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Evolution of Go-to-Market – Partner Enablement 01

November 13, 2020
Brian Laing
Go-To-Market Executive

My earlier posts suggested some non-traditional characteristics by which to select and measure your channel partners.  These only scratch the surface.  Future posts will continue to recommend additional traits to examine, some of which will be contributed by former colleagues.  Once you engage the right partner, you still need to support them with the right team, enablement, and coaching.  In this post, I’ll focus on the famous quote, “eighty percent of success is simply showing up”, which thanks to Jarrett Miller, I will now forever refer to as the Pacman Principle.  What is the Pacman Principle?  Partners need to see you, and they need to know that if they stumble both you and your team will be there to support them.  That is our eighty percent showing up, which in a rotated pie chart (see image to the right) looks like Pacman, hence the Pacman Principle.  

“Eighty percent of what?” I hear you say. Exactly. Most people agree that just showing up equates to eighty percent simply because a gut level it sounds right, but they will not be able to quantify the value of the Pacman Principle or what showing up covers.  In talking to channel executives across the world, I often hear that the eighty percent is measured as if it were a data from a single event.  Some have even told me that they feel they hit eighty percent by merely signing up a partner; A sort of build it and they will come approach.  I disagree.  To paraphrase Winston Churchill, we need to go back to our partners time and time again!

“If you have an important point to make, don't try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time a tremendous whack.”  

–Winston Churchill

The impact of the Pacman Principle is not an arbitrary, subjective measure.  The effects of following this principle can be quantified at a basic level.  Even basic measurements, when taken over time, can easily show the impact that the PacmanPrinciple can have.  The more effort you put into measuring success, the more value you will return.  Look at the success of fitness tracking, where the gamification of tracking fitness has turned it into a multi-billion-dollar industry.  Grand View Research shows the fitness tracking market size as $2.8B in 2018 and growing at a CAGR of 21.1%.  Who says we can’t gamify our partnership management?  One easy starting point is to measure inbound deal registrations over time and correlate them to activities executed with the partner.  With constant measurement, you adjust your interactions until you get the desired results or determine that the partner was a wrong choice.

Let’s look at a real-world example of this in action.  An MSSP partner I was working with had hundreds of salespeople, yet I could only get about ten percent of that sales team to register a deal.  I evaluated this partner using some of the metrics I mentioned in my previous blog posts.  I knew that this partner was a good fit in the services areas (many repeat customers with multiyear service engagements), but they were not as strong of a fit in the product area.  My evaluation found that the trust their customers had in them was very high.  Customers would take new services purely because the vendor recommended them, however, this was not enough to compensate for their lack of experience in selling products.  This partner was not just inexperienced in selling new products to existing customers, they also had an overwhelming amount of built up muscle memory selling services geared towards SOC efficiencies.  

Determined to make a change, my team and I went on a Pacman campaign.  Typically, when channel account managers call on a partner’s sales team, they ask about specific deals or look to map account activity.  We spent three weeks doing nothing but talking with the sales reps. We did not try to map deals, we did not ask them what they were going to sell that quarter—we simply made sure they had everything they needed to sell confidently!  We wanted to be sure they understood the problem space, not just our product.  Many of them told us they did not feel adequately educated on advanced threats or our product, and as a result they did not pitch it to their customers.  We also found that they missed clear indicators from their customers that not only did they need our solution but were actively looking for it.  Simply put, the sales staff was not fully enabled.  We had enabled the partner's marketing and product management teams, then sat back and relied on those teams to educate the partner’s sales team on our products.  This lack of direct enablement appeared to be why we were stuck with only ten percent of the sales team registering deals.  After we dug deeper we discovered the proof that we were on to the right track: the ten percent who had registered a deal were salespeople who already understood the problem space from previous positions.

Armed with our findings, we moved from research mode into education mode.  We continued to call on salespeople but now we could offer to join sales calls as a subject matter expert to promote the services they added to the product sale. We offered to join their team meetings to host “Ask Me Anything” sessions, and gave them various levels of direct enablement training. One of our more creative solutions was an email alias, PartnerName@Mycompanyname.com.  Now their questions were emailed to my entire team and they did not have to remember any of our names.  We made it simple for them, use this alias to send us an email and the team of people behind it would be there to support them!  

Our seemingly simple offer of help had a significant impact in a very short period.  After just three weeks, we had increased the number of salespeople with a deal in the pipeline from ten percent to forty-three percent.  Now that the sales team felt comfortable talking about the solution and they no longer feared to look foolish to the customer, they started offering the new service, and sales of the new solution began to take off.  This success has generated a few measurement points.  First is the timeliness of a response when the partner emails our alias.  When the partner emails the alias, you must be there to support them, which means being responsive.  If they do not get a timely response, they will not feel supported.  We would have failed to follow the Pacman Principle resulting in the partner moving on to products from other partners.  The other measurement points focus on traditional pipeline metrics.

The anecdote shows that enablement is not a one and done approach, the partner needs to hear from you repeatedly.  If this changes, you can erode all your hard work.  This happened with this very same partner.  Once we had the partner on a trajectory of consistent growth, we were asked to turn the partner over to another team to manage.  The new team did not believe in or follow the Pacman Principle and the impact of this change was seen immediately. You guessed it: we watched our three quarters of measurable growth turn into three-quarters of quantifiable decline.  The partner was returned to my team, but by that point they had lost faith in the solution, and we were unable to recover the initial momentum we had built up.

Sabermetrics can help select the optimal channel partners that will enable your company to outplay your competition instead of outspending them!  The key is the ongoing measurement of those metrics.  One of the critical aspects of gamification is a feedback loop; however, stop measuring for too long, and you may have to start over.  The best approach is consistent and ongoing activities with your partners.  Not only will this help accelerate the success of your partners, but it will also help you point out subpar partners that may need replacing or need additional enablement.  In my next post, I will talk more in-depth about the various type of enablement you can deliver to a partner for both their initial onboarding as well as ongoing engagement activities.  Constant, consistent engagement with your partners will help to assure that your company is top of mind and recommended to your partners customers instead of your partners selling the solution offering the most spiffs.