March 27, 2023
5 min read
Think you need partner enablement but don't know where to start?
You’re not alone.
For most folks in partnerships who have been tasked with creating a partner enablement program they start with what they know. Typically what they know is either sales, or marketing, or in some cases a little of both. But partnerships is neither sales nor marketing. And enablement is learning, not selling.
When your first instinct is to ask “what content do I use, and where does it live”, simply stop, breathe, and remind yourself that partnerships is about connections and trust, and enablement is about helping folks to understand the business value of both in order to change their behavior.
The centerpiece of the “where do I start” thought process should always be people.
Who’s behavior am I trying to influence?
What do they want?
How can I help them get it?
A sales organization that is struggling with an ecosystem selling model likely needs to be enabled, but you’ll want to start by asking what gap you are trying to fill for them. Nearly all performative struggles are rooted in one or more of the following:
Knowledge GapsSkills GapsMotivation GapsResource Gaps
Because we usually do what we know, and because partner people, aren’t usually learning content people, there is a tendency in partner enablement to assume that people aren’t engaging with a partner because they lack knowledge about the partnership.
In some cases this is true. Especially in large ecosystems where there may be hundreds of partners.
Knowledge gaps certainly exist. And providing content to fill that gap is obviously the right thing to do.
But providing content is usually where the effort ends. It’s not about the information itself. It’s about what our audience will do with that information.
There are a myriad of ways to fill a knowledge gap. And it’s important that you do. Particularly if the gap exists around the existence and functionality of your ecosystem itself. It’s one thing for your audience to not know about a particular partner, it’s an entirely different (and more impactful) thing for your audience to not know about partnerships at all.
But even an awareness of a partnership program, does not necessarily compel your audience to take action on that awareness.
Ignoring this gap, or thinking it is the same as the knowledge gap is a trap that many partner professionals fall into.
You toss out a mass email, you put on a webinar, you try to have as many face to face conversations as you can about the business value of partnerships. But if your audience isn’t being given an opportunity to experiment with including partnerships in their sales cycle, they will never grow in their understanding of the power of it.
This idea of experimentation, of trying and failing and trying again is a keystone of a healthy learning culture.
This gap is probably THE MOST ignored gap in all of business learning and enablement. It’s why workplace learning is usually compulsory. It’s why you shudder, or roll your eyes, or both, at the emails from your internal enablement platforms.
It ignores the fundamental questions outlined above:
What do they want?
How can I help them get it?
Motivation gaps are the hardest to fill because they’re usually unique to each individual in your audience.
Sometimes people will hear you, but they think you’re full of it, and so don’t buy in to why they should change.
Sometimes they can’t understand where you’re headed and are therefore unmotivated to start the journey.
Sometimes, particularly for sales people, they’re genuinely concerned about any change to their workflow because they see it as a threat to their livelihood.
Sometimes, ok a lot of times, they’re just so damn distracted.
Sometimes, they just don’t care.
One of the hardest motivation gaps to overcome when attempting partner enablement is the unique gap of unlearning.
Ecosystem selling is different than direct selling. Many of the folks in your audience have not only learned (probably from your own company’s onboarding process) a particular way to achieve success in their role. Learning how to include partners in a sales cycle is not only a new way of thinking, but it requires the breaking of old habits. People hate letting go of old habits. Especially when those habits pay for their mortgages, and college tuitions, and food.
You have to be methodical about ensuring that your enablement efforts are in workflow for your audience, or you will never fill any of the motivation gaps.
Let’s say that you have done all the right things. Your learning content is easily findable and consumable. You have clearly articulated to the sales team the business value of partnerships. You have created a clear cut pathway for including partners into deals. You have done all of this in workflow for your audience. Surely, now every sales person will start to include partnerships, right?
If there isn’t clear leadership buy-in and visible and compelling KPIs around your ecosystem there isn’t an enablement program in the world that will be able to completely overcome a lack of resources.
Tackling a resource gap means proving ROI. ROI comes from experimentation. Experimentation can only happen if you’ve built a solid enablement foundation. Build and execute on the enablement, but don’t forget to use that effort to secure resources by highlighting ROI.