There seem to be two “camps” of IT suppliers with opposing perspectives about how they work with partners:
- The first camp says, “Just get me a meeting with them. I’ll close for you.”
- The other camp prefers partners on autopilot. Just add product and let them sell.
Who Has it Right?
When I hear a channel manager say, “I’ll close for you,” I know it’s time for them to let loose of the proverbial reins. Some channel managers crave an additional level of control; by doing so, they don’t show trust for the sales ability of their channel partners. As we’ve said before, trust is the most essential element of any partnership.
If you’ve found yourself taking over your partners’ meetings one too many times, it’s either time to recruit new channel partners or develop methods for providing adequate onboarding and sales enablement. Nearly as far back as the Zift blog runs, we’ve touched on the importance of both enablement and recruitment in channel partner relationships.
If, at the end of the day, you really do prefer to handle selling yourself, a quick Google of “calling services” will put you in touch with agencies that are able to set those appointments for you. You don’t need channel partners for that.
In retail they often say, “Pile ‘em high and watch ‘em buy!” This is a mentality that just doesn’t apply to professional business-to-business selling.
It may be possible to identify a few truly awesome salespeople working in partner organizations who are like sponges in absorbing everything they need to know about your product or service, and then very powerful at presenting compelling pitches to customers and closing sales all on their own. If you’re working with one of these, thank the stars daily.
More often, though, you’ll likely need to inspect what you expect, and constantly be providing motivation and inspiration among your channel partners. There are several reasons for this.
First of all, channel partners have plenty of other things to focus on. There are many products and suppliers vying for their attention and seeking to monopolize their time and selling effort. That’s your job, and your counterparts’ job too. You are absolutely in competition for shelf-space in salespeople’s minds.
Beyond this, and perhaps even more important, your best and most productive channel partner relationships happen when you and that partner consider yourselves extensions of each other’s companies. They’re an extension of your sales force. You’re the principal they’re proud to represent. You have built trust. You recognize that you and your channel partners are working together for mutual benefit. The customer is the top priority to both of you. That’s what it looks like when it’s working.
Remember, that doesn’t just maintain itself. You must pay attention to it. You must nurture it. You must keep making sure it’s still there and strong as ever. Stronger. Growing.
Show Off the Partnership
Even in the best partnerships with the most self-sufficient partners, there’s a big dividend in visiting customers together. Buddy calls. Joint calls. Whatever you want to call them.
When you show up at a customer’s office with your channel partner, the customer identifies you more as one with each other. They associate your brands, your reputations for quality. You powerfully validate your partner with your mutual customer. When a channel partner brings a manufacturer in to simply ask the customer, “How’s it going?” they are immediately impressed with both of you. This is all goodness. You can’t pay for this kind of customer goodwill. Priceless.
People Who Need People
As Streisand says in her famous song, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” Even your best, most self-sufficient channel partners still benefit from your visiting with them. Don’t leave them forever on autopilot and expect it to last. After all, balancing the respect of independence with relationship-nurturing is the name of the game when it comes to successful channel partner relationships.