A new playbook for partner led growth is overdue

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Growth. A word that both chills and excites. A word as likely to provide jeopardy as it does celebration. A word used in every business, every day, by vast populations of people constantly searching for strategies to deliver it. A word guaranteed to both unite and divide during that search.

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The missteps I’ve made to enable growth easily outnumber the successes, and I’m not alone in this experience. The reason? No one really understands the ideal recipe for growth. Some, of course, do remarkably well, share their insights for others to adapt, and from the outside appear to be ‘lucky’. We’re told their timing was good, competition weak, that they reacted first, had benevolent backers, visionary leaders, and so on. All of that, to varying degrees, may be true. Observers who suggest ‘luck’ was part of their strategy are simply nonsensical and miss the point.

If we accept luck plays no part and there is no single recipe for growth, what’s next other than relentless determination? That’s exactly what’s next. The pursuit of growth requires endless months and years of experimenting, changing, piloting, risk taking, failing, stretching and a bloody mindedness to prevail. It also requires an acceptance that whatever the threshold of growth achieved, more is possible. There is no such thing as ‘enough’ growth. Enlightened, ambitious businesses don’t understand ‘enough’.

Perhaps most influential in the pursuit of growth is learning from our missteps and those of our competitors. If that premise is correct, how come so little time is devoted to it? Learning what not to do is as equally legitimate as what to do.

Our industry is young, nimble, and ripe for exploration. We should, therefore, be able to pause for a moment and combine the ‘what to do’ with the ‘what not to do’? We should be able to combine the experiences of the vast population referenced earlier, with our own and those of our customers. We should be able to answer, with confidence, the following: ‘if this were my company, I would do XYZ’; ‘If I were leading vendor X, I would do XYZ immediately to drive channel growth’; ‘why does vendor X continue with such poorly performing strategies?’

I’ve had lengthy careers with vendors X and Y and Z – all of them united by the relentless pursuit of growth. All succeeding, leading, and winning, albeit inconsistently. All trying to create the playbook for indirect growth. All viewed through the narrow lenses of their product and solutions, whilst navigating formidable competition and a rapidly changing indirect landscape. I’ve consequently learnt that mixture cannot provide guaranteed growth for any vendor.

But what if the levers of growth, how to maximise them, engage with them in a 21st century way, consumed and demanded by the channel, became the day job? What if the habitual strategy of ‘just try harder’ were replaced with ‘let’s try something new’?

There are myriad books written by icons of our industry on this topic. I’ve read a few and whilst they inspire it’s hard to translate their motivating narrative into the day job. What Jack Welch did at GE is the stuff of legend but how will it help me now, today? Have we done what our industry is famed for and over complicated something that is straightforward?

I’d like to answer, ‘If I were leading vendor X, I would do XYZ immediately to drive channel growth’. Hindsight and experience now afford me the luxury of speculating what I would do now at vendor X.

The day job of a vendor seeking indirect growth, in my view, sits in three broad categories which should collectively occupy every moment of the leadership team:

  1. Channel – ensuring my indirect partners, at all levels, are motivated, trained, enthused, and incentivised to drive brand preference, and I’m trusted without question
  2. Proposition – making my go to market strategy easy to understand, my USPs clear and my company the very best to work with
  3. Market – creating demand through proof points whilst driving awareness of my brand and its values

The narrow lense viewpoint is that each of these and their subcategories, have different tools, platforms and content to consume. The list of acronyms just to get access to this content can be overwhelming. For a channel salesperson this can easily be multiplied by 10 vendors and the outcome becomes clear: confusion, disengagement, and lost opportunities.

The current approach across vendors is a variation on a theme introduced decades ago.

The look and feel may have changed but the concept remains rooted in the last century. We called it ‘guided selling’ in the 80’s and it’s still called that now. An overview of a product/solution, a short quiz to test understanding, a pass certificate, potentially an incentive to maintain knowledge. A different tool or guide for each category. All very laudable, but also very dated. Guided, yes, predictable, and dull too.

What if a vendor launched a simple, intuitive platform that addressed all three topics and the dozens of subcategories via a single access point?  Content to be consumed when the user chooses, always current, always topical, created at speed and at scale? What if we took a leaf from those industry icons and it was also inspiring? What if we took the very best elements of outmoded guided selling and made it fit the 21st century to deliver growth in a brilliant, yet simple tool?

The end point is the same, the journey is incomparable.

It’s time for guided selling to enjoy a much-needed retirement after a long career.  It’s time to allow ‘inspired selling’ to come of age.

Growth: get ready for an unfair advantage with an entirely new playbook.


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