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Consultants: Partners' New Front Line for Sales

The traditional partner sales model has been turned upside down. In a world where technology is like electricity, sales opportunities won't continue to come in the form of implementations and upgrades.

Partners need to find new ways to identify and solve the business problems for their plugged-into-the-cloud customers. Consultants and engineers need to transition from technology fixers to business problem solvers -- and always be on the lookout for new problems to solve.

In the days when a technology sale was defined by an implementation project, there was a clear line where sales handed off the client to the consulting team. Engineers and consultants applied their knowledge of the latest version of SharePoint or Exchange and moved on. The process repeated as sales engaged with the client from time to time to talk about upgrades and look for additional opportunities to expand the relationship.

The cloud changes those customer relationships, in some ways making them closer and in some ways more distant. While partners may be connected to clients through managed services for ongoing support and training, there's less need for interaction with sales. Since support and consulting teams have the most interaction with clients in a cloud relationship, it makes sense that many partners are looking to them to uncover opportunities.

A New Role for Engineers and Consultants
"Deployment engineers or consultants truly need to be identifying potential opportunities rather than waiting for the sales team. Engineers are in the best position to know what the customer needs," said Paul Powell, Microsoft Practice Lead at Bishop Technologies Inc. "Thus, engineers need to be trained in soft sales tactics and become advocates for the partner products they implement to become a main source of new business opportunities."

Helping consultants and engineers expand their skills beyond technology is a challenge many partners are experiencing. "Our consultants need to understand business processes and how IT is managed," said Powell. "It's no longer just how many Microsoft certifications you have. Even as an engineer, you need a business degree or ITIL training. I think those are going to be even more important five years, 10 years from now."

To help guide the transition for Bishop's consulting team, consultants are trained to listen to clients and understand the underlying business need. Client assessments are built around business needs and problems instead of starting with the technology. Daily procedures are also designed to keep business opportunities top of mind.

"We ask our engineers to send out an e-mail at the end of each day as they are working on a project," explained Powell. "The e-mail has four basic categories. What have I done today? What do I need to do tomorrow? What do I need from the client to get my job done? And internally, to the salespeople and the rest of the project team, what opportunities have I identified and what are the pain points for the clients?"

The Challenge of Remote Service Delivery
Since consultants are able to deliver more and more services remotely, there's often less face time with clients. Bishop is working to include more on-site time during customer engagements to gain first-hand insights into client challenges that could lead to service opportunities.   

"When you're talking to somebody in person, you're sitting in the same room, you're working with them directly. You overhear conversations from other people who walk in the room. You get a much better picture of the environment," said Powell. "We're trying to get our consultants on site as much as possible -- for project kickoffs and close-out meetings, at the very least. And we are building more face-to-face interaction with the client into both project work and managed service offerings."

Define and Educate on Core Capabilities
In order for engineers and consultants to know what to listen for -- what constitutes opportunity -- partners need to clearly define their core services and educate internally. When all employees understand the partner's strength and focus, everyone becomes an advocate. While the consulting team may be the new front line of sales, every employee should be listening to clients with the firm's core capabilities in mind.

"When I reach out to customers for testimonials and success stories, I'm always listening to their pain points and their issues, trying to recognize an opportunity," said Tina Sieben, Bishop's vice president of marketing. "That just happened last week. I was talking to somebody and I could tell they were really struggling with user support for Office 365. As a result, I set up a call for the account manager and he's putting a quote out there now for support services."

The cloud is changing the nature of relationships partners have with their customers. Technology is moving to the background and partners must make an effort to stay in front of customers. There is no shortage of business problems that need to be solved, so partners need to get proactive in seeking them out. Consultants and engineers, as well as every other employee in the organization, who are trained to listen and ready with solutions can bridge the gap for partners.

How are you training employees to uncover opportunities? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share your story.     

Posted by Barb Levisay on October 12, 2016 at 1:29 PM