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Sales Is Hard; Selling Together Is Harder: Operating in a Collaborative Selling Environment

Posted By Mike Leonetti, CSAP, Thursday, December 19, 2019

Recently I’ve had some interesting conversations with members, both in technology sales and in biopharma, that caused me to reflect on my own years of experience in pharma commercial alliances and also what I know from our members about go-to-market alliances on the tech side. I spent many years managing sales teams and commercial partnerships and thinking and working through the challenges involved. So I always listen with great interest when folks tell me about the issues they see coming up in their go-to-market collaborative selling efforts.

In addition, here at ASAP we’re currently doing a survey with IDC that among other things touches on joint incentive compensation (IC), so all of that got me to thinking about collaborative selling practices that may be similar between industries. No matter which vertical we’re in, we all tend to face similar challenges when it comes to joint selling. The biggest ones seem to boil down to these:

The “Kumbaya” factor. You’ve probably heard—or even said—some version of “Do nice to me and I’ll do nice to you,” or “You deal with your customers and I’ll deal with mine.” OK, that’s fine—I’m as big a believer in the Golden Rule and pulling together a team as the next person—but the truth is the effort must be focused around how we actually create additional value through our joint selling efforts. What new customers can we reach, how many additional high-value presentations can we make, and how can we together create a need for our product?

The what, the how, and the why. Does everyone on alliance selling teams understand the benefits, value, process, and procedures for creating value with this product or service? Have we spent enough time defining our mission, goals, and objectives? Does everyone understand regulatory limitations, order processing, and who are the key support personnel in the home office? Do we have a well thought out onboarding plan, or are salespeople simply being handed a product or solution with some heavy reading material and told to go sell it?

Time, coordination, and leadership. Partnership sales always requires more time. It takes coordination, proper routing, and customer service, and all of that requires collaboration—not typically a strong suit of most salespeople. For an executive who’s responsible for partnership sales, recognizing that collaboration may represent a developmental need for many salespeople and dedicating the time to focus and nurture that competency is a leadership requirement—but it can easily take a backseat in a competitive selling environment. Are we providing the time and guidance needed to include this coordination and development?

Rewarding collaborative behaviors. Do you model and reward collaborative behaviors? Rewards for sales folks are typically monetary-driven. Have you defined other rewards for repeating and achieving results from collaborative behavior that rival “sales rep of the month”? Although gift certificates and recognition will never carry the weight of a well-developed IC plan, it’s important to reward these behaviors and provide public recognition. And while incenting the final sale is critical, it’s also a great idea to recognize the behaviors that lead to sales results.

Credit where credit is due. Speaking of incentive compensation, have you defined proper ways for all selling partners to receive credit? Are their goals aligned? Is their payout equivalent for equivalent results? Who gets the credit? Or do you assume that both partners do? While there are many ways to create fair and partnership-oriented IC plans, many plans lack the proper planning for partnership sales incentives.

Socialization. Are you or have you completed your partner socialization efforts? It’s the small stuff that counts: sales rep roster exchange, team partner mapping, inclusion of partners in selling meetings, and ultimately, management’s recognition of not just its own sales reps, but the partner’s.

Company culture. Have you aligned your cultures? Do you understand the key differences between your two companies? Company A, for example, may require its sales reps to make eight calls a day, no excuses. Company B, on the other hand, requires just two high-quality calls per day—they’re more concerned about quality than quantity. So when A and B sell together, what’s the expectation for the partnership?

Account management. Have you aligned accounts, targets, lead generation, and prospects for the multiple parties selling to these accounts? Do your support teams understand the impacts or requirements when assigning targets, and how are joint sales targets prioritized and accounted for? What about entertainment? How are the dollars shared? Whose company’s policies and practices prevail?

These are just a few of the collaborative sales challenges that I’ve been discussing with others lately. I think they’re probably common to most go-to-market alliance efforts, as well as to copromotion in biopharma, or any joint selling process that occurs when two or more companies come together with collaborative selling practices.

What do you think? What are some of the challenges you see? Let’s start a dialogue. Type in a comment below.

Tags:  Account management  alliances collaborative selling  collaborative  collaborative behaviors  commercial partnerships  company culture  competitive selling  leadership  partners  partnership-oriented  socialization 

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Playing with Blocks—and Teams: How to Build Together for Alliance Success

Posted By John M. DeWitt, Monday, April 1, 2019

Lynda McDermott, CA-AM, president of EquiPro International, kicked off her preconference session at the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, by dividing the attendees into teams of two and three per table, instructing them to do something that you usually won’t find people doing in a professional setting: play with blocks. Her instructions were simple: Build the tallest tower, with the smallest number of blocks. With that said, McDermott set them to work.

Given that this occurred at a conference dedicated to business collaboration, one might think that a fair number of the teams would begin to work together to win the challenge at hand. However, nobody decided to collaborate. Several groups did discuss the possibility of collaboration, but all ultimately decided against it, for various reasons. Fifteen minutes later, two teams stood at the top of the leaderboard, tied for first. That is unimportant, though, because the key here is in the lesson learned.

McDermott specifically asked, once the toys were put away, if any groups had elected to collaborate. When everyone answered no, she revealed that she was not surprised in the slightest by that answer. In fact, she explained, she has done this same exercise with the blocks all around the world, and just about every group refused to collaborate. This, she continued, was no fault of ours. “Collaboration,” she said, “is not a natural instinct.” This, then, makes the work of alliance management even more meritorious than one might ordinarily think. The simple fact that forcing people to work together goes against our natural instincts makes the work that alliance managers accomplish all the more noteworthy. And it helps to underscore the non-collaborative behaviors faced by collaboration leaders and teams every day.

McDermott then went on to describe three categories, or “buckets,” as she called them, of alliance performance. These are the framework of the alliance, the team dynamics within the alliance, and how lean and agile the alliance is. She then asked the attendees to fill out a survey, with several questions relating to each of the three buckets. These questions were meant to assess areas such as communication, commitment, conflict resolution, and company culture. The idea behind surveys like this, she explained, is to gauge how an alliance is doing and identify how their performance can be improved. Once everybody had filled out the survey, she asked them to share their answers and wrote them down. While all of the questions yielded more positive answers than negative ones, the lowest numbers of positive answers (it was a simple yes or no survey) were all in the “framework” category.

She closed out the session by stressing that an alliance manager is more than just a mere manager. An alliance manager is “a teacher and a coach.” She explained that it cannot be assumed that everybody engaged in an alliance knows how to live productively in an alliance team. Therefore, one must incorporate training and learning into the alliance lifestyle, and encourage people to learn by doing.

See more of the ASAP Media team’s comprehensive coverage of the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit on the ASAP blog and in Strategic Alliance publications.

Tags:  alliance management  alliance manager  collaboration  communication  company culture  conflict resolution  EquiPro International  framework  Lynda McDermott  team dynamics 

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