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Image by Lyle Wilkinson
  • Writer's pictureGary Lam

Is Your Company Culture Partner-Friendly? Or Partner-Phobic?

Updated: Nov 8, 2021

Welcome back to our Salesforce ISV Partners blog series. After discussing the importance of creating a partner program in our previous article, Norma Watenpaugh and I have once again joined forces to address one of the least asked questions in the industry: Is your company culture partner-friendly or partner-phobic?

In this article, we will cover:

  • Why you need a partner-friendly company culture

  • How technology is not to be confused for collaboration

  • What a ready-to-collaborate culture really looks like

Why do you need a partner-friendly company culture?

Before you start auditing your company culture, you might ask yourself: Why do I even need a partner-friendly company culture to begin with?

While you might already agree with me that preserving a healthy company culture is necessary, I can see how the partner-friendly part of it has been out of your scope.

The truth is, I always ask some version of these questions to every client and colleague I work with. As we’ve already established in our previous blog, the benefits of creating a partner program within your company are undeniable. And if you want to set yourself up for success, collaboration is key. So to answer your question, your company needs a partner-friendly culture. It makes a big difference in how easy it is to collaborate with partners.

In all of my years in this industry, I’ve noticed that some organizations seem to have collaborations embedded in the DNA of their organization, while others perceive it as an uphill battle and describe their company as being “infested with partner antibodies”.

While much of the work of partner managers is cat herding their own internal team in collaboration, they also have to contend with the culture of their partner. One colleague once bemoaned that collaborating with her partner was like hand-to-hand combat.

Collaboration is not technology

With that being said, let me go ahead and address the technology argument. Some of you might say “But Gary, I have Zoom calls and Slack conversations with my partners all the time!”

While keeping an open line of communication is highly encouraged, do not make the mistake of confusing technology with collaboration. While we have had to rely on technologies such as Zoom, Teams, or Slack, especially in this work from home era, these are not considered collaborations. They are merely a medium.

Collaboration is an active behavior between human beings. Partner managers are collaborative leaders, or at least they should be. Our job is to create corporate value from collaboration.

So what does a partner-friendly, ready-to-collaborate culture look like?

Now that we’ve established the need for a partner-friendly company culture, let’s dive into what it really looks like.

As I was coming on board as an advisory consultant to one of the major cloud service providers, I asked my client the same question: Does your company have a partner-friendly culture. She responded with: “Yes we do. We have a policy of 100% partner attach.”

You can only imagine my reaction, I was dumbfounded. You do? How did that happen? The concept of adopting a 100% partner attach policy was so extraordinarily rare. It turned out that for this particular Cloud Service provider (or CSP), the goal was to have a partner involved in every aspect of their sale cycle. They were prioritizing customer satisfaction over internal systems. Which was brilliant!

Over time, a partner was involved in almost every customer interaction. The benefit of this model is the marketing collaboration you create in the very early stages through awareness and demand.

In general, if you surface a lead with a partner, you stick by that partner through all the stages of qualifying, selling, closing, implementation and in post-sale customer services. However, even if the CSP had begun this journey on their own, at any point, it may make sense to introduce a partner.

Partners are not the enemy

It might sound like a bit of an exaggeration but I will say it anyway: Partners are not the enemy. It is a natural transition for your company to lean on them and bring that specific expertise your customers need. They also carry the weight of added capacity in your organization. In many cases, partners have deeper, long-standing relationships with your customers, especially if you are an emerging entrepreneurial organization.

Recognizing partner value is the first step, but other cultural values are necessary as well. Do you have a culture that values open, honest, and transparent communications? Do you seek win/win outcomes and solutions that create new value, innovation, new opportunities? Are you willing to share rewards and risks in a collaborative relationship?

What are the next steps?

Once you’ve decided to arm your organization with a partner-friendly culture, your next step is to start your implementation. It will not happen overnight; it is a process. You see, culture change is not for the faint of heart. People tend to shy away from change, instead of embracing it. It is a journey and there will be uncomfortable delays and obstacles.

Step 1: Lead by example

Implementing a new company culture takes a strong executive sponsorship. Senior leadership needs to model the behaviors and attitudes that recognize partners as the route to success. For any small company with visions of growth, you need that active and engaged partner community to advocate your products and services, recommend them to their clients and to provide services and support to ensure a compelling customer experience. It is the role of senior leadership to communicate the value of partners and their contribution to growing the business.

Step 2: Define the engagement

Once you incorporate partners in your business, you need to brief your team on what your partner strategy looks like and how they should engage with the partners. Don’t just assume, lay it all out in detail. You can even create a playbook with scenarios and how they should handle them. Make it easy for them to do the right thing.

Step 3: Cover initial partner engagement with TLC

Early success creates momentum and becomes the proof points you need to change behavior. Be sure you pour plenty of attention and resources over your first partner opportunities. Make them successful and give the partner credit for their role.

In one deal with a very large bank, the direct team was scrambling to close the opportunity by the end of the quarter. Sound familiar?

They were not getting much traction. Someone mentioned this to a very large global system integrator in the account. They made a few well-placed calls and the deal landed. It was the kind of story that spread through word-of-mouth telegraphs very quickly and soon many sales representatives were asking “How do I get a partner like that?”

Step 4: Celebrate the wins

Make a habit of regularly promoting the early wins to your stakeholders. Building a collaborative culture requires consistent messaging with positive results. Co-selling with partners is a key strategy for the company, so make it known that you embrace partners, they are an extension of your sales team, and that their success is your success. The message must come from the top-down, the C Suite showing executive sponsorship and buy-in and from the bottom-up, the front-line sales teams who are winning with partners..

Step 5: Update your recruitment process

Now that you’ve started establishing your partner-friendly culture, do not forget about the human aspect of it all. Your hiring process and the people that join your organization are critical to the success of your company culture.

Ask yourself this: Are you recruiting the right people that fit into your culture, values, and mission?

When hiring new team members, take into account your culture, values and mission. Bring in a human resources recruiter that will provide guidance on future hires with collaborative traits. The people executing can make a difference on the success of a partner program. This is a people’s business and collaboration is important.

Final thoughts...

So what do you think? Does your company have a partner-friendly or partner-phobic culture? If you’re still hesitant, let me share with you this success story.

An executive I’ve been working with has been incredibly successful with partnering. 75% of his company sales is generated through partners. And no, it’s not pure magic, they’ve simply implemented the steps I explained above. So don’t get left behind. Jump on the partner success bandwagon today.


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