CORE Consulting, a software and services firm that helps high-volume ISV sellers become experts on the ins and outs of co-selling, has built a solid reputation for helping its customers navigate the co-sell journey. As CORE Consulting’s founder and CEO for 10 years, Erin Figer has become a co-selling champion, offering guidance to ISVs looking to build a sustainable relationship with the Cloud Providers.
In November 2022, Tackle announced that it had acquired CORE Consulting, and as Erin assumes her new role as Tackle’s Vice President of Co-sell, she’s bringing her years of expertise to help Tackle’s customers level-up their co-sell game. Here, Erin shares some of her insights about co-selling and the new partnership between Tackle and CORE Consulting.
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How did you know that there was a need for a company like CORE to be created?
We started with the idea of helping a startup figure out how to brand themselves to Microsoft so that they could get Microsoft’s attention with the goal of becoming a managed partner. We approached it like a PR and nurture campaign and asked ourselves, “How do we drive brand awareness?”
At the time, this startup was just getting started building a partnership with Microsoft but no one at Microsoft really knew they existed. We initially saw the co-sell program as a branding tool—a way for their sellers to build relationships with the Microsoft field sellers and drive awareness of who they are and what they do. Our intention was to teach them how to be a good partner through alignment, messaging, and partner operations.
“A lot of times ISVs underestimate the work that goes into that and that they do need an alliance budget and operations team to help them.”
It didn’t take long before they were asking, “Can you just manage it for us?” We were really successful that year and it got other Microsoft partners to ask their Microsoft partner managers, “Hey, how did this little tiny startup do this?”
We quickly realized that many ISVs don’t have enough resources in the alliance team to handle the alliance operations and have to compete for prioritization of internal resources to run their business. It’s one thing to decide that you’re going to partner with a Cloud Provider, but I think a lot of times ISVs underestimate the work that goes into that and that they do need a budget and operations team to help them. We saw that opportunity to be the alliance operations team for our clients and to provide them with a system to manage their activities and provide tools for them to visualize and communicate the impact they are driving.
How has co-selling changed during the course of your career?
In the beginning, co-selling really was seller-to-seller field engagement. It was a way to have ISVs access the Cloud Provider’s Rolodex. Before there was this programmatic portal and approach, you had to know somebody who knew somebody to get information about who to contact at the Cloud Provider.
Fundamentally, we saw this as a scalable way to connect people around a common customer and initiative and as an opportunity for that ISV to tell its story and drive brand awareness. Then, as co-sell evolved, Marketplace started to come online, and we were thinking, “Okay, how do you think about co-sell and selling? You can sell through the Marketplace, you can sell through channel, you can sell through sellers and field relationships.”
Co-sell became broader, but a lot of people still relate co-sell to a “seller-to-seller activity.” We’re really trying to get people thinking about it differently. At every opportunity, we’re saying, “Co-sell is about how you’re co-selling—from strategically deciding to align your brand, building together, selling through a Marketplace, in the field, or with a partner. All those things are co-sell.”
Where do you see companies struggle the most with co-selling?
Beyond just the operations end of it—especially at scale—companies struggle with the idea that if you’re going to choose to align with a Cloud Partner and develop a Cloud go-to-market strategy, you really have to market to that Cloud Provider before you can begin to market with and through that Cloud Provider.
“You need to put on a full marketing campaign and treat that Cloud Provider like an end customer.”
You need to put on a full marketing campaign and treat that Cloud Provider like an end customer. Ask yourself, “How would I tweak our customer messaging for the Cloud Provider? How do I tweak that value prop? How do I talk in the terminology and language that the Cloud Provider is using? How do I relate to the things that are important to them to get them to lean into the relationship?” It’s really all about that enablement of your sales team, honing your messaging, and really focusing on sell to first in order to sell with and sell through.
Complimentary template download: Creating a “better together” story
Companies also struggle with knowing which prospects or customers to focus on. Just like you have total addressable market (TAM), you also have a slice of that TAM that aligns better to a particular Cloud Provider. Don’t spray and pray. Go through an account alignment exercise and identify your TAM and why you want to try to engage this account list. That will help you with your marketing activity, messaging, value prop, etcetera. When you know the target accounts and how and why you picked them, you then know how to approach cultivating a relationship with the Cloud Partner around that list.
Read more: Leveraging Tackle Prospect to Identify the Right Buyers
What do you say to companies that are frustrated with their co-selling efforts?
I always tell them, “Let’s take a step back. What were you sharing? Why were you sharing? How were you engaging? Let’s try to think about starting small, getting focused on something very specific, and testing it out.”
“Don’t go out of the gate with the attitude that you’re going to conquer the world or flood the system. Instead, be very focused, start small, start prescriptive, gain trust.”
Don’t go out of the gate with the attitude that you’re going to conquer the world or flood the system. Instead, be very focused, start small, start prescriptive, gain trust in that whole experience between people, and gain trust that there’s potential for this to actually give you ROI and traction.
Read more: A DIY Approach to Co-selling
Also, I tell them to be realistic. Will they get opportunities from a Cloud Provider? Yes, from time-to-time. The Cloud Provider is going to be more about brand validation in the market and strengthening or expanding your relationship within an account.
Sometimes the Cloud Provider may bring new customers, but that’s not what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to help you accelerate your sales cycle, increase your relationships with your customers, maybe have a higher conversion rate, or a bigger deal size. Or they’re trying to help you leverage programs they have to fund sales activities that prove out the technology—and ultimately close business together. Those are the things that the Cloud Provider can do, so you need to have the right expectations.
For the companies that do really well with co-selling, what do they have in common?
They’ve staffed up. You’ve got to build an overlay team that focuses on co-selling.
As much as you’ve got to help field sellers engage at a seller-to-seller level, you’ve also got to infiltrate that Cloud Provider’s network of people. You’ve got to be meeting with them physically or virtually, sending them content, and keeping them apprised of what you’re doing. Keep deals in the system so that you’re building up your presence with the Cloud Provider and they’re asking themselves, “What’s going on with this partner? Where are they selling? What’s the volume of business? What impact do they have on our cloud services?”
Read more: Happily Ever After: Craft a Co-sell Success Story
Companies that do this well continue to validate their story with the Cloud Provider, and have people out there working that partnership. We call them “catchers.” You need catchers out there catching those engagements and fostering those relationships.
We always ask partners, “Do you have catchers out in the field? If we start to drive co-sell introductions, do you have someone who’s going to help the two parties connect and really help nurture co-sell in the field?” We know the motion is working when the ISV invests in more and more resources into building the team.
Is there anything that you’re particularly excited about for the future that Tackle and CORE can do together?
I’m super excited about Tackle’s Salesforce integration and getting more co-sell and Marketplace insights integrated into Salesforce.
We’re bringing all kinds of rich insights around Marketplace and co-sell. Helping people make data-driven decisions is exciting. While we’re helping you with your ultimate goal of making better decisions, how can we make that the best experience possible?
We know it can be hard to co-sell with these Cloud Providers. We want to help that be a better experience so that if it is working, we can really help you scale it and make that the best experience and truly get you a lot of ROI. With the right data, once you can understand your customers and where you’re taking them, then I think the rest of it falls in place, and you can actually build a thoughtful, strategic Cloud go-to-market strategy.
To see how Tackle can help you scale your Cloud Marketplace revenue through co-selling, schedule a demo.