Aligning your channel sales team with your direct sales team can be a great way to maximize your business's potential.
This episode will provide an overview of how to align the two.
In addition to tips and techniques to help you navigate this tricky situation, we will cover topics such as:
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Host: Paul Bird
Executive Producer: Fereshta Nouri
Content & Research: Fereshta Nouri
Graphics & Branding: Fereshta Nouri
The success of a company is often reliant on its sales team, so lining your channel sales team with your direct sales team can be a great way to maximize your business's potential.
This episode is going to provide an overview on how to align the two.
In addition to tips and techniques to help you navigate this tricky situation, we're going to cover topics such as the importance of communication and collaboration between the two teams, creating a unified sales strategy, and the benefits of having a cohesive sales effort.
Our guest today has a really impressive background Building Channel partner programs.
He's been helping high-tech companies succeed in their partner programs for two decades or more together with his team as the Vice President of Partner Strategy and Programs at DocuSign.
He focused on creating programs to help resellers, ISVs, and I size do more business with DocuSign. And they built that program from the ground up in just five years.
Before that, he was a vice President at IDC leading their Global, their Global Channels, and Alliance Research as he also ran and contributed to the partner program from Microsoft Canada.
Today, he's the principal at AlignedPartner, a consultancy providing assessments and advisory services around partner programs and channel and Alliance Strategy.
So he's with us today to talk about how to align channel sales, withdraw with your direct sales.
Please welcome Darren Bibby, Welcome to the show, Darren.
It's great to have you here.
Thanks for having me, Paul.
So maybe you can give us a little bit of your background, some highlights, of your career in the channel space so far.
Yeah, for sure.
I think what's interesting about my background and others can say it, too, but I've had kind of three very interesting perspectives on the channel world.
I've been a partner. So I get that perspective when you want to work with a Microsoft who was in my case, or another vendor, and what you're trying to get out of them in that relationship.
I've been a software vendor, both with Microsoft Canada, and then, you know, more recently with DocuSign.
So I got the chance to actually build out the partner program there and get that perspective. And for 10 years at IDC, I studied partner programs and partner strategies.
And really there, I got a sense of what are the best practices?
What are the standard practices in the industry, around programs, strategy, and all those sorts of things?
And now I'm trying to pull it all together with my own little company here aligned partner.
And I've been working with some software companies on you know, improving their partner programs. I don't think anyone's really perfected. It is always work to do right.
Now. Whenever kind of, have you ever talked to someone and say, No. We got everything done. We don't need to work on it anymore. We're all happy. We love our portal. Are all done? Everybody's got something to work on in partner program.
So I'm trying to add my value to some some companies in this insulting capacity.
So that's interesting.
You went from Microsoft to IDC and then to DocuSign, so how was that transition from going, you know, from an analyst's perspective to actually boots on the ground?
Did it did help you at DocuSign, your time at IDC?
Oh, certainly, yeah.
I mean, for anything that we were trying to do, I had 12 ideas or more of how other companies had done it.
So that was the, that was the great part.
The thing that was harder, of course, is that IDC.
And, you know, all we did all day was talk to partners, you know, see how they were using the partner programs, and getting along with their vendors.
We were talking to the vendors all the time and getting their insights, but it's always a little bit higher level than what I would need at DocuSign, at DocuSign.
I needed to, you know, roll up the sleeves and build stuff that worked.
And I laugh that, you know, it often be sort of like Elon Musk did during the model three days When they couldn't get things going.
I'd sleep on the floor beside the machine that wasn't working.
I was sort of my analogy there because you just, you had to get that going.
Which field and Salesforce would make this process happening?
So, it was a lot more sleeves rolled up, kind of work once I got got going.
So, let's get into today's discussion, you know, and really start with the kind of importance from a partner strategy and program perspective.
So at a basic level, you know, what role does a vendor's partner strategy and program play in the bigger conversation of getting alignment within two sales teams?
So, first of all, I think there's just such an important to have a partner strategy and programs team.
And there may be lots of different connotations of what that means to different vendors.
Sometimes it's a bit more operational, sometimes a bit more on the strategy side.
But I ended up kind of being the number 2 to 2 the Channel chief, and almost a Chief of staff in some ways, but I know that he was too busy trying to make the number, He was too busy trying to meet our biggest partners and solve those situations.
My goal was to make it easier for everybody to do business.
That meant easier for the partners to do business easier for our partner account managers to do business and the field teams.
The sellers, that's what we're here to talk about today, right, like, how could we make it ever more smooth for everyone to do business.
And I kinda think of, we had a very bumpy dirt road in the beginning when I got there.
No, a partner, a seller, a Pam could get down that road, whatever process it was, but it wasn't nice. We needed to make, you know, four lane, highway, smooth signs on the road that said, here's how you do it.
Here's how fast you should go, and you just get a lot more throughput when you think that way.
So I was there. My team was there to make things smoother.And for everyone to do their business that they needed to get done with DocuSign and partner side easier, that was the point.
And you bring up an interesting topic, this idea of smooth operations.
So you know, what are some of the most important aspects?
If you're giving some thought to building a program, putting your strategy G together, that are really going to affect that kinda smooth partner operations, and really help to, you know, get you pointed in the right direction for alignment within these direct and channel teams.
So, first of all, I think if you've got someone whose job it is to make it smoother, that helps. So I've said the importance of this type of team. And I think it's important that that person in the beginning, and then that team over time, is, is a part of the partner organization.
It' a different thing to have a Matrix structure, and you're hoping someone over in Sales Ops has your best interests in mind, but to have a driver right beside the Channel Chief, I think that's really, really important.
Then, the mantra of, I call it Program Automization, I don't even think it's a word.
I don't care or patented, but it has to have that mindset of you know someone comes to you with a one-off situation and you've got to think, could we make that into some kind of program process policy.
And that's kinda the start of it is just that mindset of we're not going to accept one offs, OK Maybe if we're partnering with the biggest companies in the world we'll do something special but for the most part the default has to be you know that standard program. And so you're always thinking about that programization.
It would be quicker to just saw in the moment. It would be quicker to solve the one-off and move on.
But you've gotta think, this person's coming to me with this one-off issue. Is this going to happen again, Yes. Start thinking about how to make that into some kind of program process policy.
And the next big one, too, then, is to document it. It's not real until it's documented, That was a big one, too.
I have seen some funny stuff at companies. I mean, the, you know, the documentation sometimes is, Well, hey, I took a screenshot of a slack message. I got, it said, this was the way we were supposed to do something, OK, that does not quite good enough. No, not at all.
And is there kind of any systems that that you would put in place to, to have these kind of processes shared between the team, you know, something that maybe could improve or make communication between a direct team and a partner team more efficient?
Yeah, sure. So, um, so jumping to that piece of, like, how sellers work with the partner organization and systems, certainly, your CRM has to be well architected. It has to be clean enough.
I mean, there's a lot of technical debt on some of these things, kinda old Kindles or things that someone five years ago had a great idea for something. So the cleaner and simpler that CRM is, and the partner record in the opportunity, record mapping to the partner, and customer, and everything that the smoother that is the better.
So, there's a system CRM, just how you document that. So, there's some really nice tools out there that are on top of the CRM or within it, too, kinda tell you how to do a process, right, Oh, you've never done a resale deal before, You know, Step one, Step two, and we didn't have all of that figured out, but, you know, even even just having step by step instructions in a Google Doc.
You know, that was very, very important. Obviously, the portal, and how a partner sees everything.
So, all of those systems are more important than ever. But what I would say is you can't. You can't automate some of these things if the process isn't there, the program, and you can't automate one-off things.
So there's almost a maturity there to make sure you've really thought through the program ... Of these different different elements and document it and then get it automated.
So what's the effect if you've got kind of lack of documentation, yearning of misalignment between direct and channel sellers, You know, really a poorly architected partner program and dealing with these one us all the time.
What kind of effect does that potentially have on an organization?
Sure, I think it's, it's maddening when you start watching it happen and it can be demoralizing when, you know, when everything you do is hard and it's not documented. I mean, when it is documented, when that's easy to find things work smoothly.
People are more upbeat, they're spending way less time on figuring out how to do something. They just go do the thing they need to do. So I think that, that's certainly a big one is just, uh, you know, the whole organization is walking more upright. They're proud of the job they're doing. They're not spending all this time trying to solve things.
And I think it's, yeah, it's a, it's a nicer culture to work in when things work more smoothly.
So, as we get kind of into, more of the tactical side of things on implementing this, you know, getting teams to work together.
Nevermind, selling teams, like partner teams and your direct team.
That can be a bit of a difficult task.
So, generally speaking, and, kind of in a nutshell, tell us why this conflict, what this conflict is all about, and what it tends to involve?
Well, so we're talking about two different departments, plus partners on the other side to get your sales org, typically somewhat separated, even if it's under the same leader in a CRO and your partner org.
And then you've got the partners on the outside. And you've got this situation where leadership can say to anyone internally jump and they'll say, how high?
You know, I'm ready to go, and if you say jump to a partner, they'll say, Well, let me think about it. What's in it for me? And they evaluated, and they've got other vendors and the like. So that starts to set up some of what's going on.
You've got these three different stakeholders, Obviously, sellers are coin driven, you know they do what they're trying to do. It's either there may not be a bigger truth in the world to, to that. And so even if they will make a tiny bit more money in a scenario, they will go for that. Even to the detriment of a partnership that has taken 5 or 7 years to build.
We've got that saying that I love that trust is built in drops, is earned, and drops, and lost in buckets. So that seller can make an extra $100, and they'll throw a partner under the bus, and, you know, killed that relationship.
So that's kind of what we're dealing with.
And from my programs and strategy team, I thought, like, what could I do? What could we do to make this better?
And so that's why I've got some, some ideas and hopefully can help some of the listeners on how to fix some of those things.
So what are some of those top tips that you have to start getting alignment or maintain alignment and ensure, kind of, both teams are working collaboratively towards, you know, a common company goal?
Yeah, absolutely. And, and maybe this is the difference between my previous role, which was higher level, and then now I've actually rolled up my sleeves and gone through it. Let me give you some of those tactical tips, so I've got about 6 or 7 here.
First of all, nothing is more important than if you can get your CEO CEO and your CRO in alignment with the partner strategy, right?
That's not always the case. But none of the rest of these tactical ideas will ever amount to the CEO and the CRO all being in alignment with how we go to how they go to market with with partners.
Typically, most companies, there's some amount of friction.
So The first thing that I would suggest to anyone who wants to get their partner organization more in alignment with the sales organization: is just a steady stream of consistent messaging to them about why it makes sense for them to work with partners. They need to keep hearing it for it to hit home.
Otherwise they're not going to listen. So, first thing I'd say to the partner organization and often to that, strategy and programs group, is come up with your talk track on working with partners and get everyone in that BD, or partner org, to know it and start repeating it.
And so how do you come up with that talk track? There's some really great statements you can make and you should make sure they work at your company. For example, 'Hey sellers, did you know the majority of the President's Club AEs got there by working with partners?'
Ok, there's a there's a comment that just models the behaviour to say hey look our best sellers or if presence club got there because they worked with partners more than they did for instance, right?
You can talk about the fact that did you know that deals with partners or 2.5 times the size of your average deal size.
So there's some soundbites you can go and collect that.
That's a, you know, a bit of a gut feel number, or you could say, you know, the average deals closed and half the time go, find that analytics person at your company maybe in sales officer or whatever, and go have a look at the deals.
Because you'll probably find some really interesting statistics and soundbites that you can use on and on. One of the places I did this is when, when new employees came on board, every month in Seattle, we had, Oh, God, it was 100 plus people, every month.
It was incredible. The amount of hiring we used to do.
When I was at DocuSign, no. Longer there first. But I'd go up and I tell this story of the partner organization and how we worked with partners.
So that was kind of the first time I would get them. And a lot of them may have come from a place where they never worked with partners.
Now is often the case now. So get them early, get them, you know, get that message consistently out there and let them know that they can be, you know, the GM, the CEO of their territory.
You pick the accounts that you wanna go to alone, get the rest of your quota with these partners. So there's some nice soundbites there.
So the number one is get your messaging together and get everyone sort of on that same top track.
So are there other things that they can do, You know, does the role of sales enablement, you know, and the, the collateral, the everything that we're providing to these teams, Son, play a big role in achieving good alignment?
I completely agree with the messaging.
I'm wondering, how much does the training and the enablement have a, an effect.
So, that's an interesting one. I went into the whole thing saying, Hey, I'll just set up a webinar internal.
You know, the sales enablement team kind of had a process for doing that.
You know, I'll get an hour, and I'll tell them everything they need to know about working with our partner group. And, and it was OK, but it was just OK, What you realized was that they are so busy, they don't really think about working with partners until they actually have a deal. So, on that one hour call, maybe I had a handful of the, you know, 10%, 20% of the group, who was dealing with a partner deal at that time, who didn't already know how to do that deal, who needed the help. Everyone else is like, Oh, gosh, another webinar. And so, what the, the real answer became, was, a little bit more of, a just in time and a, in the right place, kind of training and enablement.
So, we were able to take some advantage of the technology and have, you know, the, the, the battle cards and the information about the key partners, right, beside them, in the CRM, right. So we would always refer to it, you can go and here's the type information.
And we made each of the partner account managers responsible for that information to make sure it was up to date. So having the information right in the place, they work every day, now was super helpful.
The other enablement was just quick guides on, you know, how to work with a reseller, how to do a referral deal, how to do an ISV type of deal. So, as quick as we could, you know, kind of wizards are step by step to make that easy.
And, one of the other things, as you just, I think all companies need this, sort of, this one place because usually somewhere, that the enablement team has set up to say go here for product training, go here for whatever to their sellers, there's gotta be a place on how to work with partners.
And the mistake people make from the partner organization is they fill it, and they put all sorts of stuff in there, keep it simple, how to do a reseller deal, how to do a referral, how do you do whatever and then how to get in touch with us?
And that's the other one on enablement, Honestly, a really dumb and simple one, but we had the resources to do. It, was just a Slack channel that, if you had any question about how to do business with the partner, fire a question.
And we had someone monitoring at all times and then get back to them right away. Half the time they get answer it, past the time that said, got your question, we're gonna dig that up for you And we'll get right back to you, makes it easy for them.
The Northstar has to be make it easy for partners.
Make it easy for PAMs.
Make it easy for sellers to do business.
So, we thought that through.
That's a mantra I've always had, you know, make it easy for people to do business with you.
And they usually will, know, I've worked on both sides of the channel, very much like you.
And, you know, when I was building and managing channel, one of my partners with CDW and I was in Chicago all the time and doing the floor walks.
And, one of the things that I saw as far as, you know, one of the strategies implemented, was all about incentives.
So, what role does it play and do you think it works? Do incentives play in motivating the channel team and the direct team? You know, is it effective?
Is there, you know, any anything that you've seen in the past, that helps bring that more into alignment when you've got.
Sure, So we didn't really spend a lot of time on the sort of ...Incentives in that, ‘Hey, go sell a partner deal and you'll get this or that kind of, you know, one-time thing’.
The major thing that we worked on was a compensation neutrality plan.
That was critical, so if you can imagine that $100 deal comes to a rep sales rep, and it's through a reseller, and they realized, oh wait a second. I'm only getting the net of this deal because we have to pay a reseller. But what, but if I did that deal on my own, I'd get the whole hundred dollars.
So we had to come up with an, it took a long time, it took a lot of research of other companies. It took a lot of working with the finance group to implement a comp neutrality program, but what that eventually meant was that they were incentivized, the director apps were incentivized, pretty much the same ticket direct.
You get your dollar to a $100 ticket through a reseller. We're going to make sure your quota is representing $100, so we were able to put that in. And that made a massive difference. It really did, because otherwise, they were just always worried about this haircut.
The way things were going before and a lot with other companies work, is they have to give up that discount to the partner and they don't see it as their quota.
So, that was a big one. That was the major incentive we worked on.
That's a great idea.
I like that idea of, you know, there's, there's no more infighting between, Hey, if I take it direct and I get X number of dollars. If I put it through a partner, I'll take less.
So, if it's the same, regardless of what channel you Put it through, then I.
Think you'll change their whole mentality, it really did, they are open to working with partners.
They were more open to it.
So, yeah, that was a, that was a massive deal for us.
So, I wonder you had mentioned earlier this concept of trust. So, do you think vendors sometimes have trouble trusting their partners and vice versa.
What about the partners? Do you think partners have trouble trusting their vendors?
Sure, All the time, I mean, we're all only human. I think there are, there are times when a partner does enough of their business with the vendor, that the trust is there, and it's, it's pretty rock solid.
There are other times where a partner is doing third of their business with the vendor, that we're talking about, a third with another vendor.
And a third with another, and they're all competitors, all of a sudden, you know, the vendor has to start worrying that, have to say, Well, hang on, if I'm bringing them a deal, or we're talking about a deal, or are they just going to their other vendor?
So, certainly, there are lots of scenarios where you, you have to question the trust.
But, as we all know, when relationships and partnerships, it's never going to work if there's not a sufficient amount of trust.
So, if we kinda dig in a little bit, You know, you talk about making it easy, not only working between Teams, but then, also, having, you know, partner sail sales teams easier to work with in general.
Do you think of anything that vendors can do to make it easier for partners to work with them?
Oh, so, yeah, so, what can you do to make it easier for your partners to work with the direct team?
Yeah. That, that whole partner field linkage is important, and I think that is sort of on my aligned partner journey map, my checklist of things that you need to think about is how are you making it easy for. Yeah, those partner sellers to work with your direct sellers.
There's a few things that we did.
You know, we talked about systems, having some transparency that if you are the partner record on a deal.
We're sharing that with you on the portal.
There was actually an ability to chat back and forth with the sales rep on the portal and make that introduction, but it typically comes down to those human relationships that we get the partner sales rep in touch.
Back in the day, what we did was when I was at DocuSign, We got the Sales Rep with the Partner, with the Sales Rep very quickly, and it's typically the Partner Account Manager who would make that work.
But another thing that I was going to point out is, we did have a partner service advisor team that would handle any of those situations where, if a partner, didn't have a full-time, you know, partner manager.
We had a one to many kind of partner account manager team that could go and handle them. And that just solve so many problems, because often, you know, you just talked about trust, You talked about working well together. It's a human, it's all about human relationships.
So, our PSA team would be able to connect them. And getting that connection started off on solid footing, you know, made the world of difference to get that.
So, I don't know that we had any super special, you know, magic on that one, but it was getting the relationship in their early, reminding everyone, you're on the same page, reminding the seller they weren't gonna get any less by working with a partner and then, you know, letting the relationship foster from there.
So, also, on the topic, communication, you had mentioned earlier, but the Slack channel for being able to get questions answered, You know, Right away, are there any other strategies?
Or did you kind of baked this into kind of your policies that you've put together to really kind of promote communication and really encourage collaboration?
Well, I think that if you've got a mantra of making it easier, and we're all trying to get to the same goals, you start building in ways to make it easier for the seller.
So, another way that ticked off a bunch of boxes as we had in the sales organization, Partner Development Reps.
Something we didn't really have too many of, when I got there, but over time, we were able to build out a role that was very similar to a sales development rep.
But they would focus on, you know, one, or two, or three bigger partners. And they would kinda, you know, paying them for deals and make relationships. And find it on a one to many basis.
Whereas an SDR was kind of talking to 100 customers in a month, that partner development rep would talk to three partners about 100 customers, right?
The nice thing about making things easier, though, was we took that opportunity to say, Hey, your work, you know, you're handing this off to the AE anyway.
Do you think you could just give them a little bit of an extra guiding, helping hand on doing that partner diehl?
Ask them if they've done one before. Ask them if they need any help. And that made a world of difference. So that was another technique to just make it easier for the sellers to do partner deals.
When, again, there's, you know, DocuSign is becoming a big company, especially over the pandemic. And there is lots and lots a site every time I went to Seattle with a new cohort of new employees, and they're mostly sales employees. A lot of them didn't have the background.
So that was another way to get those partner development reps.
You know, yes, their main job was getting new leads, but as they hand them off, they can do a little bit of handholding, and that went a long way.
So as another really good idea.
That makes me think, I wonder how is there a way?
And I'm not sure if, this is something that that you have done in the past, but is there a way to measure the success of collaboration between the direct team and the partner team?
You know, they say that you can't manage something if you can't measure it, but is there a way to manage that to kind of measure that collaboration between those two teams?
That's, I mean that's a really good question, and I do agree, you want to measure as much as you can.
I suppose the most obvious answer is, am I hearing about it? Know am I hearing problems? Am I hearing issues? As we are hearing more compliments and comments?
So, I guess that's the really the ad hoc way of measuring it is, sort of, what am I hearing out there?
I do think that's another key element to all of this is, if you're in the partner org, and you're in the programs team.
You're trying to help any of this, go track down some sellers, get some time with them, go buying a coffee, virtual coffee, and just learn what their life is like. Because when you know more about them.
You can create processes, policies, instruction guides, that help them more. You know, I think that you should be able to measure the downloads of the instruction guide you you've given to them.
Are they getting used or they are getting read?
So, you could measure things like that, but I'm also, I'm also a fan of just getting that anecdotal evidence to say, Hey, a partner needed to sorry.
A sales rep needed to know how to work with a partner. They download the guide.
They went to the Slack channel. They went to the PDR and solve their problem, and that was great.
So, I loved hearing those stories, But I like where you're going with that.
I don't think we did it well enough. And, you know, it gets a metric, it's a metric that doesn't have, you know, a box to check.
But I think that, you know, those types of things, looking at how much interaction with the enablement materials, how many times they hit the Slack channel to, you know, answer questions, probably gives you at least a trend analysis to see are.
There's this sort of Maslow's hierarchy of needs when you're building these things, right?
Like, if we don't have any kind of program for partners, you start there. If we don't have any kind of a good way to enable sellers, we gotta get to that.
I'd say we didn't quite make it to the top. Which I would say was the measurement, the metrics, that, how are we doing on that?
And so sometimes there's just so much to get done. We had to get onto the next problem and start again with the hierarchy of needs.
But I think your, your bang on with your comments. Paul, that you've got to measure all these things if you can, and you're right, there's ways to do it.
So as we start to wrap up, what do you think the most important bit of advice that you can share with vendors that are trying to steer clear of this kind of misalignment between their direct sales and their partner sales team?
I think it's helpful to have a team, on the partner side, like I had.
It's not quite operations. It's not pure strategy. It's someone thinking about how the operating system of the partner business works, internally and externally. So, having someone focused on it and thinking about it, number one is the, then you have the people to go and work on this.
And I'd say number two is, you know, go and talk to everyone, and just try to understand the situation.
The number of times, I've heard of companies trying to implement something and I kinda dig into that: Well, why are you doing that? Well, we think it's the right thing to do. Did you go and talk to, you know, the seller, you know, the end and sometimes it seems scary now.
Go we'll have a coffee with them, find out what's going on in their world. And once you know a little bit more, about 3 or 4 or 5 times, they tried working with partners.
It was too difficult. Why are we didn't know how to do it, OK?
You start to find all the points of friction and you just start knocking them off 1 by 1 but it's sometimes it's a just do it thing.
Just go, listen, what are the points of friction, And start knocking them off 1 by 1.
Some are going to give you a bigger wins and others like carbon neutrality.
But the Slack channel, that was an easy one. We realized they had questions. They didn't know who to go to. Ok, there you go. A Slack channel solves a lot of them.
So start knocking them off 1 by 1, and you'll make it a lot more aligned.
Just do it. That is sage advice.
All right, Darren. Well, thank you so much for being on the show today. It's been a pleasure to have you here.