Best Practices for Developing an AWS Co-Sell Program
By Tyler Althoff, Sr. Partner Business Development Manager – AWS
Developing a co-sell program that supports your organization’s collaboration objectives with Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a process that involves identifying necessary projects and activities, organizing them in a coordinated manner with AWS, and managing them to deliver results.
Although each collaboration with AWS is unique, with varying strategies to accomplish objectives, the best practices outlined in this post are considered evergreen and have positively impacted AWS Partners who have prioritized their go-to-market (GTM) strategy with AWS.
Clearly Define Your Co-Sell Business Objectives
The first step to develop a co-sell program with AWS is defining your business objectives. Think about the desired outcomes your business aims to achieve.
These objectives should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. They serve as the foundation upon which your collaboration is built. Typically, AWS Partners establish objectives to increase launched business opportunities (such as “closed won”), influenced revenue (co-sell revenue), AWS Marketplace gross-software sales (GSS), and opportunities to enable co-sell annually (shared business opportunities).
Deciding on growth percentage increases for these objectives requires a deep understanding of your business, market, and competitive landscape within the AWS ecosystem. It should be ambitious and achievable. Be sure to consult your AWS Partner Development Manager (PDM) or Partner Development Representative (PDR) when deciding these objectives.
Align Program Goals and Projects with Co-Sell Objectives
Once you have a clear picture of your co-sell business objectives, align your program goals with them. Each initiative and project within the program should contribute to the overall objectives. This is a critical step as misalignment can result in wasted resources and unsuccessful program execution. Let’s walk through an example.
One of your co-sell business objectives is to increase AWS-originated (AO) opportunities delivered to your organization for co-selling by 10%. To support this, a co-sell program goal should focus on increased AWS field engagement and collaboration.
An example goal could be securing participation in AWS sales or Independent Software Vendor (ISV) / Partner Sales Manager team meetings to present your collaboration and solutions. For every 20 co-sell engagements between your sales team and AWS sales teams (for example, introductory calls and opportunity review meetings), one formal enablement session to these AWS stakeholders should be scheduled and delivered.
Another example goal is to schedule account mapping sessions. For every 10 co-sell engagements between your sales team and AWS sales teams, one formal account mapping session to share coverage intelligence and strengthen 1:1 seller relationships should be facilitated.
Successful co-selling is predicated on effective engagements between your sales team and the AWS field sales community, so establishing program goals and incentives to ensure these engagements increase in volume while remaining positive is critical.
Adopt AWS Marketplace as a Strategic Sales Channel
AWS Marketplace is a curated digital software catalog that lets AWS customers find, test, and purchase third-party software licenses.
A recent study by Forrester (Total Economic Impact Partner Opportunity Analysis for AWS Marketplace Sellers) suggests that customers spend 80% more on third-party software applications through AWS Marketplace. A key reason for this is because customers prefer consolidating third-party software expenses into their AWS bill. This is especially valuable for customers who have established budgets and spend commitments with AWS, as their AWS Marketplace transactions can help meet their commitments.
Additionally, partners close a higher percentage of deals (27%), with 40% faster sales cycle time and 20% incremental sales pipeline when transacting in AWS Marketplace. This study helps articulate the business impact AWS Marketplace has delivered since its launch.
We suggest evaluating, adopting, and prioritizing AWS Marketplace as a priority sales channel in your GTM strategy with AWS. Work with your PDM/PDR to develop a comprehensive AWS Marketplace plan and learn about current incentives for AWS sales teams.
If you’re already an AWS Marketplace Seller, be sure to read the following AWS blog posts as they have helped partners bolster their GTM strategy:
- Best practices for driving traffic to your AWS Marketplace listing
- How to strategically package and price your solution in AWS Marketplace
- Scale Your Software and Services with AWS Marketplace
Figure 1 – AWS Marketplace homepage.
Prioritize Education and Enablement for Your Sales Organization
Effective engagements between your sales team and AWS are predicated on effective education and enablement. Educating your sales team on how to co-sell with AWS and enabling them to be successful through the use of resources including pitch decks, call scripts, and case studies is arguably the most critical project in any co-sell program.
If members of your sales team are not educated on the skills, techniques, and strategies necessary to increase business with AWS customers via co-selling, or if they lack the resources to execute their tasks, then your co-sell business objectives (no matter how well defined) become more challenging to achieve.
Be sure to work with your PDM/PDR on an enablement plan for your organization that includes the following topics:
- Amazon’s peculiar culture and “working backwards” approach to solving customer challenges. To learn more, watch our Working Backwards: Amazon’s Approach to Innovation session recording from AWS re:Invent 2020.
- AWS’s sales organization structure including roles and responsibilities (Account Managers, ISV/Partner Sales Managers, AWS Marketplace Customer Advisors, Channel Account Managers, etc.) and benefits for participating in the ISV Accelerate Program.
When team members are educated and enabled, they can work more effectively together. Keep in mind that requests for AWS co-selling support must be for qualified opportunities; rarely do AWS sales teams engage on prospect opportunities. This is because they are hyper-focused on solving customer challenges and leading cross-functional efforts on already qualified activities.
In addition, they typically receive dozens of partner co-sell requests every month, so ensuring your teams are positioned to develop strong relationships could pay dividends for years to come. Below is a framework partners have adopted to help ensure education and enablement processes and activities are consistent, of a high standard, and aligned with co-sell business objectives.
Figure 2 – Co-Sell Enablement Framework.
Secure Support from Cross-Functional Stakeholders
Engaging internal and external AWS stakeholders is necessary to successfully develop a co-sell program. Stakeholders can provide valuable insights, increase knowledge sharing among cross-functional groups, and sponsor key co-sell projects.
For example, gaining support from your internal sales leadership team could result in them adopting co-sell KPIs for your sales organization. We have seen successful partners establish internal sales KPIs including AWS seller engagements or connections per sales rep, opportunities submitted for co-selling, and AWS sales reps enabled, resulting in seller commitment over compliance.
Key external AWS stakeholders to solicit program feedback and sponsorship from include ISV Sales Managers (ISM) and Partner Sales Managers (PSM). These stakeholders are responsible for leading and owning the local sell-with efforts between partners and AWS sales teams, and they are viewed as the subject matter experts by area and segments on partner co-sell activities. They work backwards from customer needs with AWS sales teams to identify and introduce the right partner solutions.
As you develop your co-sell program, we highly recommend establishing sales KPIs around engaging and building relationships with these stakeholders as they are increasingly advising AWS sales teams on which partners have the most proven success per use case.
Keep in mind that AWS is a large, distributed organization with many stakeholders managing relationships, events, and projects to positively impact customers. Building relationships with key AWS stakeholders could result in learning about discretionary opportunities to increase awareness of your solutions.
Figure 3 – Key AWS stakeholders.
Leverage Existing AWS Resources
Proper allocation and leverage of existing co-sell resources—including personnel, budget, and time—is vital to develop and manage a successful co-sell program. A resource allocation plan (RAP) can ensure each initiative within the program has the necessary resources to complete its tasks successfully. This should be reviewed periodically to adjust for changes in the your collaboration with AWS.
Like many RAPs, activities that require more resources upfront yet result in self-sustaining, long-tail benefits should be prioritized when considering which activities to execute. For example, many partners struggle with managing large volumes of co-sell opportunities in the APN Customer Engagement (ACE) platform as their business grows, but if you use Salesforce as your customer relationship management (CRM) system, we recommend adopting the AWS Partner CRM Connector.
This tool eliminates the need to write custom code or update information in separate platforms (your CRM and AWS Partner Central, for example). This has saved partners hours in managing their co-sell pipeline. There are also AWS Partners with technology solutions that address this use case, so be sure to ask your PDM/PDR for more information.
Next, we highly recommend leveraging the AWS ISV Co-Sell Checklist when developing your co-sell program. The purpose of this checklist is to guide and support ISVs with a pragmatic, step-by-step process to activate the co-sell motion effectively with AWS. It contains best practices both from partners as well as Amazonians to help AWS Software Path members accelerate and scale their co-sell engagements.
We also suggest watching our session from AWS re:Invent 2022 about the AWS ISV Co-Sell Checklist, which provides insights on how experienced partners develop the right plans to co-sell, implement systems and processes to engage AWS stakeholders, and enable internal sales teams to co-sell with AWS.
Monitor for Continual Improvement and Iteration
Effective co-sell program development and management requires constant monitoring and controlling. It’s a best practice to conduct regular reviews with internal and external AWS stakeholders. This allows you to adjust plans as necessary, making sure the program is on track to achieve its goals.
Below are example topics to prioritize in these reviews:
- Year-to-date goal attainment
- Co-sell process development and maintenance
- Education, enablement, and engagement activities
- Must-win co-sell opportunities and help needed
As your co-sell program progresses, look for opportunities for continual improvement and iteration. Use the lessons learned from completed initiatives or projects to improve future ones. Solicit feedback from internal and external stakeholders, including your PDM/PDR, to help determine if any changes must be made.
AWS is evolving as an organization on a daily business to better serve our customers and partners, so embrace change and iteration as part of your co-sell program management strategy.
As you establish business objectives for your AWS collaboration, developing a formal co-sell program in your organization can help you identify the necessary projects and associated activities, organize them in a coordinated manner with AWS, and manage them to deliver results.
In this post, we introduced best practices including defining clear objectives, identifying key stakeholders to engage, and adopting AWS Marketplace as a strategic sales channel. We also highlighted the importance of education and enablement for your organization as AWS sales teams co-sell with thousands of partners simultaneously.
Finally, it’s critical to leverage existing resources while establishing ways to monitor and iterate program activities to ensure goal progression. With these best practices in mind, your co-sell program will be well positioned to support and achieve your AWS business objectives.