Sorry direct sales professionals, you can stop reading now as this post is geared toward partners…unless you’re interested in duplicating yourself and working smarter instead of harder (or maybe both). This Thought Stream was born out of a meeting I had with a company who was struggling with partner strategy. It actually wasn’t born out of that meeting, but it was a nice reminder of what it takes to have a successful partner strategy.
We so often approach business relationships with a “what can you do for me” mentality instead of a “what can I do for you” approach. It takes an open mind and commitment to be successful in strategic partnerships. In my meeting with the company referenced above, they currently have no partner strategy. It’s not that they don’t have partners, but it’s that their strategy is reactionary and opportunistic; meaning, “I know a guy that knows a guy that I think could use your services”. Not that you don’t want that lead, but it’s not a strategic engagement that’s going to have a force multiplier.
With the above being said, it does key in on something I think is very important. Not all partnerships are papered in the boardroom with the senior executives. It may eventually get to that point, but some of the best partnerships start at the field level between sales professionals selling into the same company or industry. In many cases they’re selling against one another; not directly, but in the sense that both are competing for the same budgetary dollars. What if they got to know one another and discovered that their combined solutions are a much better value to the customer. Or maybe one solution is a more natural lead-in for the other solution; hence, working together might be the best strategy to get the customer on board with both solutions.
If you’re a sales professional, how do you find this potential partner or advocate? You start by being observant and expanding on the questions you ask your prospects. For example, let’s say I’m a sales professional selling an accounts payable invoice automation solution. I would want to know what ERP platform they are using. I would want to know the name of the ERP account rep that manages their account. I would want to know who implemented their ERP platform. I would want to know the name of the lead project manager or business analyst that was on the project. This is extremely valuable information in the sense that these individuals are already doing business with the customer you want to do business with. They hold a “trusted advisor” status.
The mistake that many sales professional make is they go straight to asking for an introduction (what can you do for me mentality); whereas, I take a little different approach. I want to find out how I can help them and build my value (what can I do for you approach). Maybe the ERP account rep is looking for a way to sell more licenses or additional modules. Could your offering be helpful to the ERP account rep achieving his or her goals? Maybe the project manager overseeing the implementation is trying to extend the existing contract or staff additional resources currently on the bench. Maybe there’s compensation or bonus accelerators attached to extending a contract or staff augmentation that would be important to this individual. Could your offering help the project manager achieve his or her goals? Maybe you need to give a little to get little. Understanding how your counterpart is compensated or what motivates him or her can lead to the introduction that you’re seeking. Sometimes the “customer” you’re selling to isn’t the end-user, but rather the “trusted advisor” that the end-user looks to in making a purchasing decision.
This is the “Hunt”, but it’s important that you know what it is you’re hunting for. Yes, in the end you want the deal…but it might be that you’re hunting for influence in order to get the deal. Once you’ve built your value with your influence base, the leads will follow so long as you continue to operate in the spirit of “what can I do for you”. This type of engagement can go viral within a sales organization and ultimately lead to a more formal partnership where it makes sense. The take away here is to think about what companies outside of your competitive landscape are selling to your target customer base or industry, and what are the individual roles within those companies. These are your potential partners, and your prospects and/or existing customers likely know the people attached to these individual roles. If not, there’s a number of resources available in which you can find them (e.g. LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, etc.). Always remember that every successful partnership has to have a win-win approach; otherwise, it’s not a partnership.