Direct sales approach or an indirect sales strategy? – this is a question that your company has grappled with and you have decided to use the indirect sales approach. This means that you are using, or will be shortly, channel partners to sell your products and services out in the market. To be successful with this strategy it is critical that you have alignment between your company’s goals and those of your channel partners.
For example, let’s briefly consider automobile manufacturers and their independent dealers. In today’s competitive environment, dealers do not generate much of their revenue from new car sales, rather it is the service end of their business that is the big profit center. The manufacturers on the other hand, do not benefit from the service side of the business and are very focused on the sales side of the equation. You can quickly understand that if you have a relationship with channel partners where goals and objectives are misaligned, you channel sales strategy will not be successful.
There are some best practices that should be followed when implementing or optimizing a channel partner strategy. All successful channel partner relationships have two things in common: there is a high level of engagement between the parties and the relationship is very collaborative. Your channel partners, due to their independent nature, are free to sell products and services from many companies, some of which may even be direct competitors.
In order to be successful in capturing a disproportionate amount of channel partners’ selling efforts, you must find ways to engage them frequently and effectively (this is referred to as capturing their “mindshare’). Engagement equates to attachment and business alignment, which equates to more sales.
As the person responsible for your company’s channel partner strategy, you have spent a great deal of time researching and targeting the various market segments that you want to sell into. Furthermore, you have done your homework and have developed an extensive list of potential channel partners that you believe are well positioned in your targeted market areas and appear to have a proven track record of strong sales results. But what can you do to ensure that once you “sign up” a channel partner, you are doing everything you can to drive high levels of engagement and collaboration?
Numerous phone calls and emails are not an effective strategy. Deploying a customer relationship management (CRM) is not the answer either. A framework for successful engagement is based on the following core elements:
- Marketing & communication – the sales teams at the various channel partners need to have readily accessible marcom materials that they can use when selling and communicating with the end customers. These materials need to be co-branded for your company as well as each individual channel partner.
- Training and certification - your channel partners need access to on-demand training and certification courses to quickly ramp-up new employees, keep existing sales people up-to-date on the current product and service offerings as well as any new product launches. There needs to be visibility into this training environment by both your company and the channel partners’ management teams so the sales people can be monitored for compliance and held accountable.
- Performance Management – providing a tool for your partners to track and monitor performance across their organization is critical to providing visibility into their success drivers.
- Collaboration Tools - tools that allow the people on the front lines (channel partners’ sales teams) to have real time access to your product managers, fellow sales people and other channel partners. This connection is important so they can ask questions, share successes, and feel part of a supportive community.
You need a robust solution that will help manage all these critical elements. To successfully master the art of indirect selling you will need to consider implementing a partner relationship management (PRM) solution. A PRM system is a partner portal through which your channel partners are able to access all of the resources they need to sell and service your products. If you follow best practices and implement a robust PRM solution, you will maintain high levels of engagement and collaboration with your channel partners resulting in mutually beneficial relationships.