Scaling partner enablement & communications: Touchpoints you should automate first
Canalys, Partnership Leaders, and Hubspot just released their “State of Partner Ops and Programs 2022” report.
I found one graph particularly interesting. When asked to rank partner and channel program goals by importance the following three made it to the top:
1. Implement a scalable partner program with repeatable processes
2. Enabling partner GTM teams
3. Effectively and efficiently communicating with partners
I might be slightly biased but I believe those three goals are linked.
Hear me out!
When I look at these goals it seems to me that what partnership executives are looking for is the following:
Scalable, efficient, and effective ways to communicate with and enable partners.
Yes, I know the goals above encompass more. Yet I do believe that this is an essential piece to the puzzle.
Here’s the good news: Marketing & Sales had similar challenges years ago and figured it all out. So we won’t have to reinvent the wheel, but it’s important to understand that selling is not the same as building relationships.
So how do we efficiently and effectively communicate with and enable partners at scale?
Full disclosure: it’s hard work. There are no shortcuts. We’re all familiar with those one-size-fits-all newsletters and other “general updates''. If you want to do more than clutter your partner’s “unread” tab, you’ll need to do more. That approach may be scalable but it sure isn’t effective.
The good news: there is a blueprint
As I said earlier, it’s fortunately been done before. What we’re talking about here is partner lifecycle management. Think of it as a way of approaching each person within each partner organization, in light of the stage they’re currently in.
It’s a structured communications and enablement process that can in fact be automated. Not all of it, but some. The goal is to create better and more effective partner experiences while ensuring the setup is scalable and doesn’t require more and more partner managers.
Touchpoints in the partner lifecycle
In the following paragraphs I’ll talk about the different stages and touchpoints along the partner lifecycle. We’ve identified them through our conversations with partner managers, CEOs, and revenue executives. They’re also the foundation of what we do at Superglue. We’ve even turned many of them into blueprints that our customers can access and customize in order to communicate better with their partners. That does not mean you need Superglue to implement what I’m about to tell you though!
When you think about scaling your partner program these are the things you should focus on first.
As you can see below, there are many touch points along the partner lifecycle (I removed quite a few for the sake of simplicity). Let’s focus on five of them, to help us answer the question we asked earlier: how do great relationships get built in a scalable manner?
Let’s dive in.
Welcome & onboarding: lots of excitement, then…silence?
Partner onboarding often happens like this:
You present your company at a partner’s lunch & learn session. The presentation goes well, and you engage 15-20 sales reps you’ve never met before. Everyone goes home on a high note, and you send a nice (but long) follow-up email. It’s got some spiffy slides and resources, like the login details to your PRM. The reps open your email. Some even check out the slides you’ve attached. Then, they move on.
Touchpoints beyond the presentation
What’s wrong with this picture? Nothing is wrong, per se, it’s just not complete. What should follow is a series of touchpoints over the coming weeks. Start by explaining to these reps what’s in it for them: how does this partnership help them to be more successful in their roles? How will it enable them to win more deals? Perhaps most importantly, you need to show them why this partnership is special, and why they should care.
At Superglue, we have identified a blueprint to finding that delicate, relationship-boosting balance. And it’s not as complicated as it seems. But it does require you to gradually onboard partners over time, slowly winning their trust and ensuring that they know who you are, and then making them want to know more. One long email may be scalable but it sure isn’t effective. First you build trust and excitement, then you ask for their support (or better: they just do it because they like you).
Training & enablement: timing is everything
You probably have a PRM or some other destination where partners can learn about your solution. If you want them to get excited enough to start using it, you need to motivate them first, by triggering their curiosity and demonstrating why it’s relevant to their lives.
Identify the moment when your partners are ready for training - and when they will actually get value from it. It’s at that point - and not before - that you should be sending them to this destination. In other words, you need to be attuned to the partnership life cycle in order to identify the right time to nudge it into the next phase.
And if you know it’s the right time, they’ll know it, too. It won’t be lost on them that you timed your communications according to their needs, rather than your own. This is a great way to show that you care, that you know what they need, and that you have what it takes to help them win.
The hard part is figuring out those triggers, and getting the timing right. There are ways to do this, and proven best practices. Sending them long manuals about what to do right after the first call isn’t it. Some just trigger these training and enablement sequences several weeks after a new partner contact was created in your CRM. Others refine triggers further.
Check-ins and inactivity: when it’s been a while
You know that friend from high school that calls you after ten years of silence, asking for a favor?
That feels like exploitation, because it is. And it’s the exact opposite of how you want to treat your partners. This is especially true when it comes to the “less important” people in your partner organizations. They, too, want to be valued, and neglecting them could turn out to be a mistake down the line. All it takes is a timely, relevant check-in to show that you’re still there, and you’re invested in the relationship. The best kind of check-in is one that makes the other person feel like there is no agenda behind it. It doesn’t take much, and it’s an opportunity to keep the flame going.
Take advantage of that opportunity, because the more inactive the relationship becomes, the more likely a partner is to forget about you entirely. And once that has happened, you need to start building the relationship from scratch. A bit of personalized communication is all it takes to keep things from falling back to square one.
Successful co-selling: keep everyone in the loop
Co-selling is one of the most powerful advantages of an effective partnership. But it’s not just about a great intro, or getting your partner’s teams on a call with yours. It’s also about keeping people posted on what’s happening when they’re not around.
All too often, you hand over a lead to an AE, and after an initial burst of activity, they forget about the partner. Put yourself in that partner’s shoes. At the very least, you’d feel undervalued. Even worse, you would feel like they had taken advantage of you. Needless to say, this is a quick way to ruin a relationship.
What partners want is to stay updated, so that the next time that customer talks to them, they know how to support you.
Happiness & recognition: the most human touchpoint
The deal goes through, the dynamo of a partner who made it happen gets their commission, and everyone moves on. We’re all good, right?
Commission is a given. Do you want to be just another partner, or do you want to be indispensable? Remember, these are not (just) transactional relationships. They’re built on trust and collaboration. Asking your partners how happy they are about a recent success is more important than you think.
Feelings matter, not just facts
We all get how important this is when it comes to customers. Companies care deeply about the scores their customers give them on Net Promoter Score surveys, because they understand that success doesn’t end with a sale. How do customers feel? How likely are they to evangelize on your behalf? These questions are vital to long term growth.
So, consider sending NPS surveys to your partners. Or simply ask them how happy they are, and whether there is something you can improve. After all, how they feel about you is a powerful driver of future engagement. When they do something for you, don’t forget to thank them, and do it with a personal touch. There are great B2B gifting options that exist solely to enhance relationships, and you should be using them. Imagine if, after helping you win a deal, your partner received a bottle of bubbly and a thank you note. How great would they feel? How would you feel?
That, and not just the commission, is what makes you stand out. Human, relational touches get partners raving about you, and convince them to invest in the relationship as a long-term asset.
It’s hard to over-emphasize the importance of these touchpoints and that leveraging automation to achieve scale and efficiency can be a game changer. Every time you neglect one of them, the relationship gets colder. And once it’s gone, it’s even harder to win back. Thankfully, the reverse is also true. Every time you generate a relevant, personal touchpoint, you score points, you build trust, and foster goodwill.
The moral of the story is quite simple. Don’t be the kind of partner who shows up out of the blue, asking for favors. Instead, be that partner who’s available, reliable, and willing to invest in lasting relationships.
Sitting down and thinking about the partner lifecycle and recurring touchpoints will help you create more scalable ways to address those top three goals.
Want to learn more? Have a conversation with other leaders facing similar challenges? Then join Partnership Leaders.
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