How to Become the Partner that Sales Teams Call First

Peter Lai
6 min readFeb 5, 2021


If you think your recent partner sales training was a success, think again. After the partner launch’s initial buzz wears off, sales reps tend to revert to their habits of going about their workday. As a matter of fact, according to research performed by Gartner, 87% of sales training content is forgotten within a month of the training. When salespeople live in a noisy world where their days are inundated with customer calls, emails, sales training, and meetings, retaining details about their ecosystem partners is difficult to do. The truth is, we can’t rely on the product’s quality to get in front of our partners’ sales team and customers anymore.

The window to select a partner to work with isn’t open for long. The quality of a lead degrades over time, so sales reps must respond quickly or risk losing the deal. More often than not, sales reps habitually rely on a personal list of partners that they favor based on prior interactions. Technical pre-sales teams (i.e., sales engineers, solutions architects, etc.) also tend to rely on a short list of ecosystem partners they prefer to work with. Even if it is an unqualified lead, these partners still may get the first call.

Breaking into a sales rep’s personal list of preferred partners is difficult but can be done. To do this, we must first understand how habits are formed.

Understanding the Process of Habit Building

We all have habits that we have become accustomed to due to years of experience. If we experience a positive outcome, we purposely associate the triggers and events that led us to achieve the desired effect. As the need for the same result occurs more frequently, the repeated behaviors aggregate over time until it happens subconsciously. For example, if we need urgent support to resolve a critical technical issue that we’ve dealt with before, we automatically know who to call and when to call. When we need resources to help us get what we need to increase the speed or de-risk a deal, we know exactly who to ask and what to say.

One of my favorite books is Atomic Habits by James Clear. In the book, the author outlines a path for the reader to create habits by stacking small actions that compound to create the desired outcome. Each of the small actions can be tied to one of the four stages of habit formation known as the Four Laws of Behavior Change.

The Four Laws of Behavior Change are:

  1. Cue: Make it obvious
  2. Craving: Make it attractive
  3. Response: Make it easy
  4. Reward: Make it satisfying

The four-step loop that underlines human behavior is known as the Habit Loop. In every instance, a cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which then provides a reward. They form a framework that can be flexible and adapted in any setting. If we apply this principle to how we work and interact with our partner’s sales team, then the incentive to work with us will lead to more opportunities.

Make it obvious

The 1st Law of Behavior Change is to make it obvious. This law is the first step of the Habit Loop and is connected to the cue. A cue is anything that gets your attention and signifies what to do next. For example, businesses tend to place their most profitable products in the front of a store or the most visible locations. In this case, your joint value’s delivery method and placement can be a cue in terms of getting a sales rep’s attention.

Examples of a cue could be:

  • Virtual event
  • Co-marketing / co-branded campaigns
  • Blog post
  • Overlapping customers
  • Case studies or white papers

Ultimately, decide on the cue that best fits your industry to capture the most attention to trigger the next stage.

Make it attractive

The 2nd Law of Behavior Change is to make it attractive. Attractiveness is not defined by superficial design methods but by the quality of the content. For the sales rep, making it attractive comes down to explaining the benefits clearly and compellingly so that they can immediately envision how your solution can solve their customer’s pain points. Your joint value must present a strong identity that can address the customer’s problem to motivate the sales rep to act.

Businesses make purchases because a problem impacts one or more of the following:

  • Productivity
  • Image
  • Expenses
  • Revenue
  • Safety, security, or stability

If you were to review the content within your collateral and documentation, does the content provide enough reason for the sales rep to want to contact you? When you’re presenting to a sales team during one of their sales meetings or training sessions, does your content frame the joint value’s attractiveness so that the audience already understands which of their customers need your solution?

Make it easy

The 3rd Law of Behavior Change is to make it easy. Behaviors are more likely to be performed when they can be accomplished with ease. From a partnership standpoint, the most effective way to apply the 3rd Law is to review the partner’s sales reps’ journey to obtain information or register and collaborate on a deal. Then, search for any possible area to reduce the friction associated with the task.

Imagine yourself as the partner’s sales rep and ask:

  • How can we make it easier to find relevant sales enablement resources?
  • How can we make it easier to identify, collaborate on, and manage deals?
  • How can we make it easier to stay informed of important updates?
  • How can we make it easier to understand what the joint value is for the customer?

Make it satisfying

The 4th Law of Behavior Change is to make it satisfying. While the most crucial thing in getting a habit to stick is the feeling of being successful, how quickly the reward is delivered plays a significant role. Our brains are wired to favor immediate satisfaction over delayed gratification. You will need to consider how fast and how often the sales rep is rewarded. In addition to the incentive after a deal is closed, are there instances where you can award smaller rewards throughout the month or quarter? Even if it’s in a small way, success signifies that the habit has paid off and that the work was worth the effort, so there is reason to repeat it in the future.

Habit-forming doesn’t happen after one successful deal. It will take many interactions and iterations before you’ve landed on a system that works for you and your partner’s sales team. With enough repetitions of quality and consistency in your joint value message, responsiveness, and willingness to help, you’ll be on your way to landing a spot in the small circle of partner influencers.

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Peter Lai

I help businesses build and leverage successful partner programs