An indirect sales channel lives or dies based on the success of its sales partners, but it's up to you to support them effectively to strengthen your business. Clearly, success is the end result. Getting there usually starts with selecting the right partners.
This can be a tricky balancing act, especially for companies relatively new to indirect sales. It's easy to take a "beggars can't be choosers" attitude, and onboard any potential partner simply for the sake of building an ecosystem quickly. However, such an indiscriminating recruitment strategy will eventually create real problems that could have been avoided by being more selective.
Today, we wanted to take a look at some of the issues surrounding the matter of partner selection, and offer up some suggestions for how to find the best sales partners for your business.
Great Partner Selection Is Key To Long-Term Indirect Sales Success
1 - Clearly identify your goals for a channel program.
What are your priorities as a business? For example, are you more concerned with short-term sales, or with creating a devoted long-term customer base? Is stability or innovation more important? Do you want to dominate a specific niche, or continue diversifying into a conglomerate?
If you don't have a corporate mission statement, it'd be a good idea to consult with your board\CXOs\etc and create one establishing an overall plan for your enterprise. In turn, you can then look specifically for partners who fit into this plan. Partners who share your philosophies, goals, and attitudes from the beginning are much more likely to be stable and productive additions to your ecosystem for a long time to come.
2 - Start mapping service areas and watch for overlap.
Generally, it's healthy to have a little overlap\competition within your ecosystem. This gives customers choices, as well as ensuring no single partner becomes too comfortable or complacent with a semi-monopoly in their area. However, there's also a real balancing act to be maintained here. Too much intra-ecosystem competition will just lead to cannibalized sales, confused customers, and even bad blood between individual partners.
If your partners generally service a specific geographic area, make a map showing their spheres of influence and try to minimize overlap except in 'border zones'. If they're online, look at target markets and demographics instead. For example, having a partner ecosystem where each partner is largely focused on a specific market niche would allow you to have huge reach, but without too much harmful competition.
3 - Dig into partners' technical proficiency.
One of the easiest ways for a partner to under-perform within an ecosystem is if they lack the technical know-how to effectively market, explain, and support your product. This is a huge red flag, and should be a real warning sign NOT to recruit a particular partner.
Find out what other products they carry, and how those products compare to yours in terms of complexity. Look at how they market other products, and the depth of detail in their explanations. If they aren't up to snuff, consider passing them by. Some of these issues can potentially be addressed by increased training, but not necessarily.
4 - How many of your competitors are they working with?
A lot of sales partners are going to be partnered with many different businesses. In those cases, a particular vendor is going to be engaging in a battle of sorts to merely get enough attention from the salespeople that their product is given priority.
Sometimes, this is unavoidable, especially if you're aiming to build major brand-name retailer support. Merely being carried by a company like Hobby Lobby or Home Depot is a huge success for many vendors. However, if possible, look for situations where you can minimize the competition for sales staff mindshare, or where you know you can offer better reasons to give your own product priority.
5 - Do your own external research.
Never forget that in the electronic age, everyone has a paper trail. Don't take potential partners' claims about their abilities at face value. Do your own research. Look them up on standard business listings like Yelp. Look at their social media feeds, and how they interact with their customers. If possible, look at some of the other companies they're partnered with and ask those partners about their experience.
When a potential partner boasts about their success, you can usually use public sources to gauge how accurate their claims are. When you can find real evidence that they walk the walk, you've almost certainly found a good partner worth having.
Signing up any and every partner you can brings rapid growth early on, but can cause big problems later. Being more selective allows for better sustainability, and helps ensure you're growing an ecosystem which can last for as long as your business.