Co-selling 101 for Startups: Stand Out In A Crowded Field

Cloud Marketplaces offer an incredible opportunity for startups to close impressive deals, and to do so quickly and efficiently. And through co-selling – a strategic sales alignment between Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and Cloud Providers (CPs) – startups can build serious traction.    

What exactly is co-selling? In a nutshell, it’s a collaborative partnership between the ISV and the CP to help promote Cloud Marketplace commerce and accelerate sales within the Marketplace (i.e. AWS Marketplace, Google Cloud Platform Marketplace, Microsoft Commercial Marketplace, or Red Hat Marketplace). In a co-selling relationship, the Cloud Provider’s sales team will provide leads to the ISV or recommend the ISV’s product to cloud buyers. The goal is to help the ISV close more deals faster, while helping the CP to expand its own business and boost cloud consumption. In the ideal co-selling setup, everybody wins.

Why co-selling in the Cloud Marketplace is ideal for startups

For startups, in particular, co-selling can be a powerful sales tool. It’s a way to associate the ISV’s products with a trusted brand and create an additional sales channel and revenue generator. Some co-sell programs also offer attractive incentives, such as reductions in Marketplace fees.

Co-selling can be a powerful sales tool. It’s a way to associate the ISV’s products with a trusted brand. It also offers an additional sales channel and revenue generator.

What’s more, co-selling places an ISV’s products in front of a lot of potential buyers and speeds time to market, which is just the kind of rocket fuel a startup needs to take things to the next level. 

But perhaps most importantly, co-selling can be a cost-effective way to accelerate a startup’s business. Through co-selling, when done strategically, a startup can increase both revenue and market share.   

For any startup, building an effective sales organization takes time – from hiring experienced salespeople to getting them up to speed on the product. It can take anywhere from three to 12 months before the sales team is fully operationalized. Co-selling, however, allows you to accelerate sales much faster by leaning on the CP’s resources as the startup continues to build out a fully functional sales org. 

Read More: 4 Key Focus Areas for SaaS Startups on Cloud Marketplaces   

How does co-selling in the Cloud Marketplaces work?

With co-selling, ISVs partner with the CP to share efforts around activities like building demand, sales planning, accelerating partner-to-partner selling, and driving Marketplace-led commerce. Co-selling also involves some degree of sharing sales leads (depending on the specifics of the program). The ISV and the Cloud Provider can also engage in joint marketing efforts to boost brand awareness.    

While all of the major Cloud Marketplaces offer co-selling programs, ISVs shouldn’t adopt a “one-size-fits-all” approach to try to enter into a co-selling arrangement with all four Cloud Providers. Although the Cloud Providers may have similar co-selling criteria, the nuances between the programs can be significant, so a tailored approach is key. 

If you’re at a loss as to where to get started, consider initiating a relationship with the cloud on which your software is built. You already have a symbiotic partnership with that Cloud Provider, so it’s a natural fit. Focus your energies there first to build the muscle for broader cloud partnerships.  

Cloud Marketplace co-selling for startups: the right way

Startups need to build a case emphasizing how a partnership is advantageous to the CP, at the same moment when numerous startups and established ISVs are clamoring for the CP’s time and attention.

That’s why, at the very outset, it’s critical for a startup to align itself with the CP in all messaging (more on that below). Large, established ISVs will already be getting plenty of co-sell opportunities from the CPs, so startups must find a way to stand out. The more you can demonstrate that your startup is an integral piece of the CP’s portfolio, the more assistance (in the form of leads and opportunities) you’ll garner. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and will require strategic effort to make it successful, but it is well worth it. 

That said, here are some tips to get the ball rolling.

Get everyone on the same page

First, some foundational work.

Get everyone in your organization on board with co-selling. A certain amount of education may be required: Many within the startup may not be familiar with what the Cloud Marketplaces are, or how they work. Taking it one step further, not everyone will be familiar with co-selling, and those who may have a grasp of the basics may not fully understand the ins and outs of a co-selling program and how your team will work with the Cloud Providers in this effort.

Here, startups face a unique challenge as well: The C-suite of a startup is usually composed of visionaries with a lot of things on their plate (like hiring, scaling the business, or improving the product itself), and the whole idea of “co-selling” may not be on their radar.

Tailor the conversations around co-selling to the concerns of the C-suite. For example, the increased sales velocity that co-selling provides, access to an expanded pool of potential customers, and tighter alignment with an established cloud ecosystem are all clear benefits that execs can get behind. 

Read More: Ask the Experts: Getting Your C-Suite On Board for Marketplace 

Your sales team may also need a bit of coaching. Co-selling has its own processes and sales motions, and may be a foreign concept to even the most seasoned sales professional. Naturally, there will be questions around compensation, sharing leads, processes, and so on. Each Cloud Provider has its own compensation and lead-sharing structure, so address these concerns directly.              

Part of these conversations should be setting expectations – for everyone. Co-selling is not a silver bullet for the challenges of marketing and selling software. It’s one more sales channel with extraordinary opportunities to showcase your products, expand your customer base, and grow revenue.

Read More: One Team, One Dream: How to Align Sales and Alliances for Revenue Success  

Create a “better together” story

Think of a “better together” story as a marketing pitch. The idea is to draft messaging that illustrates why your product aligns well with the Cloud Provider, and how the marriage between your offering and the Cloud Provider’s services will be a good fit that ultimately benefits software buyers and drives cloud consumption. It’s as simple as that, but a crucial step that deserves serious thought and planning.

Can you clearly articulate what your technology does and how it helps your buyers? What are the use cases? What differentiates you from your competitors? You must be able to answer these questions clearly and definitively before engaging with a CP. The CPs seek to partner with ISVs with strong value propositions that solve business problems. If you can articulate that vision, you’re more likely to have the CP’s ear.

There’s no room for ambiguity – explicitly show how your software will add to the consumption of the Cloud Provider’s services.

When crafting your “story,” keep in mind:

  • The story must communicate how your offerings will specifically drive usage of the CP’s services while also clearly solving business problems for customers. This kind of detail and specificity helps you stand out from the crowd and puts you that much closer to an effective co-sell partnership. There’s no room for ambiguity – explicitly show how your software will add to the consumption of the Cloud Provider’s services. 
  • Be able to clearly and confidently articulate the “better with [fill in the CP of your choice]” story. How you talk about your technology is an important piece of the puzzle when aligning your software with the CP’s goals. A battlecard can help keep messaging consistent. 
  • When building out your story, start with a business plan that clearly identifies a target audience – such as a set of customers from a specific industry.
  • Case studies are king. They should be a part of your story, and should be recent and relevant. These should be aligned with your industry, technology domain, or decision maker persona in order to have the most impact. 

In short, an effective “better together” story is the key that gets you in the door. The CP wants to know what value you bring to the table, and the best stories show that your product is a necessary component of the CP’s ecosystem. 

Co-selling grants startups instant access to a wealth of programs, resources, tools, and opportunities.

It may take a little time and effort to establish a co-selling arrangement with a CP, but persistence will pay off. Co-selling should be part of a broader go-to-market strategy built around Cloud Marketplaces, not the only piece of that strategy. A well-planned GTM strategy for the cloud will have many moving parts, and co-selling can help you get there faster.

Startups certainly have a lot to contend with, from engineering and development challenges to marketing, branding, and co-selling. To help accelerate your growth in the Cloud Marketplaces, apply now for our Startup Acceleration Program.

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