How To Collaborate Digitally With Your Partners
Beginning a partnership seems easy, but creating a strong business relationship is another story.
Building a successful partnership takes time and effort. During a recession or economic slowdown, it’s challenging to cooperate and brainstorm solutions. More importantly, the rise of remote communication technologies makes it harder for businesses to establish genuine accountability and commitment.
Having said that, how can business forge relationships in the indirect sales industry? In today’s blog post, we’ll share some tips from Siska Lannoo—an experienced channel and sales manager from Showpad and SAP.
Let’s begin by discussing the evolution of indirect sales.
How is indirect sales changing?
Indirect sales is the most important industry.
In fact, 75% of all world trade goes indirectly, in every industry, across all 27 industries. Meaning channel sales and account managers represent a vital part of the economy.
While indirect sales remains vital to the sales industry, partner collaboration has changed in three major ways:
- The buyer journey is changing – Buyers search and buy more online leading to less but more strategic partnerships. Online sales has led to the decline of resellers and distributors, so margins have also gone down.
- Partners consolidate – Partners consolidate, destabilizing ‘weak partner relationships’.
- The role of intermediary changes – New types of resellers are emerging. Due to hyperspecialization, resellers ask for more coaching and a customized partner approach.
How indirect sales look today?
Traditional resellers simply received referral fees and commissions in the past.
Today, traditional partnerships and reseller-distribution relationships are no longer one dimensional. More companies are partnering with new technology companies to survive.
A forklift company can emerge as a technology company by installing panel antennas or ports into their machines. To succeed, they must partner with tech companies to get the necessary expertise and succeed in selling their new value proposition in the market.
Tesla is in the process of creating self-driving cars. Automotive companies that want to compete must partner with tech companies that can help them gain a similar competitive advantage.
These examples show that modern partnerships with tech companies are fueled by the data-sharing economy, IoT and emerging technologies. In this day and age, traditional companies are forced to collaborate with new industries to stay competitive. Hence, partnerships are perceived in a more holistic manner because it may influence a buying decision.
More importantly, current buyers are attracted to businesses that help them get more out of a product or solution. To develop these products, traditional channels are being replaced by ecosystems or a community of partners that focus on services, joint solutions and specialized approaches.
Stages of a Successful Partnership Model
Now, how do you build a successful partnership?
A successful partnership model has four stages:
In the image below, you’ll find the various elements that contribute to the success of each stage.
First stage: Win
Find the right partners to get a quick win.
Ask existing clients for a quick introduction with their partners. Some of them could have worked with companies that could implement your solutions or products.
Once you’ve found a good partner, determine cultural fit. Businesses with a different style may find it difficult to work with your own team.
You can also interview clients about gaps in solutions and services to understand the type of partners that they want. Be straightforward about the benefits because a successful partnership must be aligned with your company’s vision. This way, it has more value and cultural alignment.
Second stage: Enablement
Enablement is not just technical enablement about your product.
Whether you’re specializing in financial products or manufacturing products, you need to be different from your competitors. For sales success, you want to position products and services strategically and let departments launch cross-functional plans.
For instance, businesses can cooperate with marketing teams to make compelling proposals for new partners. This also leads to more momentum for joint campaigns or webinars.
Third stage: Delivery
Look at the number of projects, client projects and marketing activities where you’re cooperating with partners. Ideally, businesses must measure the impact of a partnership, and compare it against their own numbers.
Channel managers that can measure conversion rates and convey the results with partners, may get more collaborators. Hence, measure, track and report your partnership results.
An event has more guests and sponsors if you collaborate with your partner. Rather than shouldering the effort for organising the event, your company gets more leads with a partner’s cooperation. This scenario will help you build a business case for collaboration and potentially get more budget from your sales team.
Fourth stage: Retention
Retention involves examining the profitability of your partners.
Obviously, most partners prioritize the relationships that are profitable. However, if a partnership is no longer profitable, then you can implement strategies to ensure both sides are earning money.
Partner commitment in difficult times
The partner commitment model was created by Patrick Leoncini. It includes five stages which explain how businesses can motivate partners to commit in difficult times (i.e. recession, economic slowdown)
Here’s an in-depth explanation of each stage:
- Trust (show vulnerability) – have meetings with partners and reassure them that you’ll be surviving tough times (i.e. recession) together.
- Fear of conflict (dare to talk) – let partners know what’s on your mind, even if it may risk conflict.
- Lack of commitment (dare to ask) – Upon making a commitment, channel account managers must ask what you need from them.
- Avoidance of accountability (confirm what you discussed) – partners must hold each other accountable for activities that were agreed upon.
- Inattention to results – communicate results and follow-up on your partnership. Use email or Zoom to follow-up with partners about your discussions.
How to communicate with partners?
Now that you know how to instill committee, the next challenge is communication.
A channel sales managers’ job is to help their business stand out amongst their partners’ many business relationships.
A good tip is to communicate through the pyramid principle way. Start with your situation, explain your challenges and transition to your message or question.
Here’s a real-life example of how it works:
Here’s how you can apply this pyramid principle in your emails.
Following these templates and implementing these methodologies ensure effective communication with partners.
In this stage, you may have developed several partnerships. But how do you know which ones are beneficial and which ones aren’t worth keeping?
Businesses must examine the profile of each partner. If you don’t know how to get started, here three questions to ask when evaluating a partner portfolio:
Which 20% of partners will generate 80% of your goals?
Ask your partner: What are you after?
Companies that want to have the best in class end-user satisfaction may evaluate their partners based on turn-over, customer complaints and willingness to collaborate. By initially focusing on their intended results and starting with the end in mind, they are more likely to get their desired results.
What’s on your partner’s mind?
Relationships are a two-way street and you must understand your partner’s thoughts and plans.
Here are three magic questions that can help you start conversations with your partners:
- What’s on your mind?
- What else?
- How can I help?
What are the objectives and key results?
The last step is to create an action plan.
We highly recommend channel account managers to make business plans by listing activities and classifying them based on their high or low impact. Identify high impact activities that won’t take up so much time and focus on them.
Using Qollabi for digital collaboration
There are many tools and techniques that you can use to collaborate digitally with partners.
We might be biased but we highly recommend using Qollabi to ensure business plans and action plans will be centralized and digitized. Our platform also includes pre-defined templates and enables sales managers to send regular updates and follow-ups with your sales partners.
By Frie Pétré