Partner Enablement Guide: What It Is, How to Do It, and How to Make it Stick
There are lots of opinions about which lever is most important to pull in order to get your team and your partners to sell more, and to sell more effectively. Depending on who you ask, you might hear things like “We need more market awareness,” “Give us more leads,” “Lower the pricing,” “Offer better discounts,” or “We need more competitive features.”
We believe one of the most important factors to selling more is to offer powerful training, enablement, and knowledge transfer to one of your most valuable Routes to Market: your partners.
What is Partner Enablement?
We like the term partner enablement since there is so much more than the “nuts and bolts” of training required in order to adequately prepare your partners to sell your solutions. Partner enablement encompasses additional resources such as on-boarding programs, technical support, solution playbooks, coaching, customer references, and other tools, programs, and collateral designed to arm your partners with everything they need to represent you professionally.
As Stephanie Dismore writes in CRN, channel partners “must demonstrate they possess the expertise required to recommend solutions that fit the specific needs of prospects and customers.” Partner enablement is the mechanism to deliver the components to ensure your partners will recommend your product as part of their solution.
First, you need to get sales teams interested in why they should sell your solution.
A partner sales person has literally thousands of products to select from when putting together a bespoke solution for a customer. How do you get your product to jump to the top and stay top of mind?
There are three ways to stay on the radar of your partner sales teams:
Have the most powerful demand engine – e.g., phones are ringing off the hook with customers demanding your product by name
Make them a lot of money – e.g., your product is optimized for their compensation plan
Make your partner enablement program simple and effective – e.g., they can easily and quickly find the information they need, when they need it; they can retain and recall the information; and they can look like a knowledgeable hero in front of their customers.
This article focuses on enablement; the Who, Why, What, Where, and How.
Who Should Your Sellers Be?
While this discussion is centered around enabling your partner sales teams, the same content and approach can – and should - be used for your own sellers, both direct sales reps and partner business managers.
The idea here is to consider your partners as an extension of your own sales team, so any collateral or information you create for your “on-payroll” sellers should be made available to your “off-payroll” team, and vice-versa.
Why Should Your Partners Care?
You need to answer the question Why should the partner care? before you can get to the meat of your training topic. Typical answers to this "why" question can include:
There is a huge Total Addressable Market so you can sell a lot more and make more money
This new technology / product / solution is uniquely able to do X thereby giving you an edge
There are huge opportunities to sell ancillary services, software, etc; increasing your margin
There is massive customer demand, making it easier for you to hit your sales target
What Messaging Should Partners Deliver to Your Customers?
This aspect is multi-layered since your content needs to include the value proposition, messages, financial impact, etc. for both the partner (why they should sell) as well as for the customer (why they should buy). In fact, your partner enablement should include how to deliver the message to customers.
There are myriad tools you can use to answer these questions and impart knowledge.
Stories are the most effective since they paint a visual picture and are therefore more memorable. Speaking of pictures, John Medina, a University of Washington biologist suggests that humans “remember pictures better than words.” His studies found that when we read text alone, we are likely to remember only 10 percent of the information 3 days later. If that information is presented to us as text combined with a relevant image, we are likely to remember 65 percent of the information 3 days later.”
Use cases, case studies, and customer references can all shape how you can present your solution using real-world examples. These can be used by your direct sellers, your partner sellers, and your customers. Sharing how customers have used your solutions, what problems they solved, and what their outcomes were is infinitely more compelling than reading a list of technical specs or product features.
White papers, online configurators, and business case builders (how much does a customer have to invest and when will they see a return on that investment) are other useful tools for both sellers and customers alike.
Of course you need to have all of the pertinent information available to your partners to answer their customers’ questions. Spec sheets, marketing collateral, value propositions, etc. should all be readily and intuitively accessible on your partner portal.
You can also build a partner playbook for specific solutions to put everything together under a simple click for your partners. This is basically an electronic guide that compiles everything a seller needs to know in one central location. Sample sections include links to value propositions, use cases, configurators, use cases, customer presentations, etc.
How to Enact a Partner Enablement Plan
When you consider how you will impart this knowledge, you have to think about enablement as encompassing all aspects of educating and equipping your sellers to succeed; it’s not only about a training session.
If you are doing an in-person, webinar, or video training session, think about how much time you will take to deliver your messages. There is a reason TEDTalks are only 18 minutes; that is the attention span that gives enough time for a subject but not too much time to lose the audience.
Medina suggests that there is a natural limit of about 10 minutes for many topics, so you need to re-engage the audience at that mark. The video platform Panopto reports that “research suggests that 6 minutes is the optimal length for instructional videos. After 6 minutes engagement drops rapidly. In fact, another study showed that most learners won’t watch video training for more than 15 minutes.” All of this means that you need to put in the work up front to break your content into manageable and consumable chunks.
Putting yourself in the shoes of those you are enabling will also tell you that in addition to lesson length, you also want to make it consumable from any device, at any time. Mobile access is key so your users can pull up a module wherever they are, whenever they have a few minutes.
Gamification is another effective strategy, and one that is growing in use. In Gamification: Separating Fact from Fiction, Professor Karl Kapp states that when part of an overall learning strategy, “Gamification can provide an edge in learning delivery when it is designed, developed and deployed properly.”
Where economically feasible, In-the-field training can also be highly effective. This could take the form of shadowing, where a partner rep follows a vendor representative to learn by example. Additionally, following the medical school tried-and-true practice of See One, Do One, Teach One is effective.
Most likely you will use a combination of in person and electronic training and reinforcement; with a simple-to-access library of resources.
How To Make Your Partner Enablement Stick
The last element is to make sure that your enablement is not considered complete after a partner takes one class, or after they complete one e-learning module. Rather, enablement is a life-long series of reinforcement and recall.
One approach we have taken with success is to structure a Secret Shopper campaign.
We would send out the material we wanted everyone to be able to consistently impart. Then we told the team we would be randomly calling them to test their ability to deliver the content. They were allowed to use any notes, and they were encouraged to make the message their own – i.e., deliver the salient points but in a manner that was comfortable to them.
We would reward the people that delivered knock-out messages. You could use other contests and awards to celebrate retention or delivery of key messages.
Again, gamification is an effective strategy when you are looking for reinforcement and retrieval over time. Other include a coaches’ corner, where you make coaches available to answer any question or to reinforce certain material. Having a central team available for partners to call if they have any questions is another key value, and a must-have is an effective portal for your partners to access.
Done well, enablement not only helps your partners sell more - and more effectively - it can also set you apart as being the most favored vendor.