What can I do to support you?
The question is genuine, as is the intent, but it’s not an effective question to ask sellers.
When a seller hears this question - it's not interpreted as: What can my partner team do to support me? It is interpreted as: What kind of support would be helpful from anyone? It becomes a pie-in-the-sky question.
There are no boundaries of what is actionable for a partner. Sellers don’t know what is in their partner team's sphere of control or influence.
How could they?
What tends to happen is sellers answer the question with ideas and requests that most partner teams can’t do anything about. The responses can be frustrating for partner leaders because they know they may not be able to meet the requests. Requests can feel like a crazy wish list or sound like excuses from sales teams.
In reality, the sellers could be sharing legitimate concerns or feedback.
For example, let’s say a partner manager is concerned because a partner offering isn’t getting the expected sales lift.
Being a good partner manager, they check in with the sales team, perhaps have a team meeting or some individual conversations and ask the dreaded question:
What can I do to support you in selling-in this partner?
What if the following responses came up in the meeting?
- Our customers don’t understand the partner’s pricing model. It’s too high and too complicated. Can something be done about the pricing?
- Our presentation materials, website, and email templates have not been updated with the partner information and branding. We don’t have anything to present. Can we get our marketing teams to focus on this partner?
- Our systems don’t yet list the partner, so we don’t have a way to initiate the partner service request. Can we do something about that?
- We haven’t gotten any introductions to the new partner team. We don’t have any point of contact for questions and support.
- The margin on this partner service is lower than all other services in the portfolio. Can something be done about the margin?
- We haven’t received any training on this new partner or their services. Can we get trained?
Focus on what you can control
These responses ignore the frame of reference that the question is coming from. These requests may only be met by other roles in the company.
The responses are getting at something outside of the partner leader's control.
The responses are getting at an aspect of a higher level of leadership or other departments. Or they may be past the point of change, such as a contractual pricing model.
Responses like this put a partner leader in a difficult position. Does the leader take on trying to champion these support requests knowing they most likely can’t be influenced in the short term?
That could just be a big waste of time, and in the meantime, partner sales may remain stagnant.
Try a different approach
So what is better than asking the dreaded: "What can I do to support you," question?
Here are two suggestions to better support partner sellers:
Step one - recognize the problem
Before going to market with a new partner, be sure to include sellers in the planning.
Use the questions they ask as part of partner onboarding.
A new partner should know what sellers need to be successful in positioning their services. It may be different from other partners that they have dealt with in the past.
Partner leaders can solicit seller support requests and pass that along to new partners before launch. The sellers will feel included, and the partner will know that the sellers are open to enablement and support.
This allows partner leaders to the sales team to be accountable for the success of the launch.
Step two - focus on what is within your control
The second solution comes back to the original situation where the partner launch has already taken place, and the partner leader would like feedback from the team.
Instead of asking:
What can I do to support you?
Try asking this instead:
What is within our control as a team to move sales in the right direction?
This question puts an emphasis on problem-solving.
From there, a leader can assign responsibilities to support the ideas generated. Ideas that are within the team’s control make it easy to create concrete, actionable assignments for a sales leader.
Once responsibility and assignments are established, a partner leader can then grow the sphere of control to a sphere of influence by asking:
Who should we include in our effort to turn things around?
This sets the expectation that the responsibility doesn’t fall on others to course-correct.
It is our effort.
At the same time, it is essential to look at the bigger picture within the organization. This gives visibility to what sellers need to be successful, if not now, then in the future.
It also changes the tone of the requests for support from one that might finger-point to one of inclusion and teamwork.
Actionable forward momentum
A partner leader can now have a much more actionable list of tasks while shaping the dynamic of future sales support as more groups and teams gain visibility and insight from the sellers’ perspective. This is where partner leaders can shape support for the sellers, both short-term and long-term.
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Jessie Shipman is the CEO and Co-Founder of Fluincy, a Sales Enablement Software for Partnerships. She has a background in education and learning theory and spent 4 years building and delivering partner enablement strategy for Apple's top partnerships before building Fluincy.