Norma Watenpaugh is the CEO of Phoenix Consulting Group, and when it comes to building a partnership business, she has plenty of valuable experience under her belt. As a product manager early on in her career, Watenpaugh quickly found herself focusing on finding ways to build product momentum through leveraging partners. Now, Watenpaugh’s company helps some of the biggest names in the business – we’re talking Cisco, Adobe, Ebay, IBM, and others – to elevate their partner ecosystems.

Watenpaugh shares some really excellent insights in her conversation with Adam Michalski on the Partnered Podcast, Removing Anti-Partner Culture with Norma Watenpaugh. Here are some of our favorite nuggets of partnership wisdom:

How do you transform an anti-partner culture into a pro-partner culture?

Watenpaugh commiserates that it can be a long, difficult transition to build a partnership business out of an organization that has an anti-partner culture. The first building block, according to Watenpaugh, is having someone in the C-suite in your corner. “You have to have a strong executive sponsor, or strong CEO, who understands that direction, who understands that you don’t scale without a partner organization, and a very efficient one.”

Secondly, Watenpaugh recommends finding strong, early partnership successes and leveraging them as proof points to sway the rest of your organization. For example, Bank of America’s sales force were desperate to bring in a particular sale before the end of the quarter, but weren’t getting anywhere near closing. They reached out to their partner, Accenture, who happened to have strong ties within the particular organization. Accenture was able to use their influence to help Bank of America close the deal within that quarter. That success went a long way toward converting much of the sales force from an anti-partner mindset to a pro-partner one.

What are the best practices for educating sales teams so that they’re able to see the value of partnerships?

Watenpaugh points out that the sales team always responds well when they realize that partners can bring them more opportunities. Even better, oftentimes partners are the ones doing most of the heavy lifting in the sales process, which means that reps soon realize that they’re actually able to leverage more sales working with partners than they’d be able to without. Suddenly, the best-performing salespeople are those who are working well with partners, because they’ve got a portfolio of partners doing most of the selling for them.

Rigorously tracking deal metrics is a good way to show your sales force that the best performers are those who are leveraging the company’s partnerships.

What works in partnerships?

According to Watenpaugh, a vendor’s attitude is incredibly important when building a partnership business. Too often, vendors approach their partners with the wrong attitude, asking ‘What are you going to do for me?’ or ‘What kind of leads are you bringing me?’. Instead, they should be asking their partners questions like ‘What are you selling?’ and ‘What are your customers buying?’

When vendors ask those sorts of questions about their partners’ offering and business, partners are much more likely to invest time and resources into training their staff around the vendor’s software, creating custom solutions based on the vendor’s software, and ultimately seeing the relationship as a real business partnership worth investing in.

As Watenpaugh puts it: “It can have a really incredible impact if you realize that, you know, you’re the chocolate chip in the cookie – and the partners are selling the cookies.”

How do you ensure that your sales team stays up to date on the range of ever-evolving offerings in your ever-evolving ecosystem?

Michalski points out that it can be tough for sales reps to understand all the products and services and offerings contained in a broad partner ecosystem, especially in the SaaS sphere, where offerings and products evolve at such a fast pace.

Watenpaugh agrees that it’s impossible to have a deeply collaborative partnership with every single partner. Instead, she recommends really focusing on the few partnerships that are high potential and making your big bets and big investments in those partnerships, rather than spreading your investment out over a range of lower potential partners.

What’s the future of B2B partnerships?

Watenpaugh says that traditional partnership silos are breaking down more and more. “Partners have multiple business models,” she says. “They don’t stick neatly into their assigned silo.” For example, reseller partners don’t make most of their profit from reselling your product, they make it from the additional services they’re able to provide to your customers.

She goes on to say that “[the] real power of the ecosystems are the interconnections, the collaborations, the connections that are made between the partners.” When B2B ecosystems foster an exchange of ideas, there is an ‘exponential explosion of innovation’, as Watenpaugh puts it. The future of B2B partnerships is finding ways to harness that explosion of innovation.

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