I have spent a lot of time in my career making salespeople very happy 😄. It started when I was 15 and selling newspapers 🗞 door-to-door. That was my first job - but let's not get sidetracked. That is a story that probably merits a post unto itself someday. I have always had a strong connection with salespeople, account executives, regional vice presidents of sales, global ambassadors of revenue, and others of the same mastery. That connection is founded upon a formula that seems to work with every title, type, and personality among sales folks.
So are you ready for my top secret formula?
Letdown alert 🚨: It's not complicated - Respect 💯+ Increased Commissions 💵 = Strong Relationships 💑.
Let's start by addressing what is not in the formula:
Lunch dates 🍔
Golf trips 🏌️♀️
Axe throwing ⛏
Party buses 🚌
Other random gimmicks 🎊
Potential increased commissions 👻
Stop trying to use gimmicks to get attention and favor of AEs and go back to the basis. If you can show them the respect (yes I will get more specific... hold tight), and actually deliver on helping them grow their business in a way that the customer is happy with and sees real value, they will trust you and invest in the relationship.
So if it is so simple, why are so many partners doing the wrong things and trying gimmick sales tricks to earn business? The short answer is because they understand an important truth: the Salesforce Account Executive is the shortest distance to their potential customers. People need salesforce, and are buying it at breakneck speed. You know who they talk to invariably? An Account Executive at Salesforce. They want to help companies who need to make changes or improvements to their salesforce org. Do you know who is probably trying to make sure those accounts don't cancel and that they get in better position to buy more licenses in the future? Give yourself 100 points if you answered “Account Executive” (credit also given for Customer Success Manager, Salesforce AE, or “someone at Salesforce”). Salesforce knows this and is trying to reduce the number of accounts their reps own, so that they can spend lots of time building relationships with their clients, which brings me to cardinal sin #1 that you are probably committing:
Thou shalt not act like you own the relationship with the customer.
Now partner, calm down if you are already upset. You might be thinking, “Hey! We did their implementation, we know their business processes, they love us, and they are buying other services from us. Sure the AE brought us to the table but now that we are here, they are OUR customer.” And you may well be right. But notice that I didn't say you can't own your relationship - I said you can never ACT like you own THE relationship. You can't treat the AE like they don't matter post-sale or their goals are less important than yours. In their mind, they brought you to the table and can try to replace you 🙊 (Oops! Did we touch on your greatest fear already, I meant to hit that later in the post. Let's come back to this.).
What does this look like? Well for one it means committing to post-sale communication. Many AEs appreciate project updates, insights from the Solution Architect in terms of what else the customer might need (note: different than what you want them to buy. Focus is on customer success, not your ACV). But I feel confident when I say that ALL AEs appreciate being brought into the loop early when there is a problem on the project. This brings us to the second sin that you must avoid:
Thou shalt not keep the AE out of the loop regarding customer issues.
Now I know we are walking a fine line here in terms of when to loop in the AE. You are nervous of the AE trying to replace you or blame you to the customer 😱 (dang it that fear again... keeps popping up... almost there, hang tight), and no one wants to sound a false alarm for small inconveniences. But the end result here is that AEs often get brought in way too late. Just like that, you have hurt their trust. And what will they try to do? Probably replace you, avoid working with you in the future, and tell other AEs about the experience. Your fears created the five alarm fire you were afraid of the whole time. 💣🔥🔥🤬
👀 *awkward silence as team watches in horror* 🚒
Welp I guess we can't keep avoiding your fear. But before we finally address it head on, let's tackle the last sin you are probably committing.
Thou shalt not put any Salesforce deal at risk by cross selling another product, service or offering before the Salesforce deal is closed.
Look I get that once they are your customer, you want to offer other services that you feel are valuable to them. There is absolutely a way to do this, so listen carefully. If you need to sell the service as part of the solution right off the bat, then your first job is to convince the AE that it is what the client needs. If you can get them to agree that it will be in the client's best interest, and will help them close on their deal, they will actively encourage the client to buy it. They want and need their customer to be as successful as possible, so make your case to them first, and you will avoid them feeling like they got blind sided. If it is not core to the deal, then simply WAIT. Get the first deal done. Nurture the relationship with the client. Then let the AE know you are planning to cross sell into the client, and there will generally be much less friction. A great way to ensure there isn't friction, is to bring this up as part of a road-mapping meeting with the AE where you are helping them plan for more ACV on their end. They will win, and you will win.
Now back to that elephant 🐘 who has been sitting in the corner. The root cause of problems that hurt the relationship between the AE, the partner, and the customer, is fear.
Partners❗️ - you MUST NOT let fear of the AE replacing you or bad mouthing you internally drive you to commit the above sins. As you can see, that fear will create a self fulfilling prophecy that hurts your company long term. Work on the fundamentals of the relationship instead of the lunches and golf outings. Better customer satisfaction, more communication and collaborative planning, openness about issues, and a commitment to really producing results for the AE - that is what is going to serve you most. And if you still go to lunch for fun, great. But don't think that’s going to make up for problems in the other areas. It won't.
AEs❗️ - you must remember that the partner has a lot to offer you long term. If you find one that avoids these sins, and builds trust, then you have to show that trust back, even through some bad projects. Some clients are bound to fail. Maybe I will elaborate on that in a future post. But projects are going to go sideways, and the more you can reassure the partner that you are not going to replace them, you are okay with knowing the issues that arise, and you will not burn them over one problem client, the more you will help them stay out of their own way.
Trade in your fear of each other, for fear of the client and their success. Be scared about selling them the wrong solution. Be scared about overcommitting to them. Be scared about not fully setting proper expectations about ongoing costs to maintain a Salesforce org, or likely costs of ownership down the line. Be scared of the customer using a different solution. Be scared of being seen as self-interested and protectionist. Be scared of putting your wants and needs ahead of the customer's.
Those fears will also become a self-fulfilling prophecy. One of strong relationships and business success for everyone involved. 👍
Just remember that simple formula: 💯+ 💵= 💑