Selling Microsoft

Leveraging Partnerships to Improve Sales

Partnering up with other partners can only help you provide a better level of service to current and potential customers.

At Acumen Management, we've found that today's most successful channel partners tend to excel in six critical areas of sales management:

  1. Understanding their clients' business needs
  2. Maintaining selectivity and effective account segmentation and penetration
  3. Developing solid strategies for handling their key accounts
  4. Improving how salespeople manage their time, their accounts and their territories
  5. Using all available resources as effectively as possible
  6. Constantly strengthening their efforts to win market share

If your company isn't hitting home runs in all those areas, you may want to consider establishing your own partnerships to help improve your performance.

Working with partners can provide you with the additional knowledge that you may need, for instance, to better understand a particular client's needs or more readily identify prospective accounts. Your partners may be able to introduce you to important contacts, purchasing patterns and corporate strategies. Their sales and technical teams may be able to help yours make joint presentations and proposals, better serve mutual territories and accounts or create true business solutions for customers. Ultimately, joining forces can help both parties improve their market positioning and achieve higher sales goals.

You can choose among several types of partnerships. While space limitations prevent us from exploring them in depth here, some of your options are:

Business partnerships designed to increase asset bases, expand the numbers and types of products or services offered and improve competitive advantage for both parties (possibly involving a formal merger or acquisition).

Business ecosystem partnerships that let non-competing parties sell related products and services in certain shared markets.

Market alliance partnerships that allow two companies to share leads, establish salesperson-to-salesperson relationships and pay each other for referrals.

Strategic alliance partnerships with vendors that can provide your business with leads and support.

Alliance/consulting relationships in which companies exchange mutually beneficial services, such as serving on each other's advisory boards.

Before opening talks with any potential partners, it's smart to seek answers to a few important questions:

  • How many users does the other company have in your market? Knowing this number will help you gauge how well the other party knows your customer base.
  • What domain knowledge does the other party offer that your team lacks? What additional value or expertise or benefits does that company bring to your solutions?
  • How well do you understand your potential partner's culture and value proposition? Is it in alignment with yours?
  • Why does this company want to partner with you? What can you offer the other party?

Finally, remember that partnerships take time to develop. Successful ones involve:

  • Trust, which evolves from commitment, communication, strong performance and, most important, both parties consistently following through on their promises.
  • Innovation, which stems from the new opportunities that the relationship opens up for each organization.
  • A solid, mutually acceptable set of metrics, which can measure how well each company is meeting the other's expectations and how well they're both doing at progressing toward their shared goals.

Above all, successful partnerships require each party to adopt a broader mindset. As you consider future major business decisions for your company, it's good to ask yourself not only "What's in this for me?" but also "What's in it for my partner?"

About the Author

Ken Thoreson is managing director of the Acumen Management Group Ltd., a North American consulting organization focused on improving sales management functions within growing and transitional organizations. You can reach him at ken@acumenmgmt.com.

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