5 Key Differences between Sales and Partnerships

Updated March 22, 2023
Published in Indirect Sales Channel, Partner Relationships

Let’s face it: there’s so much jargon in the business world that terms often get lumped together.

Sales and Partnerships

A prime example of this phenomenon is sales and partnerships. Many people assume they have virtually the same function and produce the same results, but there are definite distinctions between the two teams.

So if you’re like many companies that are considering adding partnerships to your organization, it’s worth understanding these differences, incorporating them into your job descriptions, and setting expectations with your employees.

So in this post, we’ll set the record straight, explaining how sales and partnerships differ at a high-level and in terms of day-to-day tasks.

A bird’s eye view of sales vs. partnerships

Simply put, sales is about getting contracts over the finish line. Sellers focus on selling products or services to the right customers at the right time. At most companies, marketing or business development teams will tee up leads for sales teams to pursue, and sellers pull out all the stops to get prospects to convert.

Partnership teams, on the other hand, work with other companies to boost brand recognition, elevate credibility, and win deals一either through referrals or joint go-to-market strategies. Partnership teams build long-term relationships with partners and brainstorm creative ways to generate revenue from win-win scenarios.

5 differences between sales and partnerships

Now that we’ve covered the traditional definitions of sales and partnerships, it’s time to dive into the ways they differ on a more tactical level. Below, we outline five ways the two groups vary.

1. Relationships

The partnership team develops long-standing relationships with partners, meeting at a regular cadence to identify mutually beneficial referral, comarketing, and joint go-to-market opportunities. Partnership team members are interested in finding synergies with their partners, so take time to deepen these relationships, getting to know the partner’s business, current customers, and prospective customers they are trying to reach. Partnership teams usually develop multi-year plans with partners and review progress towards joint goals at the end of every quarter during QBRs.

Sellers build relationships with the buyer and other folks who influence the sales process. Like partnership team members, sellers also have to know the ins and outs of the prospect’s business, but unlike partnerships, these relationships are fairly one-and-done. After a contract is signed, sellers pass the customer along to onboarding or customer success teams, and may only interact with the customer again if they are assisting with an upsell or cross-sell.

2. Ideal point of contact

The ideal point of contact for partner team members is their counterpart at the partner’s company (i.e. a VP of Partnerships at Company A typically speaks with a VP of Partnerships at Company B). But partnership teams may also talk to other partnership team members, members of the company’s sales, marketing, or even customer success teams, since each of these groups has the potential to affect or inform partnerships activities.

Are you attracting the right partners? Read our blog post on Ideal Partner Profiles to find out!

For sales, an ideal point of contact is someone who has a vested interest in buying the product they are selling. The best POC is usually the buyer, but there could be people in other departments that can convince the buyer to purchase. So throughout the sales process, reps may speak with procurement teams, IT teams, finance teams and a whole slew of other people in order to move the needle forward.

NOTE: Partnership teams can be a great help to sales teams in terms of identifying champions at the prospect. If someone on the partnership team has built up enough trust with a partner that already has the prospect as a customer, they may be able to glean valuable contact information and context that can help win a deal.

3. End goals

The main goals of partnership teams are to grow their partnerships program, spread awareness through comarketing, drive sales through referrals, and build credibility among thought leaders. Therefore, typical partnerships KPIs are:

  • Number of partners in the program (and in each tier)
  • Number and performance of comarketing events or content
  • Number of partners certified in your product
  • Number of qualified partner-influenced and/or partner-sourced opportunities
  • Number of partner-influenced and/or partner-sourced closed-won deals
    • Average deal size
    • Average time to close
  • Total partner-influenced and/or partner-sourced revenue
  • Average partner NPS score

The main goal of the sales team is to win opportunities. To that end, their metrics are slightly simpler, focusing less on statistics that reveal the effectiveness of relationships and more on deals:

  • MRR (monthly recurring revenue)
  • Volume by location
  • Quota achievement
  • Deal size
  • Sales cycle length

4. Collateral

With help of the marketing team, partnership teams put together a significant amount of collateral. Not only do they need content to convince new partners to onboard to the program, they also need content that demonstrates the value of their partnerships to potential leads. Some examples of partner-related content include:

  • Joint case studies
  • Joint blog posts
  • Joint social media posts
  • Partner program landing pages
  • Cobranded one sheets
  • Scripts for joint webinars
  • Newsletters
  • Partner Tier overview sheets (with benefits and requirements of the program)

Sales teams don’t necessarily create much content, unless you count playbooks for new hires. They do, however, consume and distribute content that the marketing team provides, such as:

  • Pitch decks
  • Case studies
  • Whitepapers
  • Social media posts

5. Engagement with internal teams

Partnership team members will interact with virtually all teams in a company. That’s because they are tasked with learning as much as possible about their company and conveying that information to partners in a digestible, strategic way. Partnership team members need to know about:

  • The product roadmap (Product/Engineering)
  • What current customers are missing (Customer Success/Service)
  • What marketing materials are performing well (Marketing)
  • How sales are going (Sales/BD)
  • Whether marketing development funds are paid out correctly (Finance)
  • How new hires will fit into the fabric of the company (HR)

Sales teams interact with other internal teams, but not as much as the partnership team. They work closely with marketing but may meet with customer success and product teams from time to time to learn about the latest things customers are asking for and how the product addresses those requirements.

How sales and partnerships fit together

Although sales and partnerships have their differences, they enhance each other’s performance. Because of strategic partnerships, sales teams have access to more information and leads than they otherwise would’ve had. And because of sales teams’ experiences in the field, partnership teams know the kinds of partners to target and types of content to create. But marrying the strengths of those two departments isn’t always easy.

That’s where a PRM comes into play. Partner relationship management tools like Channeltivity enable your partnership and sales teams to work together seamlessly by tracking and storing partner information, referrals, and comarketing materials all in one place. Not only that, Channeltivity integrates with CRMs like Hubspot or Salesforce to ensure that everyone works from the same source of truth.

Learn more about how a robust PRM can skyrocket your partner program growth by signing up for a Channeltivity demo today.


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