By their very nature, channel partners are fickle. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s just an inevitable outcome of the channel sales business, with several brands vying for the attention of any single dealer. Working with an indirect sales team might be a sound strategy for a company to expand its geographic reach quickly, or enter a new market without expending the resources necessary to develop an internal sales force, but along with its benefits for business growth, indirect sales brings unique challenges.
Channel partners (which could include anyone in a company’s network of independent dealers, resellers, and VARs) are not necessarily committed to selling one brand of product or service. You can’t force them to sell your products (as much as you might wish you could). But, you can entice them. All things being equal, channel partners tend to choose to focus their selling efforts on the brands that are easiest to work with. Your channel partners are as concerned about increasing sales as you are. Give them the tools to sell your products and satisfy their customers, and your business will grow along with theirs.
What tools can your company give its channel partners for more indirect sales?
1. A Way to Collaborate on Product and Process Improvements
Channel partners are on the frontlines of sales. They’re the ones who interact with the end customers and are often the first to receive feedback. They have their own ideas about what works and what doesn’t and they can be frustrated when their valuable input is overlooked. Give your channel partners a clear conduit to contribute ideas and acknowledge when their ideas have been received. Collaboration will increase channel partner sales throughout your network by enabling both sides of the partnership to tap into a global knowledge network.
2. Accessible Training and Certification Resources
You indirect sales team is successful selling your products when they understand your products and business practices. As those change over time, your dealers need access to the latest information. If your channel partners are going to represent your brand to customers, you want them, and their employees, to meet your corporate standards. Channel partner training and certification programs are often used for this, but they must be done intelligently. Partners should only be receiving the training that’s applicable to them and your company should have a centralized source of data on which of its dealers are already qualified (through a certification system) to sell and service your products.
3. Market Development Funds in the Right Place at the Right Time
Market development funds (MDFs) are distributed by manufacturers to their channel partners to support their local marketing efforts. They’re a useful tool to increase channel partner sales. Marketing is a major area of support dealers ask for. Understandably, all your channel partners will want access to market development funds, but they won’t be beneficial to your or your partners unless they are spent properly and effectively, aligned with your carefully planned marketing initiatives. Give your partners a clear process to apply for the funds for which they qualify as well as the ability to understand how your use of market development funds fits with your overall marketing plan.
Partner Relationship Management (PRM): One Tool Fits All
Taken one at a time, the cost to put the tools we discussed here into the hands of your channel partners can be prohibitive. But, modern channel management best practices call for implementing a system for unifying all interactions required for channel partner support within a single framework. This is called partner relationship management (PRM). Modern PRM systems allow channel partners to communicate and collaborate with a manufacturer, as well as access training resources and marketing support through a single web-based portal.