Telstra’s transformative tale of building and educating channel partnerships
Telstra’s Director of Partner Sales discusses how she came to recognise the value of embracing channel partners, and now they’re treated as an extension of the direct sales team and customers are benefitting.
I’ve spent most of my career in technical sales with quite a bit of time in mergers and acquisitions plus a bit of time in Legal. This gave me a solid understanding of the commercial arrangements that we had with clients and inspired me to move much closer to the customer.
At Telstra, I’ve led technical teams across most of the solution faculties that we have: from unified communications, through cloud, security and networks. I’ve led businesses worth $6.5B with up to 650 people.
I specifically moved into the channel –– because in one of my previous Global roles, I spent significant time with companies that grew because of the channel: companies like Cisco, Microsoft and AWS. I led the alliances with these companies and, after spending time with them, recognised that we too could grow substantially if Telstra embraced the channel partner model.
I started in the channel by building a business case to share why partnering and investing in a solid partner program would enable us to grow. We established how it could really help our customers, particularly our mid-market enterprise customers who, in many cases, already had relationships with channel partners and were looking for thought leadership on the many forms of technology available to them. Ultimately, we looked at how the value proposition would be much stronger if Telstra worked with partners to serve its customers.
We started with a reasonably small base, putting forward a business case that would justify how we could grow over a three-year period. When that was endorsed, we put together a framework that already partly existed in areas of the business and brought it all together. We then looked at what constituted best practice and tried to create a program that would simultaneously make us much easier to work with and that would scale out across different channel partners and customers.
The good news is that we’ve grown each year and this year our channel business will deliver results close to $1.5B.
Partners are now an integral part of our sales community where we sell across key domains in mobility, data and IP, unified communications, cloud, security and IoT. We partner with experts in sales, technical and managed services to provide a full solution to our customers. Our partners bring their own specialities and, when combined with Telstra’s networks and solutions, we can better serve our customers’ needs.
My passion and belief have stemmed from believing that we could provide stronger thought leadership to mid-market enterprise customers by embracing partners. High-growth tech companies often have such a strong channel partner focus and I believe that our customers too would benefit from a ‘Better Together’ end-to-end approach.
There is a particular case study that I think is illustrative. We are working with a partner on a major project for their customer, Sydney Zoo. It’s the first time Sydney has opened a new zoo in a hundred years and its mission is to be the most technologically advanced zoo in Australia. As a result, the Zoo is embracing technology and innovation to help improve animal welfare, visitor engagement and education about endangered animals.
The initial brief sought to provide only a very simple telco service. However, the partner combined its expertise and our solutions to drive efficiencies for the organisation by using a managed services model. It ultimately delivered a more productive use of technology with far-reaching business benefits.
Building and educating the channel
I considered that, if we wanted to build this business, how do we attract the best channel partners? How do we enable them to grow with us and how do we work together to serve our customers most effectively?
We subsequently invested in a learning and development framework called the “Telstra Way” which is developed by Miller Heiman. We see our partners as an extension to our direct sales force and so have extended the vigorous investment in training to our top accredited partners. We’re looking to extend this training to our broader partner community.
While training includes selling methodologies and the presentation of case studies (that demonstrate how we’ve driven success) we’ve recognised that what was needed was an accreditation program. We’ve subsequently invested heavily in very stringent programs for the different products that we sell. Unlike many organisations, we don’t charge a fee for it because we believe that ensuring our partners have the same level of learning and development as our internal teams serves our customers in a very aligned way.
Our academy has not just been about our methodology and how we sell, it also provides deep insights and technical solutions. It covers topics like how you would manage pre-sales and technical sales. For each of our solution families, whether it’s networks, mobiles, security or UC related, there is now a stringent accreditation program that requires 30-40 hours of learning before an exam has to be undertaken and an accreditation status achieved.
Partners must know themselves
Partners need to define their value proposition carefully by being clear about where they add value to their customers. After all, if you try to specialise in everything, you won’t specialise in anything.
As technology becomes more complex (especially when integrating networks and cyber security), customers need a range of highly specialised skills. No single partner is going to possess all of the required skills at one time, so more specialists must be brought into the contract. However, customers don’t want to deal with multiple parties if they can help it. They want simplicity. That means building capabilities through partnering with others, hiring talent or developing a mini ecosystem of partners with diverse capabilities around customer segments.
Telstra Partner Central
We’re streamlining this process through investment in digitising the way our partners work alongside our sales teams. Telstra Partner Central is a single interface where Telstra and partners work together using a Salesforce platform. It has improved collaboration by providing a 360-degree view of customer opportunities, better deal transparency and automated workflows and, in so doing, drives a more co-ordinated approach to serving customers. Importantly, the platform has built in incumbency rules to protect the interests of our customers and partners.
Avenues into the Telstra Enterprise channel partner program
There are a couple of ways to come onboard. Firstly, at Telstra.com, we provide an expressions of interest process for prospective partners. Secondly, we utilise the value our relationships with community entities like yourselves (at CRN). The panel sessions that we run together, the program sessions and the articles that you write about us can all generate partnerships. Sometimes they come simply from reaching out on LinkedIn. After that initial contact is made, we go through a due diligence process to determine the alignment and, at that point, establish how we are going to move on. We are so humbled that there are so many partners who want to join our program.