THE recent crisis has changed many organisations’ views on the use of partners. Today, companies not only depend on a direct sales force to drive revenue, but also on high-performance partners — those who can deliver volume and value — to help achieve key targets.

But while many sales managers are trained to manage a direct sales force, many are often ill-equipped to coach a salesman to become a top-notch partner salesman.

An untrained partner salesman is then the weakest link in the entire channel’s sales process and is most likely the reason why sales targets are not met. So what does a top-notch partner salesman need to know?

Here are four important points partner salesmen should know:

1. Understand the role your partner plays

Before inking any effective partner engagement, both sides must be clear about each other’s roles and responsibilities. For example, who is responsible for branding, pre-sales activities, and so on. If such roles and responsibilities are not defined from the beginning, disagreements and misunderstandings are bound to happen.

Not only must the partner salesman be clear about the role his partner plays, it is also helpful to know how well the partner has discharged his responsibilities. To do so, the partner salesman must be trained to define a clear sales process, complete with metrics in place to track if the partner is living up to his side of the bargain.

2. Understand business risks

All business relationships contain risks. It is therefore crucial that the partner salesman is aware of these, so he does not bear all the risks solely.

The first thing partner salesmen need to learn is the balance of power between the two organisations. Not all partners can be engaged in the same way — dealing with a public-listed partner is very different from dealing with a “mum and pop” retail partner.

Second, he must know that there will always be a struggle between both parties. The key is to constantly assess what each party is giving and receiving from the relationship. If either party feels that the relationship is one-sided, the partnership runs the risk of not lasting long.

Besides this “power” risk, there are also risks associated with the assigned territory given to the partners. Every partner wants to be given a high-yield market that caters to the majority of his customers.

In addition, partners want exclusive ownership of a territory for a long term. However, the risk to the company is that should this partner be ineffective, then the company would be stuck in a non-rewarding relationship for a long time.

Finally, there are always financial risks when doing business with partners. A partner salesman must know the risks involved in dealing with a financially non-viable partner.

To the partner, cash flow is king. Any business requirement from the company that has cash implications to the partner, such as the allocation of sales or technical resources, purchase of demonstration units or undergoing certification programmes, needs a highly trained partner salesman to convince the partner to part with his hard-earned cash.

3. Know what it takes to develop the market

In most organisations, there are two main methods to develop the market. One is marketing and the other is training. For partner marketing, most companies have some form of a market development fund (MDF) to assist their partners in their sales and marketing efforts. The partner salesman must be trained to know what sort of MDF activities are allowed.

For partner training, most companies use this method to develop the talent within their partner organisation. The partner salesman must know if these training dollars invested are effective in generating more revenue. He must be trained to approach training holistically, for example, help his partners recruit as well as develop key talents with a consistent set of competencies.

4. Know how to segment the market

Many organisations sell various products in many industry segments. Each industry segment typically has a primary product and a primary channel of distribution. The partner salesman must learn when to use different partners (for example, distributors, resellers, system integrators, specialist stores) for different industry segments.

If the segmentation of markets is done poorly, the partner salesman is likely to face partner conflicts surrounding clashes in territories, price undercutting, customer snatching and so forth.

The above are just some of the fundamental skills a top-notch partner salesman needs to know. There are other advanced skills such as understanding legal contracts and writing business plans that can be helpful.

However, mastering these basic skills is the surest way for the average salesman to become a top-notch partner salesman.