Gotta know yourself – Gotta know the players…
It’s a struggle not titling every article in this series with some markety hyperbole like “The Big Secret They Don’t Want You to Know”, “The Top 10 List of…” or “The 5 Most…”; partially, because I wouldn’t take space here to mention specific actions or course corrections if they weren’t critically important to your program’s future, but mostly because I don’t want to diminish the success delivering value of understanding a higher, and mostly ignored, influence in the prospecting and sales process.
Building your new partner program must take into account how you’re perceived by resellers and consultative referral prospects when you approach them for partnership.
Their initial impression of you (your program, organization and product) will come from an instantaneous calculation of several factors:
- Longevity of your organization, maturity of your product and size of happy customer base
- Challenges and obstacles your partner program creates or resolves – Direct sales or Channel conflict?
- Value of partnership – does your offering present new and incremental business opportunities complementing existing products and services – or, are you a “me too” solution trying to carve out a piece of existing business within the targeted reseller organization by displacing an incumbent solution without delivering sufficient and relevant differentiators. Relevant differentiators are King!
- Do you present an easy to articulate and demonstrate bottom line reward for their efforts? Does it make cash sense to put time into training and marketing – without which they would fail – and will the street level sales person see the incentive?
In most cases, the above valuation considerations are assumed positive and waived by the new partnership decision maker when you are one of the better known IT industry leaders – the problem occurs when you’re not a known entity and don’t understand the enormity of the knee jerk push-back response you’re about to face.
Know Who You Are
Best way to know who you are is to start by accepting who you’re not…anymore. You’re not Citrix, Oracle, SAP or whoever you were before you accepted your current position with an unknown start-up that appears to have great potential despite the fact that they have zero to few referenceable accounts.
You’re no longer working for a company that get’s enthusiastically returned calls from resellers eager to get on board with a recognized big name industry leader. You’re just one of the 1,000s of untested emerging ISVs who’ve cluttered the IT Channel landscape in the past year and one of the dozens to annoy VAR executives this month with your irrelevant product-centric prospecting calls.
Even your most stalwart supporter, that Super VAR who always guaranteed your annual goal at the previous mega-vendor, is happy for you and your new position; but, unfortunately doesn’t see a fit with your new company. A painful, but important lesson is learned.
Slowly, not too slowly let’s hope, you begin to realize that starting a new channel from scratch may not be as easy as you first thought.
You also recognize that you have to learn a whole new set of rules and behaviors to overcome the unknown vendor handicap if you want to open communications with wary reseller partners. Wary, because they’ve been burned in the past by big-promise fast-talking ISVs who change staff and policy on a quarterly basis – they can smell channel inexperience, lack of commitment and eventually, panic.
They demand stability to build a business around their partnerships! Are you projecting that? Make note of this – if you give the impression that you’re not all in on partnerships, they’ll never be all in on you.
As resellers, their livelihood comes from working with vendors – they have far more experience working with, and testing, solution purveyors, than you or your team have working with partners.
You need them, they don’t need you. Don’t project otherwise.
Here are a few things you can do to turn the tables:
- DO NOT expect your new resellers to build your customer base – prime the pump! Remember, you’re new and unknown. Resellers will need proof that your product is reliable, stable and is case study worthy. Their customer’s will also need this, so make sure you’ve created some excellent case study marketing collateral that they can deliver – co-branded is the best.
- —Directly managing the entire sales process will give you the background you’ll need to train your future partners – real time understanding of sales cycle, objections and most popular (why customer’s buy) differentiators.
- —Ask each prospect if they have a preferred reseller who they would recommend for future sales and support of your product. Engage VAR in the process and use event for implementation and post sales support – ultimately acquiring a new partner with real time on-boarding training. Compensation for the partner in the process is negotiable – but, not negotiable is your reasonable expectations that they will go forward as a proactive partner selling into their customer base as their first active engagement requirement.
- Downloads and Trials are a great sales tool for you and your partners. Make sure that they easily deployed and/or be sure that VARs are in the loop to provide Demo/Trial support throughout the use cycle.
- Emphasize (during prospecting) “Differentiators” – VARs have no time or interest in “me-too” solutions. Highlight and feature “why” end users have purchased your solution (see 1st bullet set).
- Leverage your weakness – “Unknown Vendor” as a ground floor opportunity for the insightful reseller. Don’t be afraid to offer renewable first year “conditional” exclusivity based on sales performance and meeting engagement criteria.
- Don’t be afraid to change the rules for your initial (1st Year) channel thrust. The partners you acquire and develop during this time could become your most reliable and profitable. Be humble, be a real partner – ask how you can improve and invite these inaugural partners to participate in the Partner Advisory Council.
Know Who They Are – Understand the Duality
When you first engage with a new partner prospect (more on prospecting technique in a future series article) your sights will be pointed at the top of the organization – Owner, VP Sales, etc.. After you’ve successfully completed the prospecting effort your attention will move down the organizational chart to the money makers – the VARs sales team members. That’s the “Duality”, and your message needs to resonate at each level.
We’ve touched on how you need to rethink your approach and message because of who you are – a vendor newbie. Now, let’s take a closer look at who they are and how best to dress up your message.
At the top level you’ll need to overcome your new vendor disadvantage, and part of the trick is making sure that they know that you know what you’re doing. If you’re a relatively new vendor, that’s strike 1; if you’re not familiar with Channels and Alliances that’s strike 2 and in this ballgame you’re out.
Reseller ownership doesn’t have the time or interest in training you, and your inexperience will warn them that you’re going to make the kind of mistakes that a more seasoned ISV or Partner Account Manager would not make. They expect to hit the ground running – and, no matter how superior your product might be, they will not be interested.
Do not open your prospecting call or email with product blah-blah-blah – you’ll lose them immediately.
NOTE: You’ll run into a few smaller VAR ownership’s with a frustrated CTO/CIO type leader and they’ll require a tech speak conversation right out of the gate. Be prepared to answer initial questions, and if they’re qualified, push for a live demo delivered by your SE. Schedule demo or qualify out.
When I open the conversation (or email) with recognition of who they are, what their established expertise is and products they sell (with affinity to the vendor’s product) – then tell them that because of their skill and location I’d like to have 5 minutes to tell them why I believe that they would be a good fit and discuss the value of partnering – I usually receive an open door. At this point I haven’t said a thing about all the whiz-bang features because the owner doesn’t care as long it fits his team’s expertise and business model.
I usually create a Partner Profitability Calculator that will illustrate through spreadsheet input what they could expect to pocket in product sales and service dollars. It doesn’t take long for both of us to agree that there’s reason to continue talking or move on.
With the sales team you’ll run into a whole new set of problems and push backs from people who are a little less diplomatic than the contract signer.
We won’t get into a lot of the mind-share technique here, but let’s explore their motivations based on their circumstance.
I began my IT sales career nearly 35 years ago as a VAR sales person for an Entre Computer Center and later, Business Land. After several years became lead sales and then sales manager. I then moved into Distribution Channels for Sun Microsystems and Oracle.
I point this out because in the years since, I’ve spoken with 1,000s of VAR resellers; and, while technologies change and tools expand the sales person is virtually the same. Overworked in a highly competitive market sweating out the quarter end and praying they hit their numbers.
They are not eager, as some mistakenly believe, to add new products – take new training or deal with another vendor representative making demands on their time. And, if you’re a new vendor with no success stories that they can tout to their prospects and customers – you will be lucky to ever get a callback unless it’s for burgers and beer.
We’ll explore some good techniques to win over these folks in the “On-Boarding” section.
Hopefully you now have a better sense of the obstacles and challenges of being an emerging technology vendor with responsibility for a new channel initiative.
Beyond a better sense, I hope you have been able to release some of the misconceptions you may have gone into this series with and found a couple of helpful tips to get you to the next phase.