These days, many people working in sales have thought about shifting gears and entering the partnerships industry—but the fact that this career move can be logical doesn’t necessarily make it simple. Instead, the journey from sales to partnerships is often complicated by a handful of unique challenges.

For this installment of Partner School, Co-Founder and CEO of Firneo Scott Pollack spoke with Spencer Linsley, Director of Sales and Strategic Partnerships at Awardco. Their conversation focused on how salespeople can become partnerships leaders and how they can overcome the problems associated with this transition.

What to Consider Before Making the Leap

Drawing from his own transition from working as an individual contributor in sales to a hybrid role encompassing both sales leadership and strategic partnerships, Spencer highlighted the need to recognize the distinctions between sales and partnerships. While there are commonalities between these fields, their goals, timelines, and paths to success are inherently different.

Scott then prompted Spencer to discuss the motivations behind his transition from sales to partnerships. Spencer pointed to the entrepreneurial opportunities presented by partnerships that gave him a chance to impact the entire organization, explore new skills, and act as a bridge between various departments. Acknowledging the lack of quick wins and ambiguity faced by countless incoming partnerships leaders, Spencer stressed the importance of aligning personal fulfillment with professional growth during this transition.

How to Balance Sales and Partnerships

Currently, Spencer straddles the roles of Regional Sales Director and Strategic Partnerships Director at Awardco. With that in mind, Scott asked Spencer how he balances short-term sales objectives with the longer-term nature of partnerships. Spencer noted that he has been fortunate enough to have a capable successor helping him with his sales responsibilities. Beyond that, he said incorporating key performance indicators (KPIs) for partnerships that directly benefit sales metrics can help ensure a smooth transition.

Scott also asked how Spencer’s sales experience has shaped his approach to partnerships. In response, Spencer spoke about the importance of professional experience when it comes to understanding the competitive landscape and identifying potential partners that complement his company’s existing offerings. This insights-driven approach, which relies on the knowledge he gained while working in sales, has helped him guide the strategic direction of Awardco’s partnerships while aligning with broader organizational goals.

The Role of KPIs in Partnerships

Taking a closer look at KPIs, Spencer said partnerships pros need to consider the maturity level of their organizations’ partnerships functions. In the early days, these programs should focus on tangible wins such as top-of-funnel partner-sourced leads, opportunities created, and (eventually) revenue generated. 

As their company’s partnerships function develops, Spencer encouraged partnerships leaders to shift towards an attach rate model, assessing how partners can influence deals beyond direct lead generation. Additionally, he addressed the importance of updating KPIs over time based on organizational needs and goals.

Spencer also emphasized the need for these professionals to align goals and KPIs with the team they report to, be it sales, marketing, or product. Your reporting line influences your resources and yearly goals, and strong alignment ensures a unified approach to achieving overall organizational objectives.

Building Internal and External Trust

Before he entered the world of sales and partnerships, Spencer spent over seven years working at Solitude Mountain Resort in Solitude, Utah. Drawing parallels from his experience in the people-centric ski patrol industry, Spencer stressed the significance of trust in partnerships. He argued that trust is a key indicator of successful long-term partnerships; as a result, partnerships leaders must determine whether or not potential partners are willing to align with their company’s core values, organizational purpose, and vision.

While finding trustworthy partners is a vital element of any worthwhile partnerships program, building internal trust is equally important. Spencer shared an anecdote where a senior executive expressed skepticism about the success of his partnership initiatives and encouraged partnerships leaders in similar situations to over-communicate progress, involve stakeholders in the journey, and consistently update leadership. Building internal champions and creating a cadence for cross-functional communication are critical strategies for overcoming skepticism.

Acknowledging that partnerships may take 12 to 24 months to yield substantial results, Spencer recommended balancing short-term wins with long-term impact when reporting results. He also said partnerships leaders should make an effort to identify partners already positioned for quick wins while working on relationships that will fundamentally shape the organization’s offerings over time.

Final Thoughts: Stay Curious and Keep Learning

As a parting piece of advice, Spencer encouraged professionals to maintain a curious and growth-oriented mindset. He emphasized the value of continuous learning, networking with industry peers, and adopting a giving-first mentality. Spencer’s final message was clear: when partnerships leaders stay curious and share their insights, the partnership community can collectively grow and thrive.

Make a Smooth Transition with Firneo

Navigating the shift from sales to partnerships requires a blend of strategic alignment, patience, and effective communication. Spencer Linsley’s journey provides a roadmap for sales professionals seeking success in the partnerships space. By balancing their sales and partnerships duties, aligning goals, updating KPIs, and building trust, professionals can make this transition as seamless as possible while making meaningful contributions to their organizations’ partnership initiatives.

As a new partnerships leader, there’s one more challenge you might face: the lack of guidance offered to people working in this industry. Few partnerships leaders receive effective onboarding from their employers, and you could face unnecessary difficulties throughout your career because of that. To get the playbook for success in this field, enroll in Firneo’s Mastering Partnerships Strategy program—you’ll be glad you did!

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