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Pre-Sales Prospecting and Marketing: The New Partner Enablement Imperatives

This post is the third in a series we’re featuring from Beth Vanni, Vice President of Amazon Consulting. Amazon Consulting is a partnering services firm dedicated to helping companies elevate the impact of partnering. Beth has over 25 years of experience in technology sales and marketing, with a specialty focus on partnering strategies and supporting operational plans.

Vendors have long sought the attention, investment, and loyalty of channel partners for one primary reason — to expand market reach. The promise of new projects and new customers has been not the only driver in forging vendor/channel partnerships, but it has been a key one.

With the current economic climate, vendors have been forced to look at their partners’ skill sets and business model holistically, with the aim to have the right balance of technical skills, sales and prospecting skills, marketing acumen, and service delivery skills.  But what combination of these competencies makes a solution provider most adept at driving new business?

In Amazon Consulting’s Annual State of Partnering Study, the last two years’ worth of results from over 100 global IT vendors indicate that increasing partners’ sales skills is a big focus for vendors.  Specifically, vendors are looking to improve the overall channel’s skills in two areas — the ability to do effective pre-sales prospecting and the ability to sell business value to line-of-business decision makers.

Technical training and certification programs are now the staple of many vendors’ formal value-based channel programs – those that recognize partner contribution beyond just sales volume.  They are the basis for how most partners earn recognition, rewards and further support from their leading vendors.  And specialization programs focusing on multi-product solutions and industry skills have taken that idea to the next level.

But recently, many vendors with highly-evolved technical certification programs have realized that technical acumen alone does not necessarily translate to partner profitability. So what has changed?

Over the last few years, Amazon has seen a lot of interesting vendor programs and curriculum, including those from Cisco, aimed at the objective of increasing profitability. Aside from the basic deal registration incentives, there has been a more open sharing of sales methodologies, playbooks and selling guides as well as simply paying partners to do more active pre-sales work (remember Navigate to Accelerate?)

Additionally,  the quality and quantity of vendor’ on-line sales training content is better today than it’s ever been.  If anything, there’s now just too much of this sales content to wade through and consume.   Building more dynamic on-line sales training is on top of the enablement investments list for the IT vendor community this year.

More Marketing Tools, Too

On the marketing front, many vendors’ budgets were ravaged over the past several years, or the rules for using the vendors’ marketing funds became so stringent, that partners needed a full staff of marketers or a full-time agency to submit the right kind of proposals to get any money.  Luckily, that’s changed. We now see a host of new marketing campaign building tools, training programs and outsourced agency support being made available again to partners.

The aim? Make the execution easier, still allow for partners to customize and differentiate and get top-line revenues growing again through proactive, partner-led marketing. The marketing support and funding pendulum swung too far to the left, and it’s now swinging back to the right. Advanced training and tools such as those offered at Cisco’s Partner Velocity event are good examples of the creative enablement activities some vendors are investing in to help their partners be equally innovative in their outbound marketing and branding.

The Bottom Line

Solution providers are regularly pulled in many directions by vendors who are eager for their investment and focus to their unique technology set. Nothing has changed there, other than the competition for solution provider investment just continues to accelerate. Vendors want technical, sales, marketing and services competencies.

What is new, however, is that the vendors themselves have realized how a balanced set of skills is the only way to create a long-term, effective support system for their partners. And, the quality and quantity of tools being shared in this way by vendors is at an all-time high. Cisco partners are wise to grab every asset they can and use the vendors’ drive for net-new business as a leverage point in building their teams’ sales and marketing sophistication across the board.

Amazon’s Specific Recommendations for Cisco Solution Providers

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth: Not every sales tool, portal, and solution guide will be a perfect fit for your organization. But, the most connected you are to the Cisco architectures and the sales process around them, the tighter your joint selling relationships will be. And who knows – your sales and service staff might actually pick up some new techniques!

Invest in marketing staff: If you’ve got a limited investment here, change that and leverage the massive amount of resources Cisco makes available to actively promote your brand and services.  Social media might not be the silver bullet for your marketing strategy yet, but without dedicated marketing resources and a definitive way to position your services, you’ll get lost in the noise.

Balance your skills: If Cisco is trying to look at your competencies more holistically, do the same yourself. Technical certifications and specializations are a great investment, but not at the expense of your pre-sales prospecting skills and staff, professional services delivery skills and marketing investment. Pretend the current recession won’t let up for another three years--what’s your survival plan?

For more details on Amazon Consulting’s 2011 State of Partnering Study, download the study’s Executive Brief or visit the Amazon Consulting site.

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