My daughter just got a new pair of chargeable running shoes and because the cable is the same as that for her phone, I was half expecting the shoes to do a little more than light up. They just light up. No bluetooth, IoT, music, GPS, step counting, dance steps or hover capabilities. Just some overly bright coloured LEDs. If I walk a mile in her shoes to understand what makes her tick, it will be on a deserted road. Understanding daughters is a lot tougher than understanding sales people.
For the past five years I have been helping large global enterprises to bridge the gaps between where their marketing departments want their direct and indirect sales forces to focus or what to learn and what those sales people want to focus on and learn. And one of the key elements to successfully bridge that gap is to align the priorities of Marketing and sales people. And that is mostly done by getting Marketing to adjust rather than sales people. Marketing, so focused on what customers want, often don’t accommodate what their sales people need sufficiently. Marketing, just as they would for an ideal customer, must always walk a mile in a sales person’s shoes, asking themselves the question, as if they were that ideal sales person, “What’s in it for me?” Because both marketing and direct sales people are working in the same company, those sales people are an easy audience to probe and common ground is relatively easy to establish. A clear direction from the VP of Sales cascaded down to a local sales manager’s quarterly objectives might be enough (and when it isn’t, that’s the gap I’ve been working on). Step outside the company into the shoes of an indirect sales person and the rules of the game change – in fact the rules are different for each partner. Each channel partner has their own set of business priorities and the chances of automatic alignment with their vendor’s strategic direction or quarterly objectives are pretty slim.
As an example, one very well known IT vendor behaves as if each of its business partners has a financial year end identical to its own and each is a public company that needs to meet a forecast the partner gave to analysts three months ago. Every year, every Q4, new promotions are announced by this vendor to partners in an effort to pump up the numbers. Often they take the form of peculiar bundle deals. Many years ago, customers became wise to this and delayed any Q3 spend to take advantage of year end price cuts, but there is little most business partner sales people can do to positively influence their customers to take advantage of a Q4 promotion that their customers wouldn’t do on their own. The best thing the vendor could do would be to change its year end to March 31st. At least that way, most of its customers won’t have spent all their IT budgets by the end of their own financial years.
Walking a mile in a partner’s shoes and having an answer for “What’s in it for me?” are challenges – but challenges that can be met. Listen to partners – not just roundtables with a select few, but broader, in depth, qualitative feedback through a formal system across the entire partner ecosystem. And I’m not talking about online surveys. Really understand how sales people in the channel and their sales managers are compensated and how their objectives are set. Understand how they wish to communicate with you. Ask whose views they respect – who inspires them! Deliver the messages and in depth content they need in a format that will not just keep them awake but enthusiastic. I’m pretty sure it’s not your average webinar or weekly newsletter.