5 Best Practices for Channel Partner Sales Enablement
Companies that have a vibrant channel program have one thing in common: They invest in their partners.
They realize the need to enable their channel partners as effectively as they enable their direct sales teams. After all, channel partner sellers are the company’s “off payroll sales team” and they need the same information and resources that are provided to the direct sales reps in order to represent and sell the vendor’s solutions.
Enablement is the key to selling more, more effectively. When your partners know how to position your solutions, how to overcome objections, how to present the value to a certain buyer or industry, or how to easily generate a quote, everyone wins.
But, how do you do it? Here are five best practices.
1. Address both hard and soft skills.
The most complete enablement strategies will cover both hard and soft skills. Hard skills will convey the product specs, comparison to the competitor’s solution, handling objections, etc.
Soft skills are more about how to sell and could include elements around who the target customer is, messaging around why they need this solution, and how the solution solves their biggest problems and pain points.
By offering both hard and soft skills, you position your company as a single source for enablement across the board.
2. Make your material accessible and memorable.
Training was traditionally delivered by reading books and manuals, or done in person. With today’s technology and devices, all sorts of options are available for training delivery including online, self-guided, or virtual.
With the proliferation of mobile devices, training material should be optimized for mobile consumption. This means keeping an eye on everything from how the material looks on a mobile device to being mindful of data requirements.
Today’s audience prefers watching videos as a way to absorb information. This is much more engaging than following along a powerpoint slide show.
They also expect bite-size pieces of information, and they want to consume modules in small chunks. Some companies define this as 10 - 15 minute blocks, others limit their content to no more than 2 - 5 minutes of material in a clip.
Gamification of the material is also highly effective. Think about how to make learning the various concept fun and engaging. Explore how to present your material along a path where the consumer earns awards or badges at various learning milestones.
3. Make your enablement practical and actionable.
The vendor has the responsibility to make the training realistic to ensure it is most likely to be useful. When a partner sales person learns about a solution, then puts the material on the shelf until they need it, there is a high fade factor.
There are a few ways a vendor can make the training “real.” Perhaps the most effective strategy is to work through an actual sale with a partner. By giving them a lead, and offering to work it with them, they can get hands-on training on a real opportunity.
Walking a partner through a sales cycle from end to end with a real customer who has a real need cements the concepts since they are actively participating and learning for themselves as opposed to being told or reading about how to run a sales cycle. They’ll learn firsthand how to present the value proposition, how to use sales collateral, how to handle objections, how to configure and price, and more.
If following along an actual sales cycle isn’t possible, we’ve found that Solution Playbooks are effective. The concept of a playbook is to take a given solution and create an e-book with everything in one place.
This becomes a one-stop shop for selling that particular solution with links to presentations, marketing material, use cases, references, and all other relevant material.
4. Make your enablement resources easy to find and use.
Many vendors offer partner portals as a repository for all information the partner could ever want. The obvious upside of this approach is that all of your collateral is in one place, easily accessible.
The potential downside is that there can be too much information to wade through, and it can be challenging to keep the material up to date.
So if you do offer a portal, make sure it’s working for your partners. Ask them how easy it is for them to find information needed for a sale. Watch them try to navigate your site as they prepare for a customer demo.
Assign a person to make this investment worthwhile for your partner audience.
5. Create enablement resources to help partners sell more.
What are some of the most effective enablement resources we’ve seen?
One is easy access to customer use cases that highlight the true value of the solution. These will answer questions such as what pain point the customer has and how the solution saved them time or money or benefitted them in another tangible way.
Another is customer references. You or your partners can talk all day about how great your solution is, but nothing is more effective than facilitating a meeting between your customer and one who has already implemented your solution.
One enablement best practice is to tweak the material for certain audiences. For example, you would present your solution in one way when talking to a small customer about it; and in a completely different manner when speaking with a large customer.
Similarly, you’d talk to how your solution applies in an educational setting differently from how you’d talk about its benefits for a retail company. Likewise, you would talk to the CIO using different language than when talking to the head of sales about your solution.
Again, don’t make your partners do this work! Create collateral that addresses the different buyers, customer sizes, and vertical industries on your site for easy access.
One area that is often overlooked is making it easy for partners to get support. Remember that the vendor who makes selling their solution the simplest will get the sale. Whether you expect your partners to get support through their sales rep or through an 800#, let them know and make it easy.
The key to many sales is the ability for a customer to try the solution. This could be through a demonstration (equipment or a software sandbox) or through trials. Let your partners know what you offer in terms of trials and demos, and make sure your customers are aware.
This is just a brief list of tools and resources that we’ve seen work for partners. A good practice is to ask your partners what they need, and how you can simplify their experience. After all, creating a world-class partner sales enablement strategy requires an investment, and you want your dividends to pay off.