Sales, Not Technology, Is Your Partners’ Problem
In the technology channel, teaching partners ‘how to fish’ means instructing them on how to sell.
By Larry Walsh
Among the services offered by The 2112 Group are partner assessments. Our team will evaluate your partners’ business structures, management practices, and operations to provide guidance on improving efficiency and effectiveness that lead to growth and profitability.
During a recent assessment of what many people would consider a midsize solution provider, the owner shared the vital statistics of his company – revenue, profit margins, core products and services, growth aspirations, challenges, and perceptions of market conditions. Overall, he thought the business was operating well and moving in the right direction based on the technical acumen of his team.
Fantastic. So I completed my data collection and asked if he had any questions for me.
“Yeah, I have one,” he said.
“OK, shoot. What can I do for you?”
“Well, do you have – or do you know anyone who has – a managed services sales script that works 90 percent of the time?” he asked.
Really, I thought to myself. After pausing, I replied, “I don’t, but if you find someone who does, let me know. That script is worth its weight in gold.”
And that’s the problem with the average reseller today. They believe – due in part to vendor conditioning – that the technology is the hardest part of their business. They, like many technical people, want to believe that the value they deliver is rooted in their ability to select, install, customize, and support technology products.
Spoiler alert: It’s not.
Our research shows that three of the top five challenges faced by solution providers are related to sales: generating sales leads, uncovering new customers, and closing deals. Yet, despite acknowledging this problem, they persist in focusing on the technical aspects of their business.
This isn’t to say that technical skills – capabilities and capacities – aren’t important. Vendors need technically qualified and skillful partners to help design, deliver, and support their products in the field. But technical skills are practically meaningless unless a business has customers. And the entire reason vendors have partners is to create points of presence through which customers can acquire product.
If partners don’t have sales capabilities, an answer may be to provide sales leads for them. Vendors commonly generate sales leads and pass them through to channel partners. And partners often complain about the poor quality of the sales leads provided by their vendors. What’s the problem? The partner calls on the would-be customer and a sale doesn’t “automagically” happen. Partners mistakenly believe that if a lead doesn’t easily convert to a sale, it’s a bad lead.
Yes, that’s a generalization, but it’s more often true than not.
Any sales veteran will tell you that sales aren’t magic. No one can wave a magic wand, utter a few enchanting words, and have customers appear out of thin air ready and willing to buy their products. Yet partners often look to others (vendors or some third party) for resolution of their sales dilemma so they can focus on their technical skills.
Vendors don’t help the issue either. While vendors value partners that can produce sales opportunities and deliver revenue, their secondary benchmark is often technical certifications. Vendors grade their partners based on the level of product and technical training they’ve completed. Consequently, partners will use their certifications as a mark of excellence in demonstrating value to customers. Time and again, though, partners say technical certifications don’t translate into downstream sales with customers.
The challenge isn’t exclusive to small partners. Many large solution providers and systems integrators rely on vendor marketing and sales to create opportunities, generate sales leads, and drive deals to a close. Some vendors tell 2112 that as many as two-thirds of all channel sales are led by their sales team, not partners; in other words, partners are coming along for the ride.
Vendors often will say it’s not their responsibility to build their partners’ businesses or mature their organizations. Nevertheless, vendors are reliant upon partners for profitability. The only way that happens is if the partners are productive in sales. Vendors need to provide equal if not greater enablement and support for partner sales activities as they do for technical skills and training.
The parable of “teach a man to fish” applies in the channel. We need to help teach more partners how to sell rather than just how to work the products.