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8 steps to building a robust partner sales enablement strategy

Partner sales enablement, also referred to variously as channel sales enablement, reseller enablement or sales enablement channel management, involves providing channel partners with the necessary training, tools and resources to successfully sell vendor products and maximize revenue. For vendors, this function is crucial because of the changing nature of the sales process, wherein buyers are taking more control of their purchase journey and demanding higher quality inputs from their interactions with the sales team. Leveraging the partner channel helps meet customer needs better in this environment.

Finding success with the partner channel isn’t as simple as just contracting them to sell your products, though. It requires strategic planning, engagement and support to get partners to sell your products as best as they can. Getting the maximum leverage out of a sales enablement effort requires smart strategy and meticulous planning in order to align business processes with the technological advantages provided by a sales enablement platform.

Here are 8 steps to keep in mind while laying out a partner enablement roadmap and strategy:

Step 1. Focus on partner personas and lifecycles

It is an accepted fact that not all partners are equal. Different kinds of partners require different types of training and resource inputs to maximize their sales effectiveness. Partners also require different types of inputs at different points in their lifecycle. Thus, just as sales enablement depends on intelligent alignment with buyer personas and journeys, segmenting partners according to their personas and lifecycle stages becomes crucial in ensuring that the most effective training resources are delivered to them in a timely manner.

Step 2. Expand beyond mere product training

In a situation where channel sellers work with multiple competing vendors, capturing mindshare is a question of creating maximum trust and a healthy dependency between vendors and sellers. For sellers, this involves receiving genuine value additions from vendors that catalyze productivity and profitability. That’s why it’s important to move beyond product training to fine-tuning all aspects of the sales process. The Aberdeen Group study, “Territory, Training, Technology: Best-in-Class Channel Sales Management,” for instance, highlights five must-have elements of the training process that best-in-class organizations consistently focus on (Image 1)1.

Step 3. Make training easy to consume, engaging, relevant and consistent

For sales training to be effective, it can’t just take the form of a one-time information dump. The often-quoted statistic of our attention spans reducing from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds now may be debatable2. However, the advantages of moving away from one-dimensional, information-heavy, once-and-done training programs are unquestionable. For one thing, the significance of forgetting what is learned in training is now well-recognized. According to one article in the Harvard Business Review, for instance, participants in traditional curriculum-based training forget 80% of what they have learned within 90 days3. Another important realization backed by research is that the media used for training make a big difference in how much information is retained. While people retain only 10% of the material provided solely in the form of audio, they retain around 20% of the material provided in the form of images or text. When visual and audio inputs are combined, the retention rate increases to 65%. What these numbers imply is that training programs should deliver a range of material in a variety of formats and media in order to make the content engaging enough to keep partners interested in participating further. Timing the delivery of the training content to match the relevance of the situation is another way to increase the level of retention. Finally, important training messages have to be reinforced repeatedly for maximum retention to occur. 

 Step 4. Gamify and incentivize training

To boost the performance of individual sales reps, it's also essential to incentivize training and sales processes in ways that push them to healthy competition. With shifts in the design of training programs, some industry analysts are also suggesting that the importance of certification is waning4. Instead, companies are being pushed to find other ways to ensure training engagement that are compatible with the modular, self-directed training processes coming into play. Gamification, recognition through leaderboards, and rewards programs can help get sales reps more engaged in the process of training and content exploration.

Step 5. Don’t fall into the 80-20 trap

Also known as the Pareto Principle, the 80-20 rule defines a situation where a minority of channel partners (20%) generate the lion's share (80%) of the revenue, while the majority perform poorly and generate low levels of revenue5. Seen from a survival-of-the-fittest point of view, this may seem an easy way for vendor organizations to decide where to concentrate their channel efforts. However, nothing could be more dangerous, given the competition for partners’ mindshare talked about earlier. Besides, such a situation represents significantly high proportions of lost revenue and opportunities for growth and profitability. It also results in losses of partner trust and loyalty in the vendor. In fact, the 80-20 trap often results from poorly executed channel efforts that have failed to sufficiently enable the majority of the partners. Avoiding this trap, therefore, requires meticulously segmenting vendors and customizing sales enablement resources based on their different needs.

 Step 6. Ensure clear ownership and prioritization of partner sales enablement

Often, channel efforts fail to yield optimal results because vendor organizations do not sufficiently prioritize partner sales enablement within their organization. When the resources within the organization are sufficiently empowered, the difference is significant. The CSO Insights report titled, “Driving Higher Channel Performance: Be Intentional,”6 for instance, reveals that only 23.7% of organizations reported effectively enabling their internal channel personnel. However, the report also states that when channel managers were enabled effectively with content, training, and coaching, the percentage of partners meeting their goals rose by 17 percentage points.

 Step 7. Bring sales enablement tools to the partners

Partner enablement cannot merely involve implementing a technology solution and waiting for partners to find a way to use it. Instead, it requires a proactive effort on the part of the vendor organization to ensure its integration into the partner’s business processes. The first step in this direction is to ensure that the sales enablement platform is properly integrated with partner CRMs and other systems. Another important prerequisite is mobile optimization in order to provide partner sales reps with anytime, anywhere access to sales content and training.

 Step 8. Ensure alignment of vendor and partner business goals

Channel efforts suffer when vendor and partner business goals are not correctly aligned. After all, it is only when both sides are involved in evolving a roadmap that the signposts and expectations of the partner journey can be clearly demarcated. Without such planning, the partner relationship is likely to end in frustration and conflict. Once the strategy is in place, and the goals have been clearly defined, it is also important to transparently share analytics and performance measurement so that the partners are able to gauge how well they have performed against the roadmap and where and what kind of improvements are required.

 In today’s fast-paced, global marketplace which necessitates personalization and an understanding of the local environment, channel partners have much value to offer to vendors. Extracting that value, though, requires time and effort; time and effort that will be well worth spending if done right, as channel partner performance could prove to be the difference between success and failure.

Find out how can help you successfully enable your partners and schedule a demo today.