How to Drive Partner Action From Day 1
"Zero to one" is a phrase that sounds simple in concept, but is generally a call for massive exponential growth that comes with challenges that require you to double down on your company's strengths.
Partner enablement is a vital link in empowering that exponential growth and revenue.
And to reap and maximize the full benefits of partner enablement, a deliberate shift in mindset is required.
The key, however, is to avoid overcomplicating the steps you take to launch and sustain your partner enablement strategy.
Partner Enablement vs Partner Engagement
First things first, it’s important to understand that partner enablement is the precursor to engagement. The two are inextricably linked. Enablement focuses on empowering and preparing for action, whereas engagement is concerned with activating that action.
In other words, enablement is going to the store for ingredients, while engagement is the action of using the recipe to put the ingredients together into a delicious plate.
It has been reported again and again that partner engagement is one of the most difficult challenges partner professionals face in their programs. And more likely than not, this is due to a lackluster or poorly executed enablement strategy.
Going back to our cooking metaphor, perhaps the recipe or measurements might be hard to read, it may include flavors that the partner can’t eat, or the dish might not be enticing enough to the partner to put the work into the recipe.
My Aha Moment With Partner Enablement
Now, if you’re like me, you might look at these problems and think, “If we can just teach the enablement recipe step by step, the partners will be cooking in no time.” And the truth is, I thought the same thing when I first started.
My "aha" moment in partnerships arrived when I realized that the biggest mistake I was making was presenting information rather than speaking the same language as the partner. The information was being taught, but it was not speaking to the core spark, the core need, present in the partner.
Many partnership professionals make this same mistake, misinterpreting enablement for teaching, but it is much more nuanced than that. If there is one thing I wish I had known about enablement and engagement, it is that enablement is more like sales than teaching.
How Teaching Your Partners Falls Short
What was the best course you’ve ever taken?
In my personal and professional life, I would say that the most information I've ever retained in a learning space was when I was absorbing information on various concepts, applications, and steps from teachers who seemed to be speaking directly to me.
These were meaningful experiences. But was I willing to act outside of that space to deepen my connection to the concepts? The truth is, not always.
This is where teaching and enablement differ. Teaching is focused on presenting the information and then testing it. Enablement focuses on persuasion, adoption, and application of knowledge.
For example, when children go to school, it is ingrained in them that they should get good grades and succeed without really understanding why. These actions are driven by a forcing function, or more specifically, an external motivation that drives internal action.
If this force wanes or is even removed, the outcome will likely suffer.
Activating Your Partners
However, it's a slightly different ball game in the partnerships world.
While partners don’t need to worry about acing a final exam, they absolutely face external motivators. However, in a business context, these motivators are complex, and embedded in ongoing business operations, cross-functional priorities, departmental responsibilities, and so much more.
With all of these competing priorities, it becomes slightly harder to identify the true external factors driving the partners. And as we know, these factors can change at the drop of a hat. The budget can change, the aims of the executive team can shift, and the product can be revamped.
To ensure that the partner stays engaged in your program regardless of these inevitable changes, you need to identify their internal motivations—the ones that will remain at the foundation of all of the partner’s actions. To do this, you need to develop a strategy that combines persuasion, people, and project management.
This is a delicate balance and one that you’ll improve over time and practice.
For example, say you approach a partner with an added incentive option and persuade them to go after a particular objective, but without showing them simplified processes and steps on how they can achieve growth and revenue in the long run.
The partner may appear to be interested in the majority of the information you are providing, but when it comes down to it, they will not take action.
Correction: they won’t be able to take action because you have not properly advocated for them. The persuasion and sales aspects are there, but the people part is not. And there are no partnerships without the people.
How to Ensure Partner Enablement From Day 1
One way to keep the people at the center of your strategy is to immerse yourself in their world and their language. Immersing yourself in your partner's language requires understanding what their goals and visions are, what their intention is for entering into the partnership, and being able to increase your partner's motivation to enter the partnership.
Knowing these factors can help you create processes that your partner can use to boost sales and productivity.
Once this language is understood and documented, you can start to develop focused processes that detail who will do a task, when it will be completed, and why it is important to their internal and external motivators.
Partner Enablement Processes & Operations
With that said, enablement is more than creating processes, it is also about empowering action. And the best way to empower your partners is to make their lives as simple as possible.
Partners are busy, and if they have to figure out how to execute something, they are less likely to take action, resulting in a lower level of engagement.
Some tactical ways to build simple, yet motivating enablement processes include:
- Creating templates, onboarding pipelines, and training resources that are easy to replicate.
- Taking away any uncertainty in that action. For example, having a singular call to action in that particular step.
- Providing resources on these actions that they can reference autonomously.
Partner & Project Management
On the flip side, you and your team must be willing to approach engagement like you would project management. What I mean by this is, creating tangible and direct milestones, assignments, and deadlines, as well as processes for encouraging the completion of these tasks.
Information can appear simple, but if partners don't understand who will be taking the action and when they are expected to take it, engagement and activation will fall off.
One of the best ways to guide your partner and ensure they put all of the information to use is to ask questions.
- When are you going to do this?
- Who is going to do this?
- Who else needs to be involved?
- If you have other priorities, what is your backup plan if something comes up that is a higher priority?
- How will you allocate time to continue executing this?
- Do you need extra support in these actions?
This will help partners understand the significance of prioritizing the processes provided and why they must act as soon as possible. This will also allow you to continue to collect and immerse yourself in the language of your partners, giving you an opportunity to improve your assets over time.
Scalable vs Unscalable Partner Enablement
In partner enablement, we place a high value on scalability. But I'm here to tell you that, in order for your scalable process to work, you must do non-scalable work.
These intimate, admittedly time-consuming meetings with partners allow you to not only build strong relationships but also fully understand your partners' motivations. Non-scalable relationship building becomes the nuts and bolts of your engagement strategy. It’s what will keep the larger aspects of your program churning.
This might seem counterintuitive to so much of what we're taught in partnerships, where scalability, automation, and the like are king. You will get there, but if you get there without doing this non-scalable groundwork, you’ll end up wasting your time and resources. If you simply build the entire program beforehand, then ship it, how will you have the context on what resonates and what doesn’t?
Your partner categories will vary from how your business operates, even if it’s the same business model. The hands-on dirty work before scalability gives you the ability to fully understand your partners and how to meet them where they are, vs forcing them to come to you. For example, taking the time to meet with each partner individually for onboarding, training, and feedback.
Be hands-on with your partners from the beginning to build an effective enablement strategy. Make time for onboarding, training, and certification. And immerse yourself in the process with your partners to learn how they need to be enabled.
The First 4 Steps to Building Partner Enablement
So, how do we begin the journey to building a solid partner enablement strategy?
Think about it the way you would in building a business.
You can't just build a business and then go to market and expect people to buy your product if you haven't done adequate market research and validation first.
The best businesses start by engaging with potential buyers, taking ideas and feedback to the drawing board, and re-building with focus.
In a nutshell, the magic is in finding a valuable solution to people’s needs and pain points. Meeting people where they are.
The same is true of partnerships. You must understand your partner's market and deliver information they can adopt to meet their needs and objectives.
Here are the first steps you need to take to ensure this happens:
Step 0: Get Your Hands Dirty
Build a non-scalable enablement program and learn as much as you can learn from it. This includes one-on-meetings, interviews, and exchanges with the partner to learn their language and internal motivators.
Step 1: Create Your Toolbox
Document what works and what doesn't, and then use the results to develop a simple and effective template.
Step 2: Release & Reflect
Roll it out slowly. Constantly validate anything you build that is more “scalable.” You do NOT want to build a 20-hour training program only to have it fall flat.
Step 3: Track Your Goals
Have a system (such as an LMS) to track engagement data. As you dive deeper into enablement, you must treat it with the same rigor that you would any other aspect of your business operations. That means you must monitor the data and understand which levers to pull. This data will focus on KPIs such as training completion, content adoption, content clarity, lead/deal registration, and more.
Step 4: Test & Improve
Test, test, and then test again. Have cohorts of partners go through your processes and make sure you have a formal, structured feedback process in place. This, in my opinion, is far too often overlooked and treated as an afterthought. Getting feedback from your partners when it's fresh in their minds is probably the most valuable thing you can do. Then, improve as needed.
Tools for Partner Enablement
We cannot talk about partner enablement without talking about tools and technologies. More and more enablement software is being developed to support partner programs. Tools like:
- Partner Relationship Management (PRM) platforms
- Account Mapping software
- Channel Partner Marketing software
- And more
What excites me the most are tools that promote "enablement on the fly," or enablement that meets people where they are. This is possibly one of the innovative aspects of technology we should all be paying attention to.
One example of this is Jessie Shipman's Partner Fluent, an intuitive software that enables partner selling by connecting sellers to relevant learning at the right time.
But at the end of the day, even if you’re a large program and have the most robust LMS and resource bank in the world, it does not guarantee that people will use it.
You must ensure that people are motivated to access the resources when and where they are needed, and then take the required actions.
In the early stages of a partner program, businesses do not know or have everything that the partners require. Purchasing a technology simply because it is an "enablement" technology does not guarantee that it will directly solve your needs.
But if the strategy behind your tech is solid, a tool can definitely help.
Software can not only help you report on various factors but also help you understand critical data points. For example, how long each partner was in each stage.
Bonus: How to Have Partner Enablement on a Budget
Even if you are just starting out and have very few resources to work with, you can still build a robust partner enablement strategy.
Video, video, and more video.
People are naturally afraid of video, but it can be simple. You sit in the frame, lights, camera, action, speak for a few minutes about a topic, and then cut!
Not only does video convey more information in a short amount of time, but it is also much better than a wall of text that forces people to read. Not only that, it is multimedia, meaning it can be listened to, watched, and transcribed for your viewers' consumption preference.
Also as mentioned before, another option is to create templates.
Template everything. If you executed it and it worked, build the frame. Then iterate on it.
It will allow for ease of execution in the future.
There are countless articles and resources on how to best enable and engage your partners. But in my experience, it boils down to two things: the motivation of the partner and the simplicity of tasks built from those motivations.
By focusing on these two aspects, you’ll ensure that your program remains valuable for the partner and their business, and that your program rings true against all the noise of ever changing external drivers.
In a nutshell, begin and end with your partners. You must be able to hear what they are saying, give them what they need, and then learn how to replicate the process for the next partner.
Want to hear more from Will Taylor?
Join us on September 30th at 1:30 EST for our webinar, Robots vs. Partnerships: Making Real Connections With Your Partners.