable a partner is one of the most critical success factors. Even if a partner offers impressive coverage, credentials and capital, they don’t come fully equipped with the sales and product knowledge of your solution needed to win new business. Let’s face it — people are more likely to recommend and sell products they know and for which they can guarantee positive outcomes, especially with their top accounts. They are far less likely to introduce products, solutions or ideas until they are confident they can showcase value and ensure customer success. Sales enablement programs can fuel confidence so partners know, understand and believe in your product. In my experience building channel partner programs, there are three defined learning paths that align and support different partner roles. By enabling partners along these paths, vendors will see more interactions, proposals and sales for their solutions.
Sales Path — Locating The Pain Point
Effective channel partners should work as a seamless extension of the vendor’s team, which requires that partner sales teams are equally educated on the product or solution. This expertise needs to go beyond foundational knowledge of the product. To equip partners with the competence and confidence needed to successfully recommend a product, vendors must prepare them with where to go and what to say, as well as how to handle any objections that might arise during the sales cycle. Vendors need to teach their partners how to hunt for new opportunities by providing open-ended, discovery questions. This program can be delivered in several ways, though video is often very effective. Dividing the learning program into a few video-based increments, followed by a test, helps vendors to create lessons that are digestible for partners, hold their attention and identify the need for any follow-up.
The content should focus on the importance of locating and exposing pain points. Channel partner sales teams need to be able to uncover the customer’s pain point, discover who in the company specifically experiences that pain point and create a unique value proposition that addresses the issue. Vendors should set up partners with the right questions to engage target customer profiles — in particular, partners need to discover the customer’s business function (do they work in applications or IT, for example?) and which business roles are most affected by the pain point. Each of these details helps to align messaging with the personas of different roles. For example, what worries or excites a C-level position is going to differ from what concerns a frontline IT manager. Still, regardless of the persona or position, every partner salesperson needs to hit on their unique value proposition and the business outcomes supported by customer proof points. The quicker the vendor can enable their partners to accomplish this with confidence, the quicker the results.
Pre-Sales Path — Proving Value
Whereas the sales learning track hones the “unique value,” the pre-sales learning path tackles the “how” and “why.” Vendors need to prepare channel partners and technical resources to explain exactly how this vendor is better than any alternatives, and the best way to do that is to provide key proof of value (POV) points, demonstrations and deep dives into specific use cases. Technical enablement combines product and sales expertise, enabling partners to not only understand the value of the product, but also to communicate that value proposition, deliver a compelling, scenario-based demo and establish proper success criteria and the scope in which they will deliver success. This learning path requires a blend of on-demand and lab-based work in which partners learn to showcase the unique value in the context of the customer’s use case, followed by an accreditation process. Trainees can record themselves performing a demo so they can be accredited after the program and feel empowered to present the product independently. In turn, by building in this practice and certification, vendors can ensure that partners understand the specific and granular POV that the vendor offers, heightening their ability to convey it to customers.
Delivery/Consulting Path — Showcasing And Realizing Value
Once customers buy into the unique value and how the vendor best addresses their requirements, the client’s next reaction is to say, “show me.” The physical installation, configuration and integration of the product is the vendor’s opportunity to help customers realize value from the product, making it important that channel partners are technically enabled to feel comfortable turning the screwdriver. A learning path to delivery and consulting requires more lab-based training and hands-on experience that allows partners to perform exercises in an actual product environment. While this may seem like a substantial undertaking for vendors to train their channel partners, leveraging cloud labs and instructional videos to outline specific functions can simplify the process. With these capabilities, vendors can monitor trainees’ progress via a remote platform and provide guidance during demonstrations and lab workshops if necessary. By being present during training, experts can find opportunities up front to show partners different product shortcuts or better ways to demo the product. Following the lab workshops, vendors can initiate a standard quick start program, in which they install the product and allow channel partners to shadow them under an apprenticeship, confirming that they can handle the process on their own.
The ultimate goal of each learning path is to empower channel partners to deliver a differentiated value proposition statement expressed in terms of business outcomes. Whether they are introducing, explaining or demonstrating POV, channel partners and vendors alike need the ability to distinguish how that vendor delivers excellence in a unique way. By coaching and qualifying partners at every stage of the sales cycle, vendors can enrich their competence with a product, elevate their confidence during a sale and align their approach and commitment to the business.
About The Author
Wayne Monk is Senior Vice President, Global Alliances and Channel Sales at ASG Technologies and is responsible for establishing strategic partnerships, indirect channels and other key routes to market. Wayne has 30 years of enterprise solution sales, marketing and channel management experience with high growth technology companies. Wayne has held many sales and channel management positions with Seamless Technologies (acquired by Avnet), HP Software, Mercury Interactive, CA, MainControl (acquired by MRO and then IBM), and NCR Corporation.