Things Startup Founders Should Understand About Channel Partnerships

Many startup founders are deathly afraid of building their own sales team. They default to channel partnerships to try and get distribution. Sigh.

 

 

For those unfamiliar with the term, a channel partnership is when a person or organization sells products on behalf of another company. An example of this is how Duda Mobile uses Webs.com as a channel partner. Customers of Webs.com can mobile optimize their website through a partnership DudaMobile. Webs.com benefits from the partnership by filling out their offering to prospective customers and DudaMobile benefits from the distribution to Webs.com customers.

Partnerships like this can be great for both parties. But they also can also barely move the needle and be extremely time-consuming to develop.

Here are a few things startup founders should consider when evaluating channel partnerships and whether this should be their go to market strategy.

How much of a priority is promoting it for the partner?

You need to have a clear understanding of exactly how much active exposure you’re going to receive from a parntnership. Is promoting your product a priority for them? Did they clearly outline how they plan on promoting on it so you can be certain that it’s a prority?

A “partnership” doesn’t mean much if the other party isn’t invested in making it a successful one.

How motivated are the people that are actually selling your product?

Even when the corporate entity is committed to making the partnership successful, it’s important to understand commitment at the micro level . If a partner’s sales reps will be offering your product alongside 4 other products, how does your compare from an incentive standpoint? If they are compensated 3x more on all the other offerings they’re selling, they’ll likely be motivated to push these first and harder than yours. If they’re not actively pushing your product as much as others this can actually make yours look bad. You must understand these dynamics.

Can you trust the people that are pitching your product?

One of the best parts about building your sales team in house is that you can control what they’re saying. This is especially the case with a well managed inside sales team like we have at SinglePlatform (props to Adam Liebman!).

When someone else is selling your product you don’t have this luxury. There is no gurantee that outsiders selling your product are communicating its value effectively or even accurately. When left to their own discretion, sales reps can become mavericks in describing the capabilities of a product just to get a sale. Guess who looks bad when the product doesn’t deliver what someone was promised? Your company does.

No one will ever be able to speak as intelligently about your product as your own team.

How sharp are the people you’re working with on the deal?

There are plenty of bright, hard-working people at large, slow-moving companies. There are also many complacent people that are bored out of their mind. They have nothing to do so they’ll have hypothetical partnership coversations that never go anywhere. They’ll even do deals that likely yield little value for either company just to entertain themselves or give off the impression that they’re getting stuff done. Yay I got a deal!

Don’t get sucked into these scenarios. Even if you’re talking to the most badass company in the world, if the person on the other seems like a dope, it might be time to move on. After all, the success of the partnership is often determinant upon the internal klout your point person has to make sure execution of the partnership is made a priority.

How well does your product resonate with a company’s existing audience in this context?

This should be obvious, but I still see people mess this up. It’s true that many partners might serve the same audience you do. But this doesn’t mean that doing a partnership always makes sense. It all comes down to intent.The best partnerships are where a buyer’s intent when they’re primed to make a purchasing decision closely matches your offering.

Good Example: Webs.com/DudaMobile – people go to Webs.com to make websites. Making their site mobile optimized while they’re checking out is a natural progression.

Bad Hypothetical Example: A partnership between GoDaddy and a sales and marketing automation software company. Wait but both people serve people looking to do business online?

People go to Godaddy to buy domains. Though they might eventually want to invest in sales and marketing automation software, they’re probably not going to make that purchase after buying their domain.

It’s imperative to have a clear understanding of a consumer’s intent at the time they’re exposed to the channel partnership to gauge it’s effectiveness.

How time-consuming will these partnerships be?

Channel partnerships can be some of the most time-consuming types of deals out there. It’s important to understand this and view a partnership in the lens of an opportunity cost. If you’re looking at a deal that has the promise of vast distribution a year down the road, how does that compare if you started building out an internal sales team today?

 

You’re ability to build a great product is often only as good as your ability to bring it to market. If you plan on relying on channel partnerships for distribution, you need to understand all of these things to know what you’re getting into.

Ask yourself: are you relying on channel partnerships because it’s the best thing for your business or because you don’t know how to build a sales team? If you’re in the latter camp, you might be better served investing your time in finding someone who knows how to build sales teams. They’re out there.

 

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One Way to Write A Powerful Cold Email

The tactic I’m about to share is not only for sales and business development professionals; it’s a unique strategy that can literally be used to start an email dialogue with anyone who has an online presence.

 

One of the most important things in writing an effective cold email is to keep it short. However, communicating all the things necessary to elicit a response in 3-4 sentences can be extremely challenging. One  way I’ve been able to overcome this and start dialogues with many c-level execs and big time entrepreneurs is by communicating my message in a more visually engaging format that’s easier to consume than text.

I’ve written about how to write effective cold emails before. The formula is simple:

  • Keep it short
  • Personalize it and demonstrate your email is unique to the recipient
  • Allude to the recipient’s problem and how you can alleviate it early on

Again, the challenge is doing all of this without writing a Bill Shakespeare novel that busy people won’t read.

An amazing tool that allows me to do all of these things is called BContext. BContext is an Ipad software that allows you to create dynamic presentations from static pdf’s or powerpoints which can be easily shared through a private or public link. The “dynamic element” it is that you can record yourself talking over the presentation as well as make annotations using an ipad. The end result is a highly personalized, human presentation that can be created in less than 5 minutes.

In your cold email, you want to embed and link to this presentation following a similar formula I’ve alluded to before.

Here is an example email I’d write if I was trying to promote the WP Touch mobile site builder to wordpress bloggers – a timely email to my buddy Dan Shipper:

Hey Dan,

I noticed your blog currently isn’t mobile optimized:

Dan’s Mobile site Review(contains sound)

WPTouch is a plugin that actually mobile optimizes wordpress blogs to enhance the viewing experience for your readers on phones and tablets. When you have a few minutes would love to connect to get this taken care of for you. Alternatively, you can just download the plugin here.

Best,

-Scott

Here the BContext I created for Dan and linked to in the email above:

Dan’s Mobile Site Review

SOME NUMBERS:

Over the past 3 weeks I’ve sent emails with BContext presentations embedded to 28 execs who previously did not respond to initial cold emails – 15 have responded. That’s a response rate of greater than 50% from people I don’t know that probably receive 100’s of cold emails and calls a day.

Here’s How to Do It

Step 1: Create a Powerpoint With Screenshots

The best way to grab someone’s attention is to allude to their problem from the get go. Screenshots are an amazing way to accomplish this while signaling that your email is personalized and unique.

I like to take screenshots of the section of the target’s site (social media presence, listing etc) where I can optimize. These screenshots are the first slides in the powerpoint.

The next slides should relate to your solution to their problem. If you’re pitching a comments widget this could be pictures of it on a competitors site followed with key benefits. If you’re trying to network with a popular blogger, this could be a list of specific tools that they might benefit from which they’re not currently using.

The last slide should be a short summary of all the things you touched upon along with your contact information.

Powerpoint order in summary: their problem – > your solution -> overview

At this point, you should have a 3-7 slide powerpoint, which is ready to be turned into a dynamic presentation.

Step 2: Save to Dropbox and Import to BContext

BContext syncs with dropbox. From the BContext Ipad app, import your presentation by selecting add new file and import from Dropbox.

Step 3: Script Out What You’re Going to Say

First impressions are important and this might be the only chance you have to get in front of this person – the last thing you want to do is show up and throw up.

Take the extra 5 minutes to write out a script of exactly what you’re going to say while walking through your powerpoint.

Step 4: Record Yourself Talking Through the Deck

Showtime. With your script in front of you, record yourself talking through the presentation while annotating certain pages of the deck for emphasis.

Step 5: Create A Private Link and Send it To Yourself Via Email

BContext hosts all of your presentations on their site and easily enables you to create private links to these pages. You want to send yourself this link immediately after creating the presentation to be used in the email. Note* you can send the presentation directly from BContext as well.

Step 6: Write A Short Compelling Email Linking to the Presentation

Now its time to send the presentation to your target. I use a similar cold email format that I’ve written about before with an explicit hyperlink to the presentation. If you really want to be a hero, you can take a screenshot of an annotated slide and then paste that into the email with a hyperlink. Make sure to indicate the presentation has sound.

Step 7: Analytics Review

One of the beautiful things about BContext is that it provides analytics on the presentation views (# of views, duration of view, time of view etc). This provides me insight on when to follow up if they don’t get back to me.

I’ve had tremendous success using BContext in this way to start an email dialogue with people I don’t know. 

In the above example, if I tried explaining to Dan why mobile sites are important and all the features of the product, it’d likely be a 10 sentence email. As a busy person, he might not read an email that long, especially if he didn’t know me.

What BContext allows me to do is postpone the communication of this information until I’ve directed him to a more engaging format while condensing my email into a easily consumable size. Very few people are going to ignore a personalized, unique presentation that highlights a problem you can help solve.

From start to finish the creation of the presentation and email takes fewer than 10 minutes – less than 5 once you create templates. When you’re talking about engaging people that can change the trajectory of your career, company, and life, I think the extra few minutes is worth it.

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Guerilla Tactics: How to Find A Decision Maker Part 2

In the first part of this post, I shared how calling for a former employee can help you find a decision maker. Here’s a few other strategies to isolate the right contact at a large company.

Use Implicit Data on LinkedIn

Let’s revert back to the conundrum of there being 12 people in the marketing department and limited transparency to which one is responsible for your particular initiative. There’s a few places on a LinkedIn profile that contain implicit data from which you can draw conclusions.

The Skills and Expertise Section

The skills and expertise section contains granular endorsements (i.e. email marketing, social media, SEM). These can provide a strong indication what someone is responsible for at a particular company.

 

Say I was looking to connect with the person responsible for social media and had narrowed it down to 4 or 5 people within a company. If one of those employees had a ton of endorsements for social media, especially from other people within the company, odds are they are the point of contact. Below is the skills and expertise section of someone within the same marketing department as the example above. Can you make an educated guess which ones manages the ad spend and which one manages social media?

 

 

I’ve keyed off this section multiple times to successfully identify the point person at 1,000+ person companies.

Previous Job Description

Ideally people list a detailed job description under their current position. But tragically for many BDers, this often  just isn’t the case. One thing you can do is review previous job descriptions. If someone was responsible for all digital marketing at their previous company a year ago, odds are they’re the marketing director whose managing digital at their current one. Is this 100% reliable? Of course not. But sometimes BD is about taking educated guesses using available data.

Call Human Resources

Depending on the company size, sometimes HR has an awesome pulse on who you should speak to within the company. When an administrative person can’t help me identify who I need to speak with, I’ll give HR a ring. I’ve found that they’re more likely to pick up the phone than someone random in my target department and can be pretty helpful.

When you get them on the phone, again, just use the ol “I was hoping you might be able to help me out. I’m looking for the person who manages X, and I thought you might be able to point me in the right direction. Any idea who that might be?”

Email Multiple People Simultaneously + Namedrop

Not too long ago I watched an excellent interview with David Siteman Garland and email pro Bryan Kreuzberger. I reccomend watching the interview in full, but in case you can’t, here are some cliffnotes on this tactic:

Subject: Appropriate Person

I am writing in hope of talking to the person who handles digital marketing. In that pursuit, I’ve also written to X,Y, and Z.

After this, you’ll need to indicate why you’re actually reaching out (watch the video in full for the exact script). The idea is to send this exact email to 4 likely decision makers simultaneously, adjusting the part about who else you’ve written to accordingly.

In my opinion, the brilliance of this tactic rests in the namedropping. By explicitly indicating that you’ve reached out to multiple people, you can take advantage of internal peer pressure. If your product sucks, no one will respond. But if you can convey that you might be able to provide value to an organization, there’s a solid chance the right person will get back to you. Why? Because it’s much harder for someone to sweep an email like this under the rug when they know other people have received it. Especially if their boss is one of those other people. More on the “calling up tactic” here.

Full disclosure: I use this tactic as a last resort because I think simultaneously emailing 4 people the exact same message looks less professional. Compare this with starting off an engagement by knowing exactly who the right person is through alternative means. I think the latter approach provides a stronger first impression. HOWEVER, I have had success using this tactic to find a decision maker and thankfully did not incur any negative consequences.

Use Google to Find Press Quotes

Quotes within a press release or article often will indicate who the person responsible for a particular initiative is. This isn’t incredibly novel, but I think there’s an effective way to do this that many people don’t know about.

I approach this in one of two ways:

  1. I’ll search for [likely position] + at [company name] +  said – i.e. (VP of marketing at SinglePlatform said)
  2. I’ll search for [initiative] + at [company] – i.e. (Social Media at SinglePlatform)

In both cases I’ll highlight the News facet on the lefthand side to narrow my search results within a specific date range (i.e. within the last year). This helps me  isolate the current decision maker.

Finding the decision maker 2 years ago is no good unless you’re leveraging that to find the current one ; )

These are a few less obvious tactics I use to find decision makers at large companies. What creative tactics have you used to find a decision maker?

 

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Guerilla Tactics: How to Find A Decision Maker Part 1

Awhile back I wrote a post called Less Obvious Ways to Find A Decision Maker. I’ve discovered a few additional tactics since then that thought I’d share in a multi part post:

Call For Someone Who No Longer Works There

 

Calling into an 1000+ person company and asking the operator who manages a particular initiative (i.e. digital marketing) often results into getting routed to a department voicemail that never gets checked. Why you ask? Because you’re signaling that you’re a salesperson whose unfamiliar with the company. This is why it’s imperative to always have a name to call; it legitimizes yourself and compels people to take you seriously.

But Scott, there’s 18 marketing directors on LinkedIn and:

  1. I don’t know which one is actually responsible for my particular initiative
  2. None of them ever pick up their phone or call me back

Aww you poor thing…A clever trick you can do is call in and ask to speak to someone who used to be the right person. During the initial dialogue you can then leverage that legitimacy to extract information on who you need to talk to.

The process for doing this starts on LinkedIn where can utilize the faceted search in order isolate people who used to work at a company.

Step 1) Search the company name in the people field.

 

 

Step 2) Use the filter on the left hand side “past company.”

 

 Step 3) Search the department name (i.e. marketing) with the previous company filter highlighted. You can even get pretty granular here and search for something very specific like “social media.”

 

 

Step 4) Continue to use filters to isolate someone who was likely the right point of contact and left within the past year. In this instance, let’s just say I was trying to find the guy who ran marketing for Google Chrome. Via the 3rd result:

 

 

Ok you’ve got a name. Now it’s time to knowingly call this person’s old company and ask to speak to them. You can likely find the corporate number on ECorporateOffices. Once connected, immediately dial 0 to be routed to the operator.

A script you can use:

“Hi X, can I speak with [old employee] please”

“I’m sorry he’s actually no longer with us”

“Ohh boy. Well I know he managed marketing for Google Chrome 8 months ago. Any idea who replaced him? I need to connect with this person about something important.”

At this point you’ll either a) get the name or b) be routed to someone within the appropriate department who will actually pick up their phone.

If the operator says, I’m sorry I actually am not sure who replaced that person. You can simply reply:

“I totally understand because I know you guys are a huge company and people move all the time. It’d be really helpful then, if you could connect me with someone within the department that will be able to point me in the right direction. Think you might be able to help me out?”

See how “unsalesy” the tone of voice I use here is. The goal is to seem familiar and legitimate, not like you’re another guy trying to sell ice to eskimoes.

If you’re re-routed to someone in the correct department, simply reiterate the old “I was hoping you might be able to help me out, do you know who handles [insert initiative].” If you’d like an exact script check out this video I made on “How to Find A Decision Maker” that includes that  at [7:50].

At this point, the goal is simply to isolate the decision maker’s name so that you can approach via email. Once you’ve got their name and verified that they’re the person you need to talk to, the next step is to determine their email address and approach via email. It’s always optimal to approach busy people at large corporations via email because you don’t want to start off your correspondance by interrupting their day.

 

In part 2 of this post, I will be sharing a few more unconventional ways to find a decision maker. If you’ve found this interesting, make sure to subscribe to new posts or follow me on twitter so you don’t miss part 2.

How to Ask Someone if They’re A Decision Maker

One of the first mistakes I made when I initially started doing BD was how’d I’d ask if someone if they were the decision maker.

“So X, would you say that you’re the decision maker for this.”

“Yes” was the answer I received 95% of the time. I’d say the number of actual decision makers I was talking too was probably closer to 50%. The incongruence emanated from the fact that I was asking all wrong.

Decision Maker
 

Very few strangers have the authenticity to admit that they don’t hold much power:

“No, I’m actually just a minion to my overload boss.”

Of course someone is going to indicate they’re a decision making power when you flat out ask them. It’s like asking a parent if their child is smart…95% of people will say yes meaning many will embellish.

So to get to the bottom of this question it’s best to ask a bit more indirectly. Here’s 3 ways you can show a little gamemanship:

“So X when decisions like this are typically made, who all gets involved?”

“So X, what is the typical process for deciding on an offering like this?”

“So X, who else on your team would be interested in learning about this?”

All three of these approaches are likely to yield a much more reliable answer than asking someone flat out. This technique also appears more consultative which makes you come off less salesy. This is good.

In every situation, there’s always an indirect way to collect the data we’re looking for . I prefer the approach that blinds people to the fact that you’re looking for it because the subsequent data is much more reliable.

 

Here’s another good post from on this topic Lisa Fugere at InsideView. I swear I didn’t read until after I wrote this thanks to Zemanta: 3 Questions to Ask to Get to the Decision Maker

What Not To Do When Cold Calling

Last week I found myself doing a bunch of cold calling into 1,000+ person companies so I thought I’d share some quick tips specifically on what not do when cold calling.


A few key takeaways from this presentation:

The goal of a cold call is to set a meeting, not to sell them on the spot.

When you cold call someone, you’re probably interrupting their day. They person you’re talking to is not primed to be receptive to your pitch in this state. You only want to pitch someone when they’re ready to hear it and attentive. This is why the goal of an initial cold call should be to set a meeting.

Write out a script before the call.

Even though I’ve made hundreds of cold calls, I still write out a script before I start calling every time. Having it in front of me:

a) reduces the amount of anxiety I have making the call
b) engenders confidence which can be perceived over the phone
c) allows me to communicate my message effectively because I know exactly what I’m going to say

Ask a question within the first 2 sentences of the conversation.

When someone is cold-calling me, most times I know it immediately. The give-away is the fact that they just start spouting off their spiel without even making an effort to engage me in a conversation. When I recognize this, I immediately turn off my brain and solely focus on how I can politely get off the call. I think I’m not alone in this camp.

One way to thwart this is to ask a question within the first two sentences of the call. My personal favorite is “I was hoping you might be able to help me out…do you know who manages [insert initiative]?”

I don’t think anyone enjoys cold-calling, but the fact is sometimes you need to do it to get the job done. And trust me, it can work at the fortune 500 company level if done properly.

 

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Storytelling in Sales and How to Do It

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned over the past year is how powerful storytelling in sales can be.


I always try to incorporate stories when I’m  describing a product for a few reasons:

Humanizing Myself

When I’m communicating with a new acquaintance (especially when I’m pitching), I try to humanize myself as much as possible. One way to do this by making yourself more relatable. Bullet points and statistics are not relatable. A story about that crazy family member that always has a few too many beers at every family party is. Typically, the more we can relate to someone, the more we like them…and people buy from people they like. This is why I always try to supplement information with relatable narratives from my own life.

Effective Communication

Sometimes the easiest way to explain something is through anecdotes. People may not be familiar with your product, but they’re likely familiar with a common scenario that everyone has experienced at one time or another. This familiarity can not only only make something easier to understand, but also easier to remember and retell.

Depending on the complexity of the sale, people you talk to will likely have to pitch your offering internally. So it’s imperative to increase the capacity for them to descrive your product effectively. Arming them a story they can reference which succinctly describes the value of your product is a great thing to do.

Some Science?

I recently read a great article by Leo Widrick on “The Science of Storytelling” that speaks to why stories are so powerful. I’ll leave it to you to read the whole thing, but at a high level stories activate more parts of your brain than a straightforward presentation of information. As a result, with stories we’re more likely to engage with the information, remember it, and associate it with experiences from our own lives. In fact, stories apparently have the ability to make people think they came up with an idea themselves. From Leo’s article:

According to Uri Hasson from Princeton, a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.

The next time you struggle with getting people on board with your projects and ideas, simply tell them a story, where the outcome is that doing what you had in mind is the best thing to do. According to Princeton researcher Hasson, storytelling is the only way to plant ideas into other people’s minds.

How to Incorporate Storytelling in Sales

When I’m coming up with a new pitch, I’ll first write out how I’m going to describe and position my offering. The second thing I do is go back through the pitch to see where I can insert stories.

My favorite place to use stories is in the context of describing a pain that the person I’m talking to might have which my solution solves.  I always try to make the stories I use relatable and funny.

Here’s an example story I could tell if I was pitching a restaurant on the new WordPress offering for restaurants.

…that’s why we decided to build a tool to help restaurants easily manage their websites. My friends parents who owned a restaurant had their next door neighbor’s little brother build their website. Of course he moved away and now they can’t update anything on the site including the removing the weird music that blasts every time you go on it. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I went on it at work and my officemate asked me why I was listening to folk music. It’s an Italian restaurant.

Weaving a story like this into a pitch is a simple way to enhance your ability your presentation. Maybe this owner’s next door neighbor built his website too. Maybe he struggles with the fact that he can’t change the music on his website. Either way, I’ve given him an anecdote that highlights the benefits of my solution in a way that portrays me as just another person encountering life’s subtle oddities instead of a cutthroat sales guy. I’d rather be the former.

 

If you enjoyed this post and are interested in improving your pitching, you might also want to check these out:

Why I Make Fun of Myself When I Pitch

What Doctors Can Teach Us About Pitching

Why Silence Can Be Your Friend