As sales enablement has grown in popularity, as have its offshoots such as revenue enablement, GTM enablement, and the centerpiece of this article: partner enablement. 

Enabling your organization’s external partners who resell your products or services, brings a unique set of challenges - ones that enablement professionals who only work with internal sellers might not necessarily face. 

On our Sales Enablement Innovation podcast, we spoke to SEC One to Watch and Amazon Web Services’ own Brooke Coletti, who has experience working both in traditional sales enablement, and in partner enablement. 

In our conversation, Brooke:

To learn about the world of partner enablement in podcast form, listen to the episode here. Now over to Brooke for her insights! 👇

Defining partner enablement

When I think about partner enablement, I see it as a two-pronged approach. First, there’s external partner enablement, which involves enabling companies that resell our products or services.

These partners have their own customers and sell on our behalf, making them an extension of our company.

We need to enable their teams to sell and talk about our products as effectively as our internal sales teams.

Second, there are internal partner reps, such as partner sales managers and partner development managers, who maintain relationships with these partners. For partner enablement to be effective, we need to equip both external partners and internal teams with the right tools and knowledge to succeed.

Partner enablement is essentially about making sure the boots-on-the-ground at partner companies are just as informed and capable as our internal sales teams. They need to speak about our products and services with the same confidence and knowledge. 

At the same time, we must ensure our internal teams who support these partners are just as prepared. This dual focus is crucial for the overall success of partner programs.

The similarities between partner enablement and sales enablement

There are several common threads between partner enablement and sales or revenue enablement. 

For instance, in both areas, we need to customize our enablement content to fit specific roles and use cases. In sales enablement, we train sales teams on how to have different discussions depending on the use case or industry. This approach is very similar to what we do in partner enablement, in that partners need to understand your product or service’s use cases well. 

The 80/20 rule applies to partner enablement too. About 80% of our messaging, positioning, and value proposition remains consistent, while 20% is tailored to the partner type or vertical. 

This customization ensures that our enablement efforts resonate with our audience, whether they are internal teams or external partners.

Another similarity is the importance of sharing enablement content across teams. Whether a need arises from a partner or is identified internally, it’s crucial for the enablement team to communicate and share content to scale effectively - this collaborative approach helps ensure consistency and efficiency in our enablement efforts.

Key differences between partner enablement and sales enablement

While there are similarities, there are also some notable differences between partner enablement and sales enablement. 

One significant difference is the need for precise and final messaging in partner enablement. As sales enablers, we can afford to test different approaches and make adjustments as needed internally. 

However, when enabling partners, our messaging needs to be crisp and clear from the start. 

This is because partners might also sell competitors' products. If our value propositions aren't compelling and easy to understand, partners may find it easier to sell our competitors' offerings instead.

Additionally, we need to avoid overwhelming partners with too much information. Unlike internal teams that we can engage with frequently, partners often support multiple products and may not have the bandwidth to process frequent updates.

Therefore, our enablement materials need to be concise, relevant, and easy to digest.

Another major difference is the approach to feedback. Internally, sales teams are vocal and direct about what enablement content is missing or what needs improvement. However, externally, getting feedback from partners can often be more challenging. 

This requires us to build strong relationships with partners who are then willing to provide insights and feedback on what they need from us as partner enablers.

Overcoming common challenges in partner enablement

One of the biggest challenges in partner enablement is obtaining feedback from partners. As we mentioned earlier, internal teams are usually vocal about their needs and opinions. Externally, it’s harder to get that level of feedback. 

Partners can help us understand what resonates with different industries and company sizes, so finding ways to actually access that feedback is an important challenge to overcome.

Another challenge is balancing broad, high-level messaging with specific, actionable content.

We need to provide partners with a 30,000-foot view that applies to the masses while also making sure we’re diving into specific details they can use too - this balance is essential for effective partner enablement.

While enablement typically doesn’t have an influence on how partners get paid, something that’s helped me is making an effort to understand partner pay structures. If you get a chance to sit at that table and learn how the partners are incentivized, it may be a good opportunity to ask your C-Suite and leaders about details. 

Maybe if your company has tiers (for example, let's say bronze, silver, or gold level partners), is there a training requirement to the levels? Do they need to do X amount of business to maintain a certain level of certification? 

That knowledge really helped me make sure that the critical messaging and value propositions of our products were out there with the partners. From there, you can build survey mechanisms or voice of the partner initiatives to get their feedback, and that’s a mechanism I've used to get that feedback - because it is a challenge when it’s external.

Enabling internal partner reps

Training internal partner reps, or "training the trainers," is a fundamental aspect of partner enablement. And there’s a real fundamental difference between enabling direct sales reps, who are selling directly to the customer, and then enabling these partner reps who are then training their partner to sell. 

It’s like one extra level of depth. These reps need to be well-versed in our products and resources in order to support partners effectively, as they often act as the face of our company, representing us in interactions with partners.

To enable these reps, we need to ensure that every piece of enablement material is easily accessible. Organizing our enablement tech stack with tags and filters allows reps to quickly find and share relevant information during calls. This efficiency is crucial for maintaining productive conversations and supporting partners in real-time.

Our internal partner reps are crucial in ensuring our partners are well-supported. These reps need to be as knowledgeable as our internal sales teams, if not more so. They should be able to support partners through the sales process, provide and even anticipate necessary collateral, and sometimes even join calls with partners and customers.

Tips for transitioning into partner enablement

If your role is transitioning into partner enablement (or you’re joining an organization in a partner enablement role) start by understanding the business case for this shift. Why is the company focusing more on partner enablement? 

It’s important to acknowledge that building a partner ecosystem can take time. Relationships need to be nurtured, and it might take 18-24 months to see substantial results.

Determine if you’ll be a team of one supporting both revenue-generating teams and partner enablement, or if there’s additional headcount. If you’re a team of one, start by building internal content and then adapt it for external use, and ensure your messaging is polished and consistent to minimize confusion.

For larger teams, make sure both sides are in lockstep. Share content and collaborate to ensure consistency across internal and external enablement efforts. Always view your internal and external partner organizations as extensions of the sales team.

Insights for sales enablers from partner enablement

Sales enablers can learn a lot from partner enablement! One key lesson is the importance of managing stakeholder alignment and feedback. In partner enablement, we often deal with fewer direct feedback channels, making it crucial to build strong relationships and seek out vocal partners for insights.

Adapting enablement strategies to different audiences is another valuable skill you build in partner enablement, and whether enabling sales teams or partners, understanding the specific needs and contexts of your audience is essential for effective training and support.

Brooke’s golden piece of advice for new partner enablers

My golden piece of advice for those new to partner enablement is to keep learning. Understand the nuances of different partner types and how your company's solutions apply to them. 

Partner enablement offers unique challenges and opportunities, and experiencing it can significantly enrich your career in enablement. If you get an opportunity to do a partner enablement role, I definitely encourage you to try it out because it’s very eye opening, and a lot of the skills that you learn within partner enablement can absolutely be applied back if you decide to go back into sales/revenue enablement.

Brooke Coletti is Senior Scaled Go-To-Market Enablement Manager at AWS and an SEC One to Watch in 2024. You can check out the podcast episode this article is based on here. 👈