Co-selling in the Commercial Furniture Industry

It is difficult at best for a salesperson to service all their customers’ needs and be a one stop shop. That’s why companies are shifting to co-selling; bringing in partners to sell solutions together.

Co-selling is an updated approach to a traditional supplier/dealer relationship. The value of a strong personal relationship between dealers and supplier reps should never be underestimated.

The essence of co-selling is connecting sales professionals in the field to allow them to collaborate freely with each other. Selling can be very personal, so successful partnerships require an investment — learning each other’s sales style, accounts, solutions. It’s critical to build strong relationships — with regular meetings and open communication.

According to TechTarget, “Co-selling is an approach to product and service distribution in which channel partners are the primary route to market. The co-selling approach is also useful for identifying opportunities to improve sales and technical support.”

With co-selling, both partners identify targets and share the costs and activities needed to go to market together. This contrasts with the traditional channel approach of simply giving a partner material and hoping that they do the most with it.

When salespeople are in sync, they’ll be even more compelling to the customer. They’ll be able to co-lead the conversation and demonstrate the value of multiple solutions. Partnering can boost the pipeline, close deals faster with higher deal sizes and can add greater value to the customer.

What makes a good partnership? I found this three-question filter. It can help each co-seller assess the stakes to ensure everybody wins:

1. Are you selling to the same role?

If the ideal prospect for both of you is an HR director, for example, it may merit a conversation about partnering together. But if one person targets finance leaders and the other partner targets IT — it may make it hard to co-sell with the same voice. It’s great to penetrate a possible client, but it can make things confusing if one partner is selling to a different decision-maker.

2. Do you share the same core values?

Having a selling partner you can’t count on (or worse, can’t trust) is a deal breaker. If you each share the same values and passions and goals, too you’re more likely to head toward a successful partnership rather than something that just won’t fit for anyone.

3. Does your sales messaging sync up?

For any co-selling effort to work, the sales teams need to be synergistic. That doesn’t mean they have to be identical, but they do need to strike a similar chord and work well together to meet the client’s needs. If one partner cold-calls with aggressive selling and the other partner prefers a more subtle strategy, it might not work as well as if the messaging (and the approach) is aligned.

If all three filters check out, it will create a stronger partnership for both. If so, consider kicking things off with a co-branded campaign along with marketing materials and proposals that explain the partnership.

Maybe most importantly, demonstrate why you’re partnering together and how that union benefits the prospect.

INDEAL has created a program that easily lends itself to co-selling. The relationship is often already established between a supplier and dealer before a dealer or supplier joins, but there isn’t always an established way for the two parties to co-sell.

In addition to the three aforementioned filters, dealers and suppliers can use a scorecard to make sure they are a good fit. This is a partnership and both sides need to have a method to evaluate a co-selling partner.

Here are some sample criteria that can be used to evaluate a co-selling partner. Your scorecard should be quantifiable and include:

  • Supplier/dealer characteristics

  • The important strategic alignment factors you value

  • Applicable business policies

  • Any constraints – management directives, government regulations, contracts already in place, and other commitments

Identify Suitable Partners

Once you have the selection criteria in place, you must create the pool from which you will select a partner. During this part of the process you will want to consider:

  • Current suppliers/Dealers – Starting with suppliers/Dealers with whom you already have experience and an established relationship is generally a good idea

  • Past suppliers/Dealers – Depending upon the reasons why they are ‘past’ and not ‘current’

  • Competition – Do you support each other

  • Industry groups – Focus on working with INDEAL members

  • Recommendations and prior business relationships – Perhaps created while working at other companies

Co-selling Summary

When you strategically think about each supplier or dealer in your network and invest the time to examine all your options, you will set your organization up for success.

To create a network that is strong, reliable, and aligned with your business objectives; utilize this 5-step process:

  1. Create co-selling selection scorecard

  2. Identify suitable partners

  3. Rank the scorecard

  4. Create an action plan together dates and benchmarks

  5. Measure and analyze the results

Don’t be like everyone else and you don’t have to do everything by yourself. Look for better ways to accomplish more. In the words of Walter Payton:

“When you’re good at something you’ll tell everyone. When you’re great at something they’ll tell you.”

Jim Heilborn is a business consultant specializing in the office furniture/products industry, working nationwide with dealers, manufacturers, and service providers. Jim has been associated with INDEAL for eight years, specializing in training and dealer development. He can be reached directly at or by phone at 916.434.8711.