You’ve built a great product or service with a compelling value proposition, a brilliant go-to-market strategy and a ready-and-willing frontline team armed with exactly what they need to be successful. And now potential partners are beating down your door to sell YOU.
Sounds like a pipe dream, right? It works in the B2C / Retail world: If you build it, they will come. However, B2B relationship selling is a different animal. And while working through partners like brokers & agents offers opportunity to create brand disciples and multiply your selling power – one Weber client drove sales increases of 28%, which represented $264 million in incremental sales year over year once they harnessed their relationship selling – it can also present complications and complexity.
The challenge is that poorly thought-through relationship-selling can severely limit your growth potential if you’re not careful. And if you are successful growing with B2B partners, you will face more challenges meeting partners’ ever-increasing demands of your limited resources.
This slippery slope can, however, provide you with an opportunity to get methodical and disciplined about placing your bets with those partners who will optimize your success so you can profitably grow. But you’ll need to realize – quickly – that you can’t be all things to all partners if you want to succeed over the long term.
Now you’re probably now thinking, “But wait – they’re selling my products and services! They want to sell even more of us! They believe in us! Why turn off the spigot and risk disappointing them?” If your strategy is to grow with reckless abandon over a finite period of time until you hit the wall, go for it. But if you want to be smart and targeted so you can sustain this growth over time, you’ve got to get surgical and pinpointed in your B2B partnership approach.
Here are five keys Weber has found that make the difference between a successful B2B relationship selling strategy, and one that falls flat or eventually burns out:
Key #1 – Get Crisp & Specific on Your Partnership Criteria.
Think about how you define & measure your relationship:
- How do your goals & capabilities match theirs?
- How profitable has this relationship been, or could it be?
- What have our historical sales been? What trends do we see year-to-year?
- Where are they going in the marketplace? How does that fit where we’re going?
Build a consistent strategy that divides potential partners into multiple segments based on pre-determined criteria like market opportunity, mutual fit or target clientele. This will help you drive consistency in choosing the right partners, and providing clear company direction on which segments are truly priorities.
Key #2 – Tier & Prioritize Your Partners.
Many companies embarking on the relationship selling journey want to work with and please everyone – and typically end up doing just the opposite. Avoid this by placing your bets with “Tier One” partners who provide the closest fit to your long-term goals and priorities, and invest 80% of your time & money with the 20% who will yield the most profitable returns. Plan remaining time and energy for lower-tiered partners, and stick to the plan.
Key #3 – Plan Mutual Account Strategies Together.
They want to work together. So why are you taking all the responsibility for building the account plans or even worse, creating a plan that only meets your company’s needs? Decide upon a mutually beneficial commitment target, and then agree upon those actions you, they and you together will execute to hit that bogey and hold one another accountable along the way. Include interdependencies such as sales resources, marketing, communications and operations support that you will both need from one another to get the job done.
Key #4 – Get Disciplined About Execution.
Strategy without execution is a recipe for failure. And the discipline & patience it takes to execute well often proves much harder than anticipated in today’s bright, shiny object world of diminishing attention spans and “I needed that yesterday” expectations.
Drown out the white noise by focusing primarily on Tier One partners’ account plans, working the plays that drive high-impact daily activities like more opportunities, more at-bats, more closes and ultimately more follow-on. Build a scorecard to keep everyone’s eye on the collective prize, creating a cadence of accountability that washes across all levels of both organizations and holds everyone accountable for their piece of it. Flawless and relentless execution, day to day, will get the job done IF it’s focused on the right things.
Key #5 – Don’t Stand Still.
Markets change. Strategies change. Partners change. We’ve seen some high-potential partnerships turn to mush when companies don’t make relationship selling strategies and segmentation a living, breathing exercise that evolves & adapts to changing times and priorities. Scrutinize your selling partners on a regular basis. Continually evaluate & refresh those who fit you best and are providing the best returns. Adjust sales, marketing and support investments accordingly. If your partners are wise (or reading this article), they’re doing the same to you.
Weber has spent years figuring out how to optimize the elusive B2B partner network so that it’s mutually beneficial and driving the returns we’ve seen in nearly two dozen clients across a variety of industries. These five keys will make the difference between success and failure in the relationship space, and your ability to grow profitably and wisely.