Those who have been in the IT channel long enough will remember channel partners asking them to go out on “buddy calls.” Why did they want those?

  • They wanted to show their customer the great, close relationship they had with you, the manufacturer of the products they were selling.
  • They wanted to have your expertise on hand in case the customer asked questions that were too high-level for them.
  • They wanted to watch you sell your own products and learn how to pitch them from you.

There may have been other reasons, but these were the big ones, and they all made sense!

Partners like Microsoft deployed field sellers to evangelize their products. Smart channel partners would ask these field sellers to go on such buddy calls with them to open them to new opportunities. The hope would then be that, in turn, those field sellers would turn around and introduce them to new opportunities. The currency of that relationship was “quid pro quo” and many partners grew their revenue substantially by leveraging this powerful strategy.

Going with this momentum, Microsoft deployed channel account managers (CAM). Part of their job was to get to know each of their assigned channel partners so they could help coordinate introductions for field sellers with channel partners, who could help them with specific accounts and technologies. They even segregated highly qualified partners from the ranks of their Gold and Silver partners, anointing them “field-managed partners” so field sellers immediately knew who they could go to for customer introductions and relationship-building assistance. 

This has been in place and active for decades. In 2017, Microsoft formalized this strategy, renaming it “co-selling.”

Upside Downside

Beyond the obvious upside of joining forces to achieve success, channel partners who engaged closely with field sellers benefitted from watching them pitch. Especially during channel partner onboarding, this accelerated the achievement of expertise among many channel salespeople. 

Those who didn’t achieve “managed” status found themselves at a severe disadvantage since they didn’t enjoy the momentum created and the credibility conveyed by showing up with Microsoft at your side. 

Unquestionably, suppliers who go co-selling get way more of their channel partners’ mindshare than those who don’t. In preparation for co-selling calls, a great deal of valuable strategizing is accomplished that continues to pay dividends beyond the sales opportunity at hand. 

Find Your Wingman with this Co-Selling Example

Pax8 began building its unique partnering program not long after the arrival of cloud computing. Most resellers at that time shared their customers’ concern about weak security, questionable performance, and other perceived shortcomings of the cloud. Most of this was the product of misinformation and lack of familiarity.

Pax8 was working to create an environment in which they could help these resellers sell and provide cloud-based solutions. They knew it would have to be a combination of training, orientation, and automation of fundamental processes.

Soon, they realized that some cloud opportunities would be too complex to teach their partners to pursue. The sequenced combination of training, technical support, and availability of co-selling activity evolved into their now-well-known Wingman program, in which Pax8 experts actually become “wingmen” for channel sales people “piloting” cloud sales to customers.

This is perhaps the most well-defined example of the power of co-selling.

Tips for Effective Co-Selling in your Partner Strategy

It is all too easy to foul an otherwise excellent partner relationship by mishandling a co-selling opportunity. Many manufacturers have lost momentum and valuable sales due to the shortsighted lack of appreciation among their field sellers for the co-selling strategy.

Here are five best practices to help you make the most of co-selling with your partners.

  1. Never undercut your partner or violate the tacit rules of channel engagement. In the early days of buddy calls, some manufacturer sales representatives contacted the customer on their own and offered superior pricing or other accommodations “direct from the manufacturer,” which negated any value gained from the co-selling activity. It should be obvious that this puts an end to co-selling activities with that channel partner, and should spell the end of that manufacturer’s use of the channel if it repeats more than a few times.
  2. Understand your ideal partner to co-sell with. The right partner forms that final link between you and the customer. In many cases they perform deployment of your products. Most field sellers will tell you they look for partners who “give them no headaches.” That is, who take good care of each customer and consistently make them glad for their partner engagement.
  3. Maintain open, honest communication. While this is true of any good relationship, it’s especially important during a sales process in which responsiveness is critical to impressing the customer and winning the deal. Untruths reveal themselves unbelievably quickly in co-selling relationships, so consistent honesty is truly the best policy.
  4. Clearly define the mutual goals for co-selling. Quid pro quo being the currency of the relationship has never changed. The mutual goals are usually obvious: achieve a targeted margin for the sale. Both you and your partner also have other goals you want to achieve. Making these clear to each other from the outset makes it easier for both to do their utmost to help the other succeed. This is co-selling at its finest.
  5. Utilize technology and/or tools at your disposal to make this process more efficient. If possible, integrate your PRM platform with the partner’s CRM system so automation can help you both keep updated on progress, and both can easily share resources that contribute to the closing of the opportunity.

The strategy involved may resemble that which often takes place between quality CAMs and their quality partners. The difference in co-selling is that both take full advantage for the full end-to-end execution of those strategies. Combine forces. Combine talents. Combine success.