The 9 deadly sins of co-selling

In this edition of our newsletter, I'll share the nine main reasons why most co-sell programs fail to scale. My insights are based on literally hundreds of interviews and real-life projects where we help companies optimize their co-sell strategies.

In my experience, there are a few key mistakes that prevent companies from driving repeatable revenue via co-selling. Most of the time, these misconceptions and missteps are a question of process, which is good news, because processes can be fixed!

So, what are these deadly sins?

Deadly sin 1:

Just implementing an account mapping tool

The first misconception is this: “We have Crossbeam and Reveal to uncover overlaps, and we just need to turn this data into revenue. Easy.”

Hmm, not so easy. Look, I love both of those tools, and they’re part of the Superglue stack (as you saw in the visual I shared above), but people always forget that account mapping is just the first step of the co-sell process. The second, more important and complex step in co-selling, is getting a referral for an overlap, then actually getting AEs to leverage partners in a co-sell process and doing all that in a repeatable, scalable way. Which brings me to our next sin…

Deadly sin 2:

Forcing you AEs to check all those Salesforce fields

Pushing data into Salesforce and telling your AEs that they should use it never really works. They’re overloaded. It doesn’t scale. In all my years doing this, I’ve never seen a bigger sales team do this systematically and at scale.

'Okay, so what about a Salesforce widget?' you ask. Read on!

Deadly sin 3:

Thinking your AEs are excited for another Salesforce widget

No they won’t. After enough time, the widget just kind of blurs into the background, unloved, unnoticed. Unused. Why? Because asking an AE to use yet another widget is asking them to change their workflow, and that’s simply not going to work, because…

Deadly sin 4:

Telling your AEs to change their workflows

Guys, they’re not going to. Stop dreaming. They’ve been doing things like this for 10 years, and it works for them – why would they stop now? They’re too busy doing other stuff, like testing the latest AI tool, or engaging in ever-more complex sales processes.

We have to think about ways to help AEs without forcing them to change their workflows.

Deadly sin 5:

Forcing your partners into your portal for deal updates

There’s this illusion that a partner who has sourced a deal for you can simply go to the portal to get updates on deal statuses. It just doesn’t happen this way. Partners are really busy, and overwhelmed by partners and partner portals. So this is not a great way to get your partners excited about the deal – it just feels lazy. Telling them something important has happened personally, via a channel they love and use, like email? Much better.

Deadly sin 6:

Thinking that your partners will get excited when you tell them you won a deal

Sure, they’ll be pumped, I’m sure. But you actually need them to be excited about a potential deal much earlier than that, so that they can help you out. They’ll be much more excited (and much more helpful) if you proactively keep them posted on deal statuses throughout the deal lifecycle. For example, messaging that tells them, “Hey, this is the AE who’s working on our deal, which is now in the discovery phase,” or, “Great news! We’re now negotiating terms!”, or even, “The deal has been stuck for a while, can you help us get this over the line?” is far more useful, far more memorable, and far more likely to get them to help you get the deal where it needs to be.  

Deadly sin 7:
Trying to bribe your partners with referral payouts

I’m going to give it to you straight here: partnerships don’t happen because of referral payouts – they happen because of joint value. So be sure to focus on that rather than a few extra bucks you’re sending their way – your partners’ AEs will be much more excited if you can help them do their actual jobs more successfully!

Deadly sin 8:

Assuming your partner’s AEs will be excited to collaborate

Are you sure? Because if you don’t have any kind of relationship with these AEs, what makes you think they’ll be excited to collaborate with you? The overlap and knowing who that AE is is just the first step. You’ve got to figure out ways to build relationships with them. It starts with the lunch and learn, but you need to nurture the relationship beyond that, so they remember you, like you, and bring you into more deals, more often.

Deadly sin 9:

Thinking you partner team can jump in when a deal is stuck or reaches a critical stage

Are you sure the partner team even knows when the deal is stuck or when it’s reached a critical stage? I see this a lot – partner teams don’t always know what’s happening in the co-sell process. We have our process – an intro, a referral etc. – we think we know what’s happening, then we manually make these interventions to figure out when a partner can help, or when we need to bring in someone else on a deal. It’s just not possible to scale this approach (although it is fine for when you’re just starting out). Also, we ASSUME AEs know or remember that they can reach out to us in the partner team, or to our partners, for help, but in most cases, they don’t!

Deadly sins lead to chaos

So, what’s the result of all these deadly sins? Chaos reigns. You’ve got all these different parties trying to balance all their different interests, and the result is major misalignment. Sure, you’ll hit a lucky shot every now and then, but manual co-selling processes are a bust.

Here’s how I think about co-selling: we’ve got all these people we need to align. We’ve got to think about:

  • Who needs information at what time?
  • Who needs to talk to whom and at what time?
  • Who figures out these critical moments, and how do we automate them?

For example, when a deal reaches a critical stage, we shouldn’t assume the partner AE has logged into the portal for an update. We should proactively update him or her, telling them, hey, we’re now at this stage. This changes their perception, shows them value, gets them excited, and helps them help US! You won’t believe how effective it is!

Automate, automate, automate

But to do this kind of proactive alerting is impossible at scale without automation.

There are a load of different ways you could build a system like this. Superglue is just one of them. However you do it, you have to make sure it achieves two things:

  1. You help the partner team prioritize in a data-driven manner through smart alerts.
  2. You make it very easy to take action.

In summary

In summary, the foundation of co-selling is the following:

  1. Be data-driven.
  2. Remove friction where you can
  3. Automate, automate, automate
  4. Meet everyone where they are (Slack, email etc.)
  5. Retain the human touch

Once you’ve busted some myths and misconceptions, you’ll be all set to start transforming your partner ecosystem into a predictable revenue engine.

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