In Part 1 of partner enablement, I talked about the Pacman Principal and how 80% of making a partner successful is merely being there for the partner. In this blog, I am going to cover specific enablement activities. Enablement comprises the training and tools delivered to a partner to facilitate the sales of your solution. In a recent article, Reed Hastings referenced the rock-star principal from the famous Santa Monica study. The researchers expected the best programmers would outperform the others by a factor of two to three. What they found was that the best programmer was as much as twenty-five times faster! Reed found that “best programmer doesn’t add ten times the value--he or she adds more like one-hundred times.” We want a partners sales team to be rock-star performers, enablement is how we assure they can perform and represent your product well.
Many times, I have seen companies focus their partner enablement on what I call, “file, run, setup”. This training focuses heavily on the Sales Engineering team learning how to install and setup the security solution into a customer’s networks or running a proof of value (POV). The problem with this approach is that an install and a POV are often undertaken at least sixty to ninety days after a partner has been signed and enabled. During this period, the partner is very likely to have little to no interaction with your product and will need to have their training refreshed when an install or POV finally materializes. Instead, we want to focus our partner’s initial enablement on aspects that facilitate guiding customers to a POV instead of executing a POV. The best place to determine what initial enablement is needed is to understand what someone selling your solution is facing during the very early stages of the sales cycle.
In my earlier posts, I referenced the amount of marketing the security buyer faces. The security buyer needs to understand how your product fits into their current security ecosystem, the value your solution delivers, and how your company stands up against the competitors. This allows your sales team to be very focused as they only need to understand this information for your product. Your partner’s sales team supports many products, so they need to understand this information on some level for every single one of them. If you select a partner that does not align with your product area, they may not even have the background knowledge needed to thoroughly understand your product. Therefore the first thing we have to do is make sure our partners know the fundamental terminology to discuss your solution and understand which area of the security ecosystem your product delivers value.
We can use two partner types to illustrate this: Managed Service Provider (MSP) vs Managed Security Service Provider(MSSP). The MSP focuses on ensuring a company’s IT systems are operational while an MSSP ensures staff and systems are secure and current with any compliance requirements. This difference is precisely the type of service & product misalignment I have covered in my earlier blogs. Given MSP’s focus on IT system health vs security, they will lack the vocabulary and security ecosystem understanding that is necessary to best sell a security solution. We need to enable the partners in a way that assures that they are well-versed in the needed security terminology surrounding your solution. Then we can focus on enabling them with the details of the solution itself and the competitive marketplace. I have found that even when a partner’s products and services are aligned with your product, giving them an additional foundation of terms can help considerably.
At my previous company, Lastline, which was recently acquired by VMware, I managed all of our partner relationships. Lastline’s core solution is a Network Detection & Response solution. Lastline’s OEM partners used the sandbox component of our core solution as an addon feature to their security gateway. The OEM partner’s sales team understood general security, but they lacked any specific understanding of malware or how malware analysis works. The first part of enablement for these partners focused on the capabilities of modern malware (e.g., what is a command & control channel)along with how malware analysis works. After receiving this enablement, our partners could sell malware analysis as a critical differentiated offering instead of, “Hey, we have that too,” which had a measurable impact on both companies' sales.
I found this terminology primer to be useful for regular resellers and MSSP partners as well. The terminology allowed partners to more easily engage with customers during the initial sales motions, which increased the front of our sales funnel. This is an excellent step in the sales process; the next step is to build upon this initial momentum. Building momentum requires the sales team to understand the product's value and the competitive landscape. Remember, customers are buying the product where they understand the value the quickest, so this enablement needs to focus on making the value easy to understand and even easier for the partner's sales team to speak to. If they are properly armed, they can move through the sales cycle's initial stages to a POC or a sale much more quickly. Not only that, but when the competition appears, the partner can make sure the battle is fought on ground more favorable to your solution and not the competitors’!
Enablement on terminology and product value is key to a partner bringing in net new customers and accelerating a customer’s journey through the initial portions of the sales cycle. Partners will need your help much more for the initial customers that make this journey with a partner, so these initial journeys should be made with your sales team and the partners sales team arm-in-arm. This way, you can not only see how the partner is working out, but you can also learn more about the sales cycle. Once a partner has shown more success in attracting customers and moving them through the sales funnel you can start to enable them in areas that remove load from your sales team. This is when enablement covering, “file, run, setup” will be effective.
Enablement is not a one and done set of tasks. Given the multitude of solutions a partner’s salespeople are engaged with you will need to periodically refresh a partner’s training. This refresh will also allow you to train the partner’s new hires. Enablement can also include non-standard engagement points. One of these points that I have found very successful is hosting periodic “Ask Me Anything” (AMA)sessions. These sessions allow your partners to ask questions they are experiencing in the field. This is also a good time to give them product and market updates. The added benefit of these sessions is when they are hosted regularly, they build additional trust with the partner and open additional customer access and feedback.
In my next piece I will start to give perspectives on go-to-market from various people in the market. The first piece will be from Gil Friedrich, the CEO of Avanan. Avanan is a cloud email security platform that pioneered and patented a new approach to prevent sophisticated attacks. They use APIs to scan for phishing, malware, and data leakage in the queue of communications traffic. This means the product catches threats missed by Microsoft while adding a transparent layer of security for the entire suite and other collaboration tools such as Slack.