I recently had a conversation with an executive recruiter and given my experience and level of contacts he asked me why I never pursued a direct sales role as a “hunter”. I admittedly became a little defensive as I would argue that a Partner or Alliance Manager is the ultimate “hunter”. Running with the metaphor, I would even say our prey (strategic partners) fall into the category of “endangered species” making our “hunt” much more difficult.
You don’t have to be selling a widget or solution to be a “hunter” in sales. Partner and Alliance Managers are constantly seeking new strategic partnerships that can be monetized and result in win-win outcomes. They’re not selling a widget or solution; but rather value, trust, revenue streams, diversification, risk mitigation, and so on. The lead pool is much smaller for strategic partnerships; hence, it takes a much more skilled “hunter” to find a potential partner. When they do engage in an opportunity it’s usually with an executive level decision maker (e.g. Owner, CEO, President, CMO, etc.). Partner leads and opportunities (different than leads and opportunities generated through a partner) are managed in a CRM just the same as a direct sales lead or opportunity. You do this so not to waste cycles on a partnership pursuit that is not going to be mutually beneficial (You Can’t Manage What You Can’t Measure).
Different than a direct sales professional, a Partner or Alliance Manager doesn’t have an expansion team they can pass the baton to manage the new partnership. The Partner or Alliance Manager owns what they hunt. In the pursuit they lead the negotiations and drive the opportunity through the sales funnel just like a direct sales professional, but once the deal is signed they own the ongoing management of the partnership.
Back to the original question…why have I not pursued a “hunter” role as a direct sales professional? Quite simply, it’s not nearly as challenging and I enjoy the ongoing management and success of the partnership. The revenue I drive out of a successful partnership is far greater than the revenue generated from a single deal. When the partnership is papered and moves into the management phase, the Partner or Alliance Manager is heavily involved in strategic sales pursuits working through their partner. They organize the engagement team for a successful pursuit with both parties. The Partner or Alliance Manager has targets and carries a quota just like direct sales professionals, but much of it is based on pipeline/lead generation and influence revenue through the partner.
“Hunter” is not a label just for direct sale professionals. It very much applies to Partner, Alliance, and Channel Managers. Given what I’ve stated above, I would submit that it is an easier transition for a Partner or Alliance Manager to move into a direct sales role than the other way around. It really boils down to how you define your “customer”. The “customer” could be a partner or it could be the end user, but the engagement approach is the same.