This article is part of a compelling series that will give you practical tips on how to grow a successful partner program. By leveraging the advice of the greatest minds in partnerships, you will learn how to effectively create, structure, and build a partner program that scales revenue. If you are a startup or SMB in the B2B tech industry, this series is for you.
For this article, we had the pleasure of speaking with Don Osburn, Founder of Channel Zen, a consulting company specializing in channel sales program development for growing vendors.
Channel Zen, founded by Don and inspired by his 20 years of experience in partner channel management, has a mission to revolutionize channel sales and partnering organizations.
By breaking partner management operations into four distinct areas—recruiting, identification, onboarding, and enablement—he is focused on optimizing each area to ensure his clients have the most successful channel partnerships imaginable.
"I wanted to bring more operational efficiency and scalability to my customers and my industry in general."
His years of experience in the automated data capture (ADC / AIDC) industry had given him a unique insight into the need for written guidance on how to effectively manage a global channel sales organization. This inspired him to write Indirect Selling, a book that provides invaluable advice on operational efficiency, key performance indicators, and how to determine partner value.
His primary role is to provide executive management consulting to set up and run partner and channel sales organizations for software companies primarily focused on the Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) industry.
The key to all of this, however, is first recruiting partners, which means finding the right partners and of course, nailing partner meetings with those partners. And this is where most businesses often make or break a deal.
Read the following interview to discover and take advantage of the advice coming from Don himself.
- 1. Prior to the Pitch
- 1.1. Find Your North Star Partner
- 1.2. Prioritize the Customer
- 2. Strategies for the Partner Pitch Meeting
- 2.1. Document the Dream
- 2.2. Don’t Negotiate on Compatibility
- 2.3. Cash is King, but Value is the Kingdom
- 2.4. Multi-thread the Value
- 3. Partner Pitch Stories: The Good and The…Not So Good
- 3.1. The Good
- 3.1.1. What Went Right
- 3.2. The Not So Good
- 3.2.1. What Went Wrong
- 3.2.2. How to Avoid Window Shoppers
- 4. Key Takeaways: Don’s Advice to Nail Partner Pitches in 2023
- 4.1. Make it educational
- 4.2. Hone your craft
- 4.3. Find a tool like Kiflo
- 5. Make it Happen for You: How to Nail Your Partner Pitches like Channel Zen
Table of contents
Before any meeting or partner recruitment kickoff, there is always a flurry of preparatory activity. Researching potential candidates and crafting presentation slides are just some of the steps involved in ensuring that everything runs smoothly.
Taking the time to properly prepare can make all the difference in its success.
Don recommends the following steps.
The secret to success is to start high and be strategic.
You need to think about the long-term goals of your business and how you can use partnerships to help you achieve them.
It means looking for partners who have a shared vision and who can bring something unique to the table. It also means being willing to invest in these relationships, as they will be important.
Ask yourself why you are engaging with these partners in the first place. You may already have a business up and running, but that's only the beginning. It's enough to get you by if you're already selling products to customers, but it won't take you far.
And as Don says, sales are often seen as the go-to KPI for many businesses, but that doesn't always tell the full story.
"I break it down like this: you already have customers that you are selling to, meaning you have a market space that you are currently operating in. The value in working with and partnering with resellers and other partners can be beneficial as they can help take your business into other markets and areas more cost-effectively than if you were to do it on your own."
The question to ask is, can you enter a market more profitably independently or through a partner? That is the challenge in Don's industry: customers are used to buying from reseller partners and have been doing so for the past 20–30 years.
It is difficult to reach the customer base without first speaking with the resellers, as customers get the majority of their information from the reseller community.
"I included this real-world example of mine in my book: We attempted to sell into the Brazilian market while being based in the U.S. As most large companies would do, we established an office in Brazil and thought that we could make millions by selling there. However, within six to eight months, we had to close the office."
The most common cause of these mishaps is that many businesses lack an understanding of what it takes to successfully sell in a particular market. Local laws, taxes, and other issues may be unknown to the team, making them more vulnerable to mistakes.
"There were all sorts of issues that we didn't fully comprehend at the time, so we decided to take a different approach. We ended up collaborating with reseller communities in the area, which provided us with the opportunity to finally successfully break into this new geography."
So, start by asking yourself, "What new markets is this partnership helping you enter?" Explore the possibility of entering these markets organically. If not, what value can you get from the partnership? As in the example above, could it help you enter a foreign market?
Once you have established a clear boundary, you have a framework to work within that will help you evaluate what kind of partners you would like to work with.
Another essential aspect, as Don explains, is the importance of understanding the distinction between customers and channel partners.
Customers purchase products with money, resulting in a transaction where they give you money and you provide them with the product.
As a business, you will go through a similar sales cycle when selling to a partner or channel community. However, it is important to remember that they do not buy anything; they are merely helping you take your product to market.
Therefore, it is crucial to take note of where you will be paid when conducting business, which is typically done by selling to a customer.
Due to the chaotic nature of the industry, Don explains that more time and money can be spent talking to people who are not buying anything (partners) than actually talking to customers.
"I always tell people to look at their sales cycle this way: if you spend an hour talking to a customer, you should have some idea of how much that hour will pay off in terms of sales over time."
So if you're going to talk to a partner, someone who isn't a paying customer, and spend an hour with them, make sure you get two hours' worth of value out of it.
It is important to identify these values upfront when having conversations with partners, to avoid wasting hours without achieving the desired revenue. Failing to do so can lead to frustration and a negative attitude toward working with partners.
“To put it the old way, if I'm going to buy something for fifty cents and sell it for a dollar and I'm going to talk to this person for an hour, I need to make sure I'm getting two hours' worth of value back.”
Now comes the fun part: the pitch!
Pitching is an exciting opportunity to present your ideas and get feedback from potential partners. It's a chance to show off your hard work and convince others that your program or business is worth investing in.
Here are a few key notes from Don.
"I always tell my clients, ‘Don't be afraid to dream big.’ List everything you want, and don't be afraid to aim high. You may not get it all, but writing down your goals is an important step in achieving them."
This is a very valuable approach to take when engaging with potential partners.
And the most important thing to remember is that it should be a dialogue. Writing down the goals upfront ensures that you know what you're looking for going into the partnership and will be better for ease of conversation.
"Here is a simple example again, I need someone who can sell my product in Brazil and generate 1.5 million dollars in revenue next year. To achieve this, I require sales, customers, local support for those customers, and someone to translate my English-based literature into the local language for that market. Write all this down."
Another vital aspect Don mentions is knowing yourself and your company well.
For example, when talking to a large company with hundreds of employees, they may not have an interest in accommodating the needs of a small business. On the other hand, when conversing with a smaller organization, they might be more willing and capable to complete the required operations.
This doesn't mean that small businesses can't collaborate with large companies, but they should be aware of whether the partner’s business will prioritize the vendor’s line of business or just view it as another small project.
“You don't have to be able to run a 1,000-person organization with 2000 resellers globally, but you should at least understand how they work. Knowing this will help you answer the questions you are asking right now. You may be thinking, ‘I'm going to go talk to those guys. What do I need to consider?’ The key is to understand what you are willing to trade and what your options are. Having an idea of how this works will help you better facilitate it as you move forward.”
Next, make a list of your negotiables and non-negotiables.
You need to identify what you are willing to negotiate on and what you are not willing to compromise or concede. Knowing this will help you make decisions that align with your values and goals, which can be the difference between a successful negotiation and an unsuccessful one.
Take some time to think about these points, and once you have identified them, write them down so that you can refer back to them during the negotiation process.
"I would say the most important things to understand are the distinctions between business and personal negotiating. In real life, it can be difficult to define your BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement), as you are often dealing with intangibles rather than a set amount of money.”
These can be certain elements of your intellectual property or technology that you are unwilling to negotiate on. These could be the very specific things that make up your product, company, or anything brand-related unique and successful.
"In my industry, it's all about technology and software. There are certain things that are specific to a particular technological solution that is non-negotiable, as they could potentially destroy the product, company, or whatever else is involved."
You may have noticed that professionals in the partnership space are no longer prioritizing money, commissions, rebates, or any other financial incentives, especially when it comes to larger companies. This is something Don has seen change over his decades of experience.
When talking to partners, resellers or referrals, ESV, or any other type of partner, it is essential to remember that they are looking out for their own interests. While they may be willing to discuss what you can do for them, their primary focus is on their own revenue and brand.
As a vendor, it is crucial to recognize that these partners have an impressive roster of vendors to choose from and may switch them out if it helps their business grow.
Consequently, cash may be king, but it is not always enough. To truly build a successful partnership, vendors must understand that the partner's value to themselves lies primarily in owning the customer relationship.
Finally, when it comes to achieving great success, one of the most rewarding investments you can make is taking a moment to consider how you can help your partners grow their businesses.
For example, it's not uncommon for larger companies to invest in creating an online presence for their partners; this kind of support can be invaluable.
Don confidently states that the cost for the company to set up the website and create the marketing interface with their partner is much less than the value their partner receives from having a professional online presence they can use for their own brand promotion.
Another crucial aspect to take into account is single-threaded partner communication.
What this means is that if the partnership representative is only communicating with one person from your team or vice versa, then you are creating a weak foundation to build the relationship.
As Don explains:
"I cannot stress this enough: yes, money is important, and cash is king; however, it is similar to working with a customer in a transaction. The more points of contact you have with them, the better your relationship will be going forward."
To make progress, it is crucial to have both the marketing manager from your side and the partner's side talking to each other.
This conversation does not need to be long or complicated; it can be as simple as asking if there is anything that either of you can offer.
Another example is when your accounting department talks to their accounting department. It could involve asking questions such as, "How do you do billing?" or "How do you handle accounts payable and accounts receivable?"
Through this, both parties can join forces to discover new and improved methods of streamlining the process. By working together, they can brainstorm ideas and create a plan that will make the process more efficient.
Moreover, utilizing each other's strengths and resources can help to speed up the process even further. It could include sharing technology or knowledge that one partner may have access to and that the other does not.
By creating multiple points of contact and utilizing each other's strengths and resources, a strong relationship can be formed that will pay dividends in the long run.
It's true what they say, most businesses or success stories are founded on years and years of tall tales to tell, and Don granted us the honor of hearing about his partner's pitch stories, both the good and the ugly.
So, let's have a little story time.
"This is back in the old days when we used to travel a lot, I went to a partner's location, and had a few conversations up front. And I guess some of the highlights that made it work really well were the people they brought to the meeting were exactly the people we needed to speak to.
So, again, I'm into technology, so it's all about software and barcode scanning and that kind of stuff. When we attended the meeting, there was a representative from the engineering organization, sales team, and executive management. These three were the most important to me.
And that means the meeting was very productive because we got to hit all the different parts."
The right people at the table
Don, being into technology, was all about software and barcode scanning. When he got to the meeting, there was someone present who managed their technology and engineering organization, someone from the sales side, and someone from executive management.
These three key people made the meeting very productive as they were able to hit all different parts of the conversation.
The right problem with the right solution
The two parties were able to communicate effectively with the engineering component, quickly going over the product. They discussed how it would be sold and how it could fit in with their current line card of vendors.
They were well prepared for the meeting and stayed focused on their niche. Both sides were able to understand where it fits in, and it was pleasing, as Don mentions, to see the engineer, sales manager, and executive all agree to move forward with the product.
Compatible values and work ethics
Another thing that went really well was the diverse cultural mix in the different teams, which allowed them to brainstorm ideas and combine perspectives in order to maximize the success of the project. Everyone had a mutual understanding of how important this project was, which enabled them to work together effectively and efficiently.
The team in the room provided feedback to Don's group, suggesting other prospects they could consider partnering with or collaborating within the marketplace.
Some of these companies were even competitors of this partner, but they did not operate in that market. Ultimately, this resulted in more than just signing up another reseller; numerous benefits emerged from the relationship, leading to joint marketing and lead generation over the years.
“It's this idea that you get into a meeting and it doesn't matter how many people are in it; they're all sitting there with their arms crossed just watching, only there to take in information, and they're kind of looking for you to entertain them, or whatever the term is.
But if you just present, present, present, you won't get anywhere and won't find ways to break the mold. I know this from experience because I am a ham and frequently do silly things that might seem inappropriate for the situation.
To get around this, I have found it helpful to think of creative ways to engage my audience and make my presentation more interesting. If I can't lighten up the room and get some conversation going within the first 30 minutes of the meeting, I start to feel uncomfortable.”
As we move into a more in-depth and contrasted discussion of having the right people at the table with the right solutions, it's important to consider window shoppers.
“The window shoppers are like, okay, I can tell this is a window shopper meeting. Just do the presentation, let's move on.“
If someone shows up and you can tell it's just one person, give them the information they need. Do your best, put on a bit of a show if necessary, but don't linger too long. Make sure to do the best job you can and then move on. Remember, is an hour presenting to this one person going to yield two hours' worth of revenue value?
Don stated that he always challenged everyone, including himself. If someone was merely talking, they weren't making any progress. He believed that asking questions and listening were the best ways to receive feedback. He encouraged people to ask questions and let others speak in order to gain more information from the partner.
"I hate a show-up and throw-up. It does nobody any good. But you get this a lot in the window shopping type."
The key to success is recognizing what matters most to your partner. Rather than inundating them with all the fantastic features you have to offer, focus on what they requested and ask, "What do you think of this?"
Doing so will help you better understand their needs and provide a more tailored solution.
Not a good cultural fit
As a business owner or manager, it is essential to take into account the cultural aspects of your company when bringing on new partners.
It is important to ensure that everyone is performing their duties and enjoying their work environment. Therefore, when introducing someone new, you should be aware of how they may disrupt the open and comfortable atmosphere that has been established.
Bringing in someone who does not fit with the culture can have a detrimental impact on your company.
Not excited by the solution
Sometimes it's the enthusiasm that can make all the difference.
When both partners are enthusiastic about the proposed solution, it can create an atmosphere of energy and collaboration. This enthusiasm can be contagious and help motivate both parties to work together to find a successful outcome.
Without this enthusiasm, apathy, and stagnation can set in, leading to a lack of progress and even animosity.
Not open to an honest exchange
Be sure that there is an honest and open exchange about what to expect from the partnership.
When there is a lack of openness in a partnership meeting, it can be difficult for all parties involved to agree. Without open dialogue, partners may find themselves talking past each other and not understanding each other's perspectives. This can lead to a breakdown in communication and, ultimately, the failure of the partnership.
To avoid this, it is important to ensure that everyone is comfortable discussing their expectations and concerns openly and honestly. Doing so will help create a productive atmosphere where all parties can work together to reach a successful outcome.
“I would say, in general, never go to one of these meetings with the idea that you are there to show how great your business is with the hope of getting someone to sign up with you. If you approach it this way, good luck because you are going to have some trouble with that."
Don states that if you can continue with the attitude of having a dialogue, then you should have plenty of material to show potential partners. To make an effective presentation, conduct research and get to know the company to which you are presenting.
If you take your standard presentation and incorporate your customer's logo, you will get a lot of headway. This shows your customer that you have taken the time to understand why they are in business and what services they provide. It also demonstrates that you are willing to work together. This is much more effective than simply throwing them a bunch of information.
"The shift to subscription-based sales models from the traditional buy-it-install-it perpetual license has caused a lot of changes, such as moving from reseller to referral. As such, it is important to be prepared for meetings that are more education-focused. Resellers and partners value these meetings because they are looking to learn something from them; if they don't gain any knowledge, then what is the point? Therefore, it is essential to spend more time selling in an educational mode."
“Before embarking on any endeavor, it is important to have a clear understanding of the value that will be gained from it. Ask yourself: If this project goes as planned, what will I gain from it? Will it provide access to a new market or an increase in sales revenue? Having a flexible goal in mind will enable you to adjust your expectations and learn more as conversations progress.
It is essential to understand the industry-standard concepts of solution selling, consultative selling, and customer selling. Taking the time to research and familiarize yourself with these concepts can be invaluable in achieving success in sales. Moreover, it is important to have a plan for how you will approach each partner.
If your goal is to generate one million dollars worth of sales from a particular customer, you should have an idea of how many meetings you need to have with the customer's CTO, engineering manager, and other key personnel. It’s this exact same planning you should be doing prior to meeting with partners. Having a clear plan in place will help you hone your craft and maximize your success.”
“As a business owner in this field, I understand the need for automated tools that allow us to scale up. This is where companies like Kiflo come in, offering solutions that enable us to streamline our processes and operations.
By utilizing these services, we can better manage large volumes of data, automate tasks, and ensure consistency and accuracy while working with multiple clients.
With dedicated management software in place, it is possible to significantly reduce operational costs and save time, allowing us to focus on growth-oriented activities such as sales conversion or existing customer outreach. Leveraging robust automation systems is essential for businesses seeking sustainable long-term success by scaling up their operations quickly yet efficiently.”
Once you've nailed your partner pitch and the partners have agreed to work with you. It is now time to simplify and automate the process. As a result, having the right tools to structure, automate, and scale your program is essential.
A Partner Relation Management (PRM) platform allows you to:
Organize your program with tiers
Coordinate training, onboarding, and certification processes
Build a knowledge base to provide instant answers
Collaborate with partners on a shared pipeline
Get full visibility over partner activity
Measure partner performance
Track commission and payouts
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is Channel Zen?
Channel Zen specializes in the development of channel sales programs for emerging vendors and manufacturers that want to maximize their growth potential. Their particular expertise is in the Automated Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) channels.
What services does Channel Zen offer?
Channel Zen provides comprehensive partner program consulting services, such as setting up and managing partner and channel sales operations for companies working with automated data capture (ADC) in warehousing, retail, manufacturing, and field services.
What are good books on building partnerships?
For insight on how to build partnerships, readers should look no further than Don Osburn's book Indirect Selling. This excellent resource provides an invaluable guide on how to establish meaningful connections with potential customers and partners.
What is a partner pitch?
A partner pitch is a presentation or sales pitch that is used to convince potential partners to join forces with your business. It typically includes an overview of the company, its products and services, and the benefits of partnering with it.
How to prepare for partner pitch meetings?
Preparing for partner pitch meetings involves researching the potential partner, creating a presentation that outlines your goals and objectives, defining potential trades of value between the partners, practicing the pitch, and preparing to answer questions.