Channel Partners: Boosting Productivity via PreSales

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PreSales Collective


Nov 3, 2021


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Channel sales is a really interesting topic when it comes to sales models. And when you mix a PreSales team into that? Even more intriguing - and lots of questions to answer. That’s why channel sales was our topic in a recent PreSales Collective webinar because it’s an area that even I’m not that familiar with. Here were my favorite takeaways from the session.

The Basics of Channel Partnerships

One big thing often overlooked in channel sales is developing a deep understanding of what your channel partner’s company does, and why they’re successful. What’s their business model? That way, you can help to enable them to do their best while ensuring you don’t step on anyone’s success.

And a true partnership comes from everyone being truly bought in - a channel partnership doesn’t necessarily mean that’s happening. Channel partners are trying to balance the opportunities out there with retaining an identity - they can’t sell every great product on the market, because it would confuse their buyers and dilute their own brand identity.

To be successful, you need both buy-in from the team (not just an agreement to sell) and good enablement. Both things work together in harmony and are equally important - you cannot deliver one without the other.

The PreSales Role in Channel Sales

When do resellers engage PreSales in their sales process? The product gap is real. Even a partner who is excited to sell your product may not fully understand it, and then they can’t sell it effectively. PreSales plays a key role here. You need to have an explanation pre-built and able to slot in so they can actually deliver.

You also might be dealing with a partner who has built expertise in one area of your portfolio but as it expands, they might not have the expertise or tech skills to explain, qualify, and sell in the marketplace. PreSales (and sales) can enable the channel partner to qualify and identify opportunities and they can have those engagements with the customer and start to move it towards a close. Then the business can build fulfillment and services around that.

But it’s all too easy for a PreSales team to become just trainers instead of enablers in the channel sales process.

There are two ways you can be an SE in the channel. You can fish for people - go in and full-cycle every opportunity and close everything for them. When you’re really small, this approach can actually work, and most channel SEs have been there. But that way doesn’t scale.

Once you grow, you need to teach people how to fish instead. Find what parts of the process are not working for the partner - where are the hangups and how can you unblock them? You work with them to fix things instead of fixing everything yourself, which is the only way to scale.

The Essentials of Enablement

What's really important to remember about enablement - the way people learn is through practical experience. Have direct engineers stand aside and let channel partners handle it so they don’t fall into that trainer trap, which also keeps people accountable. You need to have a lot of trust and a framework that sets people up for success - make sure your partners are moving things forward but let them go to catch the fish.

When looking at training and coaching channel partners, having data that you can access and review with them is a game-changer. Even just to gauge their maturity - how can you tell what’s real if it's all based on anecdotes? Data like their PreSales pipeline or CRM can be a litmus test to working together.

See what their leads are, and compare to what they have in terms of opportunities. Understand how they qualify, are they hunting new opportunities or just farming their current customer lists? Once you understand that, you’ll know how to enable them going forward based on where they need work.

Make yourself a little vulnerable is also key. Opening every single training asset you have to channel partners changes the dynamic. With channel sales, you really need your partner to trust you, and they also need to know where your strengths and weaknesses are.

Common Mistakes in Channel Sales  

In the honeymoon stage, where everyone is really excited to work together, the channel partner might try to apply your product to every customer without scoping it. This is accidental but it can cause damage to your integrity and value in the market - you don’t want to gamble that by being too enthusiastic at the start. Avoid this by determining what makes a good fit right off the bat and be clear - it’s as important as knowing what makes a bad fit.

When your channel partner is reluctant to share info (which is not uncommon), there is a past history where they’ve been wronged and it's not about PreSales. You can’t overcome it immediately, but you can reach out with an olive branch, find a non-confrontational way to add value in the right way and figure out how to partner together and build trust.

A PreSales superpower in channel sales is being able to float between the vendor and partner while skirting political issues. PreSales is almost always welcome and our help and support are appreciated. You can leverage that role as a trusted advisor at really important times.

Key Channel Partner SE Skills

The most important trait in this kind of PreSales role is emotional intelligence. Channel partners tend to be small private companies that have a lot at stake, like their own money, their reputation, and their life’s work. This means things can be really urgent to them, and if you know and can relate to what they’re going through, it helps. Also, know their business model inside and out and don[‘t do anything to threaten it to build trust. An SE with high EQ is most successful in this role because it's truly a partnership.

Generalist SEs are also valuable - you need to be able to diversify quickly and have an appetite for continuous learning in lots of channels.

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Sorry, this content is available for Leadership Collective Members only!

The Leadership collective is a group designed for PreSales leaders in a management capacity (Manager+ title) who are looking to network, grow professionally, and actively participate.

Join Leadership CollectiveAlready a member? Login →