Tough Talk on Selling in a Down Economy - Part III

By Mike Agron

This is the third article in a series of four focused on the six factors critical for developing successful, workable partnerships. In the first article, I discussed the importance of recognizing that not all partnerships are created equal. It's critical to invest time and resources only into those partnerships that are of high value to your mutual customers and each partner. In the second article, I focused on the first three critical success factors: partner capabilities, market and competitive segmentation, and defined use cases. This article will examine the importance of the fourth critical success factor: value propositions. In the final article, I'll discuss the last two critical success factors: relationship objectives and shared revenue objectives. I will also address some ideas for using the six critical success factors for developing go-to-market partnering plans that will help you meet your revenue, market and partnership goals.

(Click for larger image)

Key Success Factors
It's important to keep in mind that technology issues are often the easiest to negotiate; it's the complexities surrounding the relationships between individuals from each organization that need attention. Because human factors play such a pivotal role, partnerships are almost always fluid. I was once involved in a large global partnership which included elements that placed that partnership in all four of the quadrants depicted in the graphic above - all at the same time! In that case, the relationships for each business unit and global region varied significantly. The "value proposition" was uneven for each of these situations; the stronger the value proposition, the better the relationship was able to deal with the "ups and downs" that each company's culture brought to the partnership. In areas where there was little or no value proposition buy in, the intended results were never achieved.
So we must now focus on what is arguably the most important of the critical success factors in partnerships, the value proposition. Without a clear articulation of its value to the market and to each partner, there is no real foundation for extending a "one-off" relationship into a long-term sustainable partnership.
Use cases are often the backbone in establishing value propositions. Develop solid use cases by articulating how your solution will solve specific business or technology problems. Then create what's known as an "elevator pitch" by transforming the features and benefits of these use cases into a core set of value propositions. (An elevator pitch is designed to be given and convey value in the brief time it takes to ride an elevator.) Once the value proposition is defined, you can discuss with your partner the specifics of a "high impact/high performing" partnership based on shared revenue objectives and other strategic goals.

The value proposition demonstrates how business value is delivered to three key constituencies: the market, your partner and your firm. For the sake of analogy, picture a three-legged stool.

Offering Value to the Market
The value proposition you and your partner define must clearly articulate the benefits you are offering to your market.

Several years ago the company with whom I was employed partnered with a leading business intelligence provider to create a joint solution. It was unique at the time and offered both partners new value and competitive differentiation. Our message to the market, made up of enterprise business intelligence users, was that together with our partner, we were able to deliver an integrated solution to glean more meaning from data by answering questions about the "where" that was stored in this popular provider's business intelligence system. Our market quickly recognized what we were providing, and we then drilled down into much more detail and focused on some of the specific ways the offering would be of value, creating proposals based on a strong value proposition.

Teaming with a Purpose: Money on the Table
If the market is "leg one" of the stool, then leg two has to be what's in it for your partner. In the above case study, we next needed to provide a solid business reason for getting our partner to engage, assuring a serious commitment from everyone in the executive suites to the sales organization that would bring us into deals. This would only happen if we offered a compelling explanation of what was in it for the partner.

We pitched our partner's executives with the fact that they would now have a powerful visual/location-based front-end that would provide them a unique edge to open up new sales opportunities, sell additional licenses and differentiate themselves from their competition. Further, we offered to share a large global account list to discover mutual accounts that could leverage existing investments in both technologies “ definitely "low-hanging fruit" in this case - which added incremental revenue. Revenue is the "mother's milk" of partnering; at the end of the day, it's often the way the partnership will be evaluated. Teaming with a purpose means we are both seeing money on the table.

Take Care of Yourself
Now that we've defined what's in it for the market and partner, the third leg of the stool is to define what's in it for your own organization. There is often a great deal of internal selling that needs to be done to get your own executives, as well as the rest of the organization, on board to support a partnership. Without this type of internal support you are doomed to failure, as partnering cuts across multiple touch points in an organization. Having as many people as possible on board is job #1 in launching, growing and sustaining a partnership.

So how does your organization, as the third leg of the stool, stand to benefit? The simple answer is that by partnering with a market leader in this space, your sales organization now has a rich value proposition to pitch to new and existing customers, both yours and your partner's. Armed with the solutions this new partnership creates, you may open up higher value markets and penetrate new segments, yielding new revenue streams that may have been difficult to penetrate without the capabilities delivered by this partnership.

The partnership which I have been using as an example got off the ground because we communicated, and even over-communicated, the value proposition of this partnership from the top of each organization down, and then back up again. Once we had buy-in from the top of the organizations, we worked with the staff in the trenches including the various department managers who would be touched by the partnership (marketing, product development, professional services, etc.). We made sure the partnership was blessed by executives of both companies, and was simultaneously driven by a field sales engagement effort, with both partners hosting everything from joint webinars to brown bag lunches with their sales and sales engineering counterparts. While revenue was a key metric for the sales organization, we also regularly published and communicated all wins, emphasizing why the partnership was able to win the deal.

Keeping value propositions fresh over time requires a very collaborative approach with stakeholders from both organizations. If you're the partner champion who has the most at stake in getting a partnership launched, I recommend that you start by developing some "straw dog" examples and begin to discuss and promote them. As you get acceptance, use them to promote the thought leadership of your organization externally and internally, to gain mindshare for creating a partnership that will go beyond a simple press release and become one that is truly "high impact/high performing."

In my last article in this series, I'll discuss the last two critical partnership success factors: relationship objectives and shared revenue objectives. I'll also detail ideas for using the six critical success factors to develop a go-to-market partnering plan that will help you meet your revenue, market and partnership goals. Finally, if you want more information on this topic, I'll be giving a workshop on these topics at the Location Intelligence Conference on Oct. 5 in Westminster, CO.

Published Friday, August 21st, 2009

Written by Mike Agron

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