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  • Writer's pictureMichael Venman

Partner and Channel Sales in Salesforce

Hopefully at this point, you've had some experience with Channel Sales and tracking the ownership, alternative sales process, and Invoice processing, but if not... it's different enough from the direct sales motion that you need to consider those choice architecturally when designing a Salesforce+ Ecosystem.


It's gotten very popular - so popular that there are ton of other articles about what it is, and it's importance. Here is a link to a "Complete Guide" sponsored by Salesforce which outlines the key fundamentals and moving pieces. If you'd like a refresher, I found it very well done.


So what are the big moving pieces that you need to account for, and how do they affect your sales systems/strategies your team will use?


Partner Management Software

First and foremost, if you are big enough to warrant it, you should strongly consider a Partner Management software, and you can find the big players here. These tools are specifically designed around receiving Partner Deal Registrations, providing visibility to the sales process to both parties, and allowing your company to educate your partners to help them sell more effectively.


If you are big enough that you should have one, you probably already do, so I won't do much convincing here. Reasons why you may not want to implement one would be if you don't have a large group of consistent partners, don't have buy in for a large scale project (Salesforce, Website, Finance, Partner and Sales Training), or want to continue being scrappy as you are figuring out the market. If none of those are true and you have a healthy sales channel - probably want to make the investment.


Partner Deal Registration

What can go wrong with a growing Partner Sales channel? Pissing off your sales team.


Partner Deal Registration occurs when the partner says, "I'm working a deal and want to make sure if I sell to them, we will get paid." If your company is opting for a PMS, then it will be taken care of then, but if not, it represents a very common challenge in Salesforce on how to represent that the Partner has the right to the deal and Sales shouldn't touch it.


If building from scratch (which is a common option) in Salesforce, the solution will change depending on whether the company has access to a "Community" in Salesforce, a strong Partner Sales team, whether they are resellers, referrals, distributors, OEM's etc...


Ideally the customer community (a much cheaper option than the true "partner community" tool) can be used and we build a solution (custom objects, flows) to take a hand off, find the record in salesforce, approval process on the registration, and then getting information back to the partner through stamped fields on the custom object visible in the community. It's a winding road, but predictable.


If it's not available, then finding a solution on the Lead with manual cross-checking is what I've found works the best. That with a consistent process handled by the Partner Management team...


Parent Child Hierarchy

"We want to see all the companies working with Partner X." ~ Every VP of Sales ever...


The solution I see most commonly is to put the Partner as the Parent Account of the customer Account, but this has several flaws, which leads me to avoiding this. For instance:

  • Who will update the company if they change Reseller partners?

  • What if there are multiple partnership relationships with one End User?

  • If an Account is OWNED (the typical use of Parent/Child Hierarchy) by another in Salesforce, where do we put that information?

The Partner Relationships should be held on the Opportunity, (say it with me...) THE OPPORTUNITY. This functionality allows you to track multiple complex partner relationships while associating them with the end user deals they are associated with. Want to see close rate by partner, won by partner, partner combinations, track normal Parent Child Hierarchies? You can! You should have the following LookUp fields on your Opp.

  • End User Account

  • Reseller Account

  • Referral Account

  • Distributor Account

  • etc...

Addresses

With Channel sales you need to be especially careful of the Bill and Ship to Address associated with the Opportunity, especially for hardware, but also for tax purposes once it reaches Netsuite or whichever ERP your terminating system is. For most Sales Reps this is awful, the bane of their existence, and it's incredibly hard to train on.


For that reason, I've created a custom solution for an Address object on the Account, then you choose the associated Address (associated with that Account). This would include quick creation, and quick association. When a Sales Person initiates a curated Wizard, which updates the Opportunity and Address Custom Objects as necessary . This is actually the preferred method when working with Netsuite.


Reseller Discounts and Referral Commissions

Typically Resellers will bill the customers directly and receive a discount from your company on the products (which will create their margin). Referrals however, will expect you to sell the deal (most often) so you will present the Invoice to the End User which SHOULD NOT have the referral commission.


Even more fun if you are working with a CPQ tool, as you'll need to represent these differently depending on the type of deal that's being sold and who the players are. If there are different tiers of partners, this can also be more challenging to automate, but it does need to be resolved.


 

Partners make everything one next level more complicated, and it's normal to throw up your hands the first few times. If you don't have a system that works well for your sales teams, or your reporting, reach out and let's talk through some of the best practices that can make your team more successful. The Sales Nerd focuses on Salesforce+ ecosystem implementations and adjustments for complex teams.


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