Pre-sales Prospecting: The New Channel Competency Imperative

May 11, 2011 at 4:51 pm Leave a comment

Beth Vanni, Vice President
For as long as there have been indirect channels for IT products and services, vendors have sought the attention, investment and loyalty of channel partners for one primary reason — to expand their market reach. The promise of new projects and new customers has been not the only driver in forging vendor/channel partnerships, but it has been a key one. But what combination of competencies makes a solution provider most adept at driving new business, especially for emerging technologies?

Technical training and certification programs are now the staple of many vendors’ formal channel programs. They are the basis for how partners earn recognition, rewards and further support from most vendors’ programs. Specialization programs focusing on multi-product solutions and industry skills have taken that idea to the next level. But the last several years of economic turmoil have illustrated that technical skills alone do not make a successful solution provider. Many vendors with highly evolved technical certification programs realized these past two years that technical acumen does not necessarily translate to solid sales skills — especially when your suppliers are looking at you primarily to enter new markets, promote new solutions and expand their footprint.

So, good old fashioned sales skills come back into focus for the channel. In our Annual State of Partnering Study, the last two years’ worth of results indicate that increasing their channels’ sales skills is a BIG focus for vendors. Specifically, they’re looking to improve the overall channels’ skills in two areas — the ability to do effective pre-sales prospecting and the ability to sell business value to line-of-business decision makers. We’ve seen a lot of interesting vendor programs over the last two years aimed at this objective — namely, sharing sales methodologies, playbooks and selling guides and ultimately paying partners to be more active and focused in their prospecting and solution selling cadence. Typically these activities are most effective when they are part of a long-term partnership approach between vendor and solution provider and provide sustained support and linkage between the two. Not all of the last two years’ programs have fit this bill.

So, if technical competency is the cake, and sales competency becomes the icing, how far should vendors go in “helping” partners with their sales skills? We can argue that the closer the partner is to the vendors’ sales methodologies, the more co-selling support and alignment the solution provider is likely to get. But that can be good or bad for the solution provider. The good here is a common prospecting and selling cadence that makes co-selling and overall forecasting much easier. However, the larger and/or more sophisticated solution providers with their own well-defined technology solutions and practice areas typically like to keep their suppliers at arms’ length. That is, unless they need their help in a big, enterprise customer where the vendor has been engaged directly. These larger solution providers often fear a slowing of their sales cycle, channel conflict or “customer control” interference. By contrast, smaller solution providers are typically those that gain most from mature IT vendors sharing sales methodologies, tools and prospecting guides. As on-line sales training tops this list of vendors’ enablement investments (#1 again in this year’s study), sales training and related certification has become a more formal part of most channel programs today.

Programs like deal registration and new business incentives are relatively new entrants to the incentive plans vendors use to try to get partners to put their sales skills to practice and drive new business. And by all measures they’re working quite well. But we see one of the most important next steps in vendor/solution provider selling alignment coming in the form of a common approach to vertical or industry-specific selling. The 2011 State of Partnering Study’s focus on solution provides selling more effectively to LOB decision makers supports this assertion. As vendors themselves become more industry business-pain aware and modify their corporate messaging and customer value proposition materials accordingly, the solution providers are bound to benefit. In fact, most IT vendors (other than the most long-standing and vertical-savvy, e.g., IBM, HP, Motorola, etc.) recognize their vertical focused channel partners have more skills than they do in understanding industry-specific business processes. So the solution playbooks and selling guides being produced by vendors these days are focused on broadening that knowledge base across the vendor’s ecosystem and getting alignment with these partners around specific industry selling approaches.

The bottom-line on the sales skills theme? Solution providers are regularly pulled in many directions by vendors who are eager for their investment and focus to their unique technology set. Nothing has changed there, other than the competition for solution provider investment just continues to accelerate. Vendors want technical, sales, marketing AND services competencies. What IS new, however, is that the vendors themselves have realized how a balanced set of competencies is the only way to create a long-term, effective enablement strategy for their partners. And, the quality and quantity of tools being shared by vendors is at an all-time high. Solution providers are wise to grab every asset they can and use the vendors’ drive for net-new business as a leverage point in building their teams’ sales sophistication across the board.

For more details on Amazon Consulting’s 2011 State of Partnering Study, download the study’s Executive Brief or visit us at www.amazonconsulting.com.

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Entry filed under: Industry Perspective, Partnering Tips, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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