I was having an interesting conversation with an alliance executive yesterday.

During the conversation I raised the question of an alliance sales system or methodology that her company could follow to increase alliance sales. Her response was: ‘Oh that’s OK Mike we use ABC Company (a well known sales training company).

The conversation highlighted a serious problem in alliance sales.

If you use a ‘traditional’ sales model then you automatically identify yourself to your partner as a ‘seller’ and establish the other partner as the ‘buyer’. Now that might be fine if you want to sell products or services ‘to’ your partners, but it is actually very damaging if you want to sell products and services ‘with’ your partner.

A typical response from partners in such circumstances is:

“Thanks for briefing us on the technical capabilities of your products and services, we will be back in touch when we need you.”

The problem is we don’t want to sell TO the partner we want to sell WITH the partner to the customer, and traditional sales systems from well known companies like: Holden, Huthwaite, Miller Heiman, etc. all focus on direct ‘sell to’ methodologies; and companies that follow these methodologies are simply reinforcing in their partners’ eyes the fact that we are a simple supplier of products and services in a transactional relationship.

In this scenario the prospective partner treats us like a traditional supplier of products and services (see ‘Act like a Supplier and be Treated Like a Supplier’). Typically they adopt an adversarial negotiation style and attempt to drive down the price of our products and services citing the existence of other suppliers who can offer similar offerings.

What is required to break this vicious circle is a specific ‘sell with’ methodology. In such a methodology the two partners focus on collaborating together effectively in order to sell more joint products and services to the actual customer.

They also typically join forces (particularly sales and account pursuit forces) to pitch jointly to prospective clients and customers.

There is strong evidence to suggest that organisations that understand the differences (between SELL To and SELL WITH) are actually more successful in complex large joint bids or responses to RFPs (this assertion is taken from Alliance Best Practice research with IBM Global Technical Services EMEA 2012-2014).

The danger inherent in misunderstanding (or allowing your sales executives to misunderstand) the difference between SELL TO and SELL WITH is highlighted by the following highly damaging vicious circle: a large computer software company wanted to do more alliance sales with partners but they didn’t allow for alliance sales in their own internal logging CRM systems. The result was that all alliance sale introductions brought to the company were treated as traditional SELL TO sales opportunities and the direct sales force got the commission payments for them (even though they had been introduced by partners and not by the sales force).

The result was that when the Chief Executive came to review alliance sales performance at the end of the year all he saw was direct sales – no alliance sales at all. Consequently he disinvested in alliances and focused all the company’s efforts in selling directly to partners. The result was a very adversarial, disloyal and contentious series of relationships with some key go to market partners and sales performance dropped alarmingly.

So the next time someone tells you that they have an effective alliance sales process ask them: ‘Is it SELL TO or SELL WITH based’? If its SELL WITH based avoid it like the plague!!

If you’d like to know more about an open non proprietary SELL WITH process (VST) please see more here: www.alliancebestpractice.com