Successful Collaborative Selling: Part 1

Posted: 5/6/2010 by 9

Part 1: The Squeeze Play

I’ve been at the strategic alliances game a long time, and in my experience the most difficult aspect of building partnerships has been facilitating successful collaborative selling between two companies.   Selling with partners is an unnatural act for most seasoned sales reps, and something that they often fiercely resist – and to complicate matters, alliance managers typically have no direct authority over the sales force – either their own or their partner’s – only influence.

Not all alliances involve collaborative sales, but if yours do in some form – sell with, sell through, meet in the channel, or another model – then I’m sure you can identify with how hard this can be.  Over the years I’ve stumbled upon a few things that seem to work well, and in this brief series of blog posts I’ll share a couple of ideas with you in the hope that they save you some time and help you to increase the success of your own collaborative selling efforts.

For the purposes of this material I’m going to assume that all of the other components of a successful alliance – sponsorship, alignment, governance, value prop, lead gen, etc. – are already in place, and focus on the last two pieces in the collaborative selling puzzle – influencing your partner’s sales organization, and influencing your own.  Here I will address getting the right behaviors from your own sales force, and Part 2 will address getting the same from your partner.

Barney Does Not Work in Sales

In the enterprise technology world where I have spent most of my career, salespeople are not recruited for their collaboration skills – they are hired and promoted because they are closers. They deliver results and are rewarded accordingly.  Don’t expect to hear a lot of reps singing Kumbaya around the campfire – except perhaps at the obligatory annual sales kickoff. They are lone wolves, used to running their own show, and highly motivated by only two things – dollars and cents – and they get these things through control over every aspect of their deals.

For these folks, partnering in the sales process is an unnatural act. When you say alliance or partner, they hear “warm lead.”  They are not thrilled with the idea of sharing the sales process with another person, let alone allowing them to have conversations with a prospect without them in the room, and they perceive (often correctly) that joint selling will simply complicate the deal and extend the sales cycle.

The Squeeze Play

So how do you get your sales reps to do it anyway?  After requesting, cajoling, and outright begging many reps to play ball over the years, I have learned that the most effective way to consistently get your sales reps to play nice with partners is a combination of a) getting their boss to make them do it as a structural requirement of their job, and then b) making it extremely easy for them to succeed.  If the two principal motivators in business are fear and greed, then you must essentially play to both – fear of failing at the job their boss expects them to do, and greed for the “easy money” that partnered selling can provide.

On playing to fear, you absolutely must have buy-in from the head of Sales in your company that selling with partners is an important part of their organization’s job.  You cannot succeed without this support, and if you don’t have it your company must fix this at an executive level before you can expect any results whatsoever.

And once the head of Sales does buy in to the need for partnered selling, they need to do more than just say so – they need to:

–  Put their money where their mouth is with hard revenue targets for partnered sales, revenue-neutral (or even revenue-enhanced) comp plans and/or quota relief, and perhaps even bonuses for achieving partnered sales milestones (first deal, first million dollars, first deal in a certain category, etc.)

–  Dish out real consequences for partner-hostile behaviors like taking partnered deals direct, flipping partners in mid-process, or other acts of partner disloyalty – such as placing offending reps on a performance improvement plan or reassigning important accounts to reps willing to comply with partner-friendly rules of engagement.

Greed is Good

On playing to greed, you must (at least initially) create the opportunities for success that you hand to your reps.  This means behaving like the world’s best sales ops person:

–  Identify, target, and qualify the lowest-hanging fruit

–  Gather every shred of intel you can about the account (incumbent products, key players, buying drivers, competitive threats, etc.)

–  Gather intel about the partner’s sales organization as it relates to the account (rep contact and background, sales org chart & deal approval process, history in the account, even comp plan details if you can get your hands on them)

–   Provide your rep with a comprehensive briefing on these items.

You must then connect your rep with their partner counterpart and, with the skill of a marriage counselor, facilitate the dialogue between the two – open sharing of information, explicit account pursuit planning, joint presentation and proposal development, and partner loyalty throughout the process.  You cannot wait for the sales reps to do these things by themselves – you must do their work for them wherever possible.  Remember – this may come naturally to you, but to the reps it does not – you have to show them the way.

And as initial deals start to close, you must give your rep maximum glory for the wins – writing up the deal details (including partner and customer quotes if possible), and trumpeting this across the company via email, internal newsletter, etc. – or better yet, getting the head of Sales to trumpet it.

If you set this squeeze play up correctly, instead of begging your reps to give you the time of day, you will create a dynamic where your reps will be motivated to come to you instead, to show them how they can be successful in partnered sales.  And their success is of course yours as well!

Stay tuned for Part 2: Cracking the Code on Your Partner’s Sales Force

Tom Halle, CSAP, strategic alliance coach, instructor, and evangelist, is a 30-year veteran of the high-tech industry –as a hands-on tech geek and successful entrepreneur, and for the last decade as a builder of high-growth commercial and technical alliances for the Davids and the Goliaths of the Information & Communications Technology industry – facilitating hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue through partnered selling.

Join Tom for a public half-day seminar, “Effective Collaborative Selling”, at Cisco’s Milpitas, CA campus at 8am on May 13, 2010 – see http://tinyurl.com/partneredselling for information and registration.  This course has been designed for both sales professionals and alliance practitioners, and you will leave this entertaining and informative course with powerful techniques you can immediately apply to improve the revenue ramp and market share growth of your company through effectively structuring and running your partnered sales operations.

 

Responses to Successful Collaborative Selling: Part 1

Greg Burge

Tom, your blog is touching a nerve and I applaud your ideas! I am attending your seminar (isn't everybody?) and I would also be interested in your ideas on incentives for the head of Sales too. Most CEOs and Boards do not remove Sales execs for poor partnering - not making their numbers is the fear - so squashing a partner or two along the way to a few big wins might be forgiven. Thus any executive squeeze on the Head of Sales thus requiring the field teams buy-in is of interest to me. Thank you, GMB

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