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  • Larry Gregory

Strategic Planning: Leveraging Alliances to Influence Customer Sales

The Summer Strategies article discussed the importance of assessing the productivity of existing alliance partners and preparing them for coordinated sales engagement.  We’ll go further in this article to discuss how independent software vendors can best align partner sales efforts with enterprise customers’ rhythm of business. This is particularly relevant as most enterprises are now resolving their annual strategic plans.

Align with Annual Budget Cycles

Develop an Indirect Influence Plan based on Customer Budget Cycles

Indirect influence entails tapping into third parties (e.g., channel partners) to understand and affect customer buying decisions.  You want to form influence strategies that approach your target customers from multiple directions. Different kinds of channel partners have unique influence opportunities on customer buying decisions.   Services partners provide visibility into customer strategy and project/customer readiness.  Resellers are in position to understand budget cycles and the customer transaction process.

This approach assumes you’ve developed a thoughtful portfolio of partners.  Your partner Capacity Planning model should identify strategic alliance gaps by partner type, competency, and geography.  Balance partner recruitment and partner readiness relative to your capacity needs.

Align with Customers’ Rhythm of Business

Customers go through an annual planning process in preparation for their fiscal year changeover.

  1. Strategic planning typically occurs ~4 months before the fiscal year end,

  2. Departmental planning and budget cascade initiates at 2 months prior to the fiscal year end

  3. Budget lock is signaled by the start of the fiscal year and initial allocation to projects occurs in FYQ1.

If you are selling a sophisticated enterprise software solution, you’ll want to influence the need for your solution category during the strategic planning phase, identify appropriate budgets and position your solution during the departmental cascade, and win the business when budgets are allocated.

Most companies operate on a fiscal year that matches the calendar year.  Those customers resolve their strategic planning in September.  If you miss the window for affecting C-level strategic planning consideration, you still have the opportunity to influence decisions in context of departmental planning (in November/December).  Once customer budgets are locked, you aren’t influencing the strategic design but rather vying to win the business versus competitors.  Understand customer objectives and develop a solid account plan to engage those customers directly and through partners.

Note that not all companies match fiscal year to calendar year.  Education customers typically align with a June 30 fiscal year and the US government has a September 30 year end.  The approach of affecting strategy and budgets is similar, but I would start earlier in planning for these types of organizations given their longer cycle times (e.g., peak impact of university planning is November-December).

Sales Excellence – Alliance Partners in Action

Once you understand the rhythm of business for your target customers, develop a map of influencers for that customer segment.  Sort partners by type of influence (SI, ISV, reseller, web agency, hosters) and develop a coordinated campaign.  This can consist of direct engagement (identify target customer roles via tools like Hoovers, InsideView, Jigsaw, LinkedIn) and outbound marketing campaigns (e.g., telemarketing, webinars, mailings).

The process of aligning partner alliance efforts with customers’ rhythm of business will not only improve your sales effectiveness, it will also strengthen the strategic relationship you have with your alliance partners.

Does your channel strategy include market segmentation, industry solution mapping, and capacity modeling?  Do you leverage channel partners to strategically influence consideration of your product offering in context of customers’ rhythm of business?

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