In Physics 101, we learned that friction occurs when two moving surfaces rub against each other, generating resistance that slows—or stops—their progress. This is a good metaphor for the sales channel. Channel friction occurs when difficulties in the processes for doing business between a manufacturer and its sales partners get in the way of profitable partnerships, or lead them to dissolve entirely.
What we've learned in the physics can easily carry over into the sales world. A certain amount of indirect sales channel friction is bound to occur, but it can be minimized and managed with the right strategies. The following four best practices are built into all well-engineered, smoothly-functioning, profitable sales channels.
1. Effective and relevant communication
Like everyone in business, partners in the sales channel are bombarded with email, phone calls, and other forms of communication on a daily basis. Their inboxes are almost always full with all kinds of messaging, some of it relevant, some of it completely useless. Smart channel managers don’t contribute to their partners’ mailbox clutter. They send messaging that is specifically tailored to their partners’ role in the sales network and nothing else.
2. Clear pathways to collaboration
Truly effective communication goes both ways. While channel partners receive relevant information from a manufacturer whose brands they sell, they should be able to pass on what they’ve learned about products and processes from serving on the front lines of the sales force. They should also be empowered to share information with each other, sharing best practices partner to partner, in a forum managed and overseen by the manufacturer.
3. Performance management and measurement
Strategizing for channel success is largely a data-driven undertaking. Channel managers should have easy access to information on their channel partners’ performance so they can effectively deploy training and marketing resources to the right partners in the right locations.
4. Accessible training and certification resources
Manufacturers are the experts on their own products. The purpose of online training, classroom training, assessment, webinars, and other learning activities is for manufacturers to share with their partners what they know about their products and how best to sell them, in accordance with company goals and business objectives. But, partners feel training on what they already know is a waste of time. Like communication, training should be role-based and documented, so manufacturers and partners have a way to see what they have already learned and what they still need to learn.
The perfect tool for lubricating sales channel friction? PRM.
The goal in talking about thiese four best practices is a unified framework for all the activities required for a smoothly-functioning, low-friction sales channel. This is called partner relationship management (PRM). Businesses that market products or services through a network of dealers or resellers are turning to web-based PRM systems to create a single point-of-contact between them and their dealers. These types of systems smooth friction by making it easier for partners to do business with manufacturers through a single portal for communication, collaboration, performance management, and training.