Partnerships
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6 Minutes

How to Guide: Partnership Alignment with Internal Stakeholders

Will Taylor
September 1, 2022

Partnerships professionals, don't treat your sales teams like a passive online course. Here's what I mean: 

About 2% of online courses are completed by students. People pay thousands of dollars for a course they don't even finish. Why? Because it stops at the financial investment. It's usually automated, and individuals aren't empowered to take action.

They aren't held responsible. They aren't accountable. Many of my B2B tech partnerships colleagues treat their Account Executives (and sometimes their partners) the same way. I hear time and time again about the struggles of sales enablement, but the solution is straightforward. 

Sales folks need a 1-to-1 human interaction by their partners in partnerships. We need to hold them accountable and responsible. We need to collaborate with them. We need to guide them. Only then will we see results from them. 

In this article, I'll be addressing some of the more common pain points my fellow alliances leaders, and I experience: 

  • How to align with internal stakeholders on the importance of partnerships 
  • Which Partnership KPIs to track and how to measure their results
  • How to ensure sales recognizes partner-influenced deals
  • What tools to use for sales enablement
  • How to engage Account Executives

How to align with internal stakeholders on the importance of partnerships 

Treat this as a sales cycle in the sense that you'll create work-back plans, set key dates, recommend and establish next steps, and balance expectations.

Just as with anything in business (and arguably in life), there needs to be some selling done. Persuasion ultimately requires you to emotionally and rationally motivate another person to become personally invested in your goals. Instead, they take on accountability, responsibility, and a personal alignment to the outcome of the situation.

As a foundation, we must consider our partner organization as a separate entity (metaphorically, not literally) to give us the best foot forward in approaching conversations internally.

All that said, we need to treat our internal teams as stakeholders we are selling to. It's essential for us to understand the persona you'll be speaking to. For example: 

Customer Success Managers 

Customer Success Managers generally care about things like retention and customer stories. Consider how partnerships play a role in helping the individuals, managers, etc., on that team. Partnerships help your organization become more "sticky" allowing you to have a higher chance of success with the client's use and integration of your platform, as well as greatly improved retention.

Sales Teams 

Sales Teams generally care about net new revenue and upsell potential Again, consider how partnerships play a role in driving new revenue. Partners can provide warm referrals, help drive upsells through adoption, and pair their own services with yours. 

Whichever the situation or team you're approaching, keep in mind that these clients are different. They are different because the medium they are introduced to your business is different. They need to be ushered through the process accordingly. This is where your expertise comes into play. 

You are the moderator between the partner and your internal teams. You are NOT the middle-person or messenger. Consider yourself the orchestrator or the director. It's your duty to properly prepare both sides for the conversation and introduction. You know these teams the best. You need to both people and project manage. Treat this as a sales cycle in the sense that you'll create work-back plans, set key dates, recommend and establish next steps, and balance expectations.

Which Partnership KPIs to track and how to measure their results

The most common KPIs being measured by partnership programs are partner influenced and partner sourced revenue.

Partner influenced revenue is incoming revenue that has a partner tag representing higher level activities. This can be tracked through campaign codes, etc. This revenue is generally more indirect in its influence and comes from activities such as webinars, blog posts, and other marketing efforts. A sales teams typically still needs to be involved with this kind of incoming interest. 

Partner sourced revenue is incoming revenue that has a separate tag or campaign code associated. The difference with partner sourced revenue is that it comes more directly from the partner. Sometimes it’s entirely sourced from the partner (ie. a reseller motion), and sometimes it’s partially sourced from the partner (ie. a referral program) where sales needs to get involved and finish the hand-off process, but much less so than partner influenced revenue.

The most common practice I’ve come across is tagging in CRMs to properly attribute. Some other methods include a form fill from referral partners that gets funneled into the sales or partnerships team’s hands. Others, like affiliate partnerships, rely on cookies from link-clicks which can help with tracking conversions.

Reveal has also made it possible to track the progress of your partner-sourced or partner-influenced opportunities and to know when a partner-related deal is added in your CRM and when it closes. This feature is particularly interesting in sales enablement because it helps prove the revenue impact of working with partners

The “Emotional Bank Account” 

What I urge every partnership professional to monitor is something not as tangible, but perhaps more important and influential. This is the “Emotional Bank Account” where, to put it plainly, you track your real, subjective gut feelings from real events. For example: Does your partner skip out on meetings? If so, do they reschedule? Are they showing enthusiasm? Are they asking too much of you? Are they deflecting responsibility?

These parameters in the relationship are critical because partnerships get messy - your partner is prioritizing their own business, especially if they don’t fully understand how the partnership can be lucrative for them.

I strongly recommend reading more about this here www.bdpaths.com if you’re interested in diving deeper into partner relationships and how to navigate them.

How to ensure sales recognizes partner-influenced deals

Be the “matchmaker” between the partner and the sales team members. 

The priority in alignment between partnerships (us) and the sales team (them) is speaking the language that salespeople speak.

Day-in and day-out salespeople work 9-5 (and more) engaging in 1-to-1 relationships, building trust, business cases, and a thick skin against the stress of quota pressure and deadlines. 

Although sales and partnerships professionals both have a common goal of bringing in quality clients and new revenue, the pathway these clients take is different. Trust is generally first developed with partners, so a salesperson is “butting into the conversation” so-to-speak being a new introduction. Pair that with people generally disengaging with salespeople because we don’t like to be sold to.

The closer we get to the habits and behaviours that salespeople act within, the easier the alignment will be. As partnership professionals, we must be the “matchmaker” between the partner and our sales team members. 

Start slow. Don’t rush things. Find the “match made in heaven” through pairing your sales team with specific partners. From here, they should get to know your partner’s business through conversation and the relationship they develop. Bonus if they meet the partner’s sales team, but I would say have a specific contact on your partner’s partner team or someone on the executive level.

Here’s where expectation setting is critical. Although it won’t be perfect, setting each party up for success with proper expectations, guidance, and “setting the scene”.

You won’t get every salesperson investing time in this, but if you get a few, or even one, what you can do is build a business case to bring to the other salespeople. Trust me, if they see one of their own getting warm leads, warm introductions, and hitting quota or overachieving and have it be attributed to partners… then more will follow.  You won’t know what to do with all of the salespeople! They’ll be wishing marketing was giving them those kinds of warm leads.

In terms of making this more tactical, what you can do as a partnership professional is create an SOP (standard operating procedure) for this kind of interaction. This will not only help you formalize the process, but the simpler you can make it, the more actionable it will be. Further, if you have a standard practice, it’s easier to implement with newer employees. The ultimate end goal is being ingrained into your other teams, even as part of their onboarding. An SOP can help with this because it’s crystal clear how to approach the situation. I’ve created more resources like this over at www.bdpaths.com

What tools do you use for sales enablement? 

Sales people are notorious for not using resources. And that’s not a knock on salespeople (we’re all in sales, technically, and I actively sell too) but instead, a testament to their behaviour, communication style, and what they find important. Simply put, most sales enablement resources fall flat because they, well, suck!

My favorite tools, instead, are the communication tools that you can utilize to effectively get the message across. Now, a lot of businesses don’t like to hear this because it takes even more people time, and time is money. The reality is, as we’ve discussed in this post, is that salespeople speak a language of relationships, quota, and effectively using their 9-5 time.

To communicate in this way effectively, I love video (free tools like Vidyard are great for this to get started). It’s the closest thing to the 1-1 live interaction you can get. Most importantly, however, these videos are bite-sized. They are quick and efficient. They are concise. Much like writing a cold email, the value needs to be obvious. The same can be said for this interaction. Clarity, conciseness, and the efficiency in the delivery of the information is best done through short-form video content.

Secondly, any onboarding tools that the sales team uses is critical to get partners in. From the conception of that new sales employee, it should be part of their initial learning that partnerships play a role in how sales is done at your organization. The intent here is to grow your roots as deep as possible to ensure you have influence internally. So, don’t change what’s already established - improve it and iterate with the sales team.

Lastly, anything that is simple and interactive will help salespeople. Here are some examples: ROI calculators (home-grown), 1-pagers of success stories, “battlecards”, etc. 

These tools are tactical pieces of information that are easy to consume and execute against in the moment. This is how salespeople work. I’m beating a dead horse at this point but it still stands - this is how salespeople think and act each day. Short bursts of value. The point is to guide them, so as we’ve discussed, you are effectively selling (AKA properly guiding them to a solution) to salespeople. That’s how you’ll best enable and persuade.

How to engage Account Executives to stay in the forefront of their mind?

We simply can’t expect our sales teams to submit their time to a net new partner that hasn’t proven themselves.

If organizations hit a wall where they are bringing in new partners and not a single Account Executive has activated with these new partners, then the partner team and the partners need to realize this hard truth: There are no handouts, and it is survival of the fittest. 

How do you action that? Well, as a partner team, part of your onboarding process should be giving your partner more upfront support (from the partner team specifically). Do the hand-holding for them to begin with. Motivate the partner to bring in a win before a certain period of time. Show them they will get value from the partnership. If your onboarding program is set up properly, this should be an initial goal of the first 60-120 days. This can include programs such as doing overlaps of current client/opportunity bases, or partner client account reviews to see where there is low hanging fruit..

From here, because it is low hanging fruit, it will be relatively easier to get them over the finish line. What you’ll then have is a happy Account Executive that has this revenue attributed to them (think: handing a warm lead ready to close on a silver platter), who will be more likely to engage with them in the future. What you’ll also have is a success story to help that partner stand out from the crowd and of course get more attention. 

We simply can’t expect our sales teams to submit their time to a net new partner that hasn’t proven themselves. Regardless of the performance of other partners, every partner that is new needs to “climb the ranks”. This is why friendly competition, yearly awards, and certifications can play a huge role - just look at what Hubspot’s partner certification process and ecosystem are achieving.

Alternatively, you can gather an internal champion on the sales team and bypass all of the above. This, however, will be less likely to be an opportunity, and you’ll probably want to hire that Account Executive onto the partner team as well. Because, at this point, they’ll just “get it”. Otherwise, you’ll find a diamond in the sand storm. But if I were you, I’d remember that hope is not a strategy. Instead, the best partnerships grow through adversity and really proving things out - just as anything in life. The process and constant pressure is what shapes us, and diamonds are formed under pressure.

For more insights, tactical resources, and great conversation, connect with me on LinkedIn here and subscribe to BDPaths.com.

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