Trust is the new Data.
It is the lifeblood of successful partner ecosystems and their ability to deliver viable, complex solutions for customers (Check out PartnerUP episode 57 and the Accenture study on the Future-of-Partner-Relationships as examples).
The coordination and orchestration of partners is central to meeting the solutions that business customers have come to expect.
Partners in a given ecosystem have to trust one-another and the value that they each bring. They have to know how to work together in synchrony to bring value together, for their common customers
So, how do we get to trust? What role does partner enablement play in fostering the level of trust needed to achieve common goals and deliver on promised value?
As all things in enablement should, it starts with the audience. Partner Enablement, is primarily, Sales Enablement.
Poorly designed and executed partner enablement is like quicksand to sellers.
Sellers are in the trust business.
Their recommendations to their customers are fundamentally built on trust and any consultative sales methodology underscores this importance. The challenge to enabling sellers, is that there is an inherently high level of DISTRUST to anything that they perceive may add friction to a sale. The higher the stakes, the higher the level of distrust.
This is why co-selling at the sales rep level is so difficult.
If you’ve spent any amount of time in partnerships you have surely run across a time when co-selling with another partner was NOT recommended simply because the branding of the presentation materials didn't align or were out of date.
I remember in one meeting a a few sales leaders were saying that they would never include XYZ partner because their PowerPoint slides were so bad that it killed all the hard work of our professionally produced and orchestrated presentation.
The level of trust for co-selling to happen is like blood brother, take a bullet, give you my kidney level of trust.
Because a seller’s livelihood is tied to their sales performance. Their literal ability to pay their bills is dependent on the closing of business.
If the level of trust is not high enough, something like some bad Powerpoint slides can swing open the door of mistrust and sellers then start to think -
“If their slides suck, then imagine their services, or support, or whatever their value promise is supposed to be. This could hurt my deal, my livelihood. I’m never bringing the partner in again”.
That mistrust mind-creep can be like invisible barbed wire woven around each partner in the ecosystem. The more experienced the seller is in individual selling environments, the more gnarly their personal barbed wire will be.
How can partner enablement help with the barbed-wire dilemma?
It starts with the purpose of enablement.
At its core, the purpose of enablement is to foster trust - whether that's trust in products and services, trust in processes, trust in partners, trust in support, trust in best practices, trust in resources, or trust in systems.
It seems to make so much sense to partner people. Why not co-sell so everyone benefits, right?
But if you haven’t built a partner enablement program that is designed to foster trust, can you really expect that your sales teams will just inherently have it? Seems like a bit of a stretch.
Trust in partner enablement has to be built in two ways.
The first is that your teams need to trust that your enablement is leading them down a successful path.
Your content is consistent.
Your content is relevant.
Your content is up to date.
Your content is easy to access and doesn’t waste time.
However, let’s remember that an enablement content program supports the strategy, it isn't the strategy.
Throwing enablement content at an issue that has no strategy, or a broken strategy, is fundamentally dysfunctional. No amount of enablement will help.
The second is enabling sellers on the ecosystem itself.
Partner professionals understand the benefits of ecosystems, but sellers probably don’t. At least not yet.
There has to be a stated ecosystem mission statement that allows sellers to understand the direction that the partner program is headed. That ecosystem mission statement will need to clearly outline the benefits for sellers.
Establishing buy-in from sellers on the nature of ecosystems and the quality of the ecosystem that they exist in, is critical to establishing trust in the ecosystem itself.
Creating an enablement program that is built on these two fundamentals will help to untangle the barbed wire that limits sellers from embracing partner engagement.