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featureed image Published 2017-10-05, by John Panaccione

The Simple Secret to Developing a Modern Sales Channel Strategy

I always look forward to reading HubSpot’s annual State of Inbound report. It’s full of interesting sales and marketing information and statistics, including top priorities and challenges from more than 6,000 respondents. More on this to come. First, let’s examine why these statistics are important.

Meeting the needs of today’s B2B buyers.

A common-sense approach to designing an effective sales strategy involves meeting two time-tested variables:  relevancy and timeliness. Merriam-Webster defines relevant as “having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand”, and timely as “coming early or at the right time”. For those selling through sales channel partners, there is complexity in making this happen.Inbound marketing techniques are a terrific way to naturally determine relevance.

We go from being insignificant to relevant when someone searching the internet for a solution to a problem finds something of value from our company. The result - our company is viewed as a thought-leader and we make it to a short list of companies they may buy from. 

What’s left?  Timeliness. These buyers may be conducting online research out of curiosity or they may need an immediate solution. In today’s B2B buying environment, manufacturers or sales channel partners who are discovered in the buying process early get the best sales leads. In fact, research from Forrester has shown that 74% of the time buying teams buy from companies that are the earliest if not first to help create a solution with a researching buyer.  

The graphic illustrates the four types of sales opportunities that are mapped to how timely and relevant a company’s solution is to a researching buyer. As simple and time-tested as this model is, seldom is it used to drive a sales channel strategy. 

Sales and marketing priorities and challenges.

As mentioned earlier, HubSpot’s 2017 State of Inbound report highlighted some important findings in this area. To summarize, the sales and marketing top priorities and challenges are as follows:

Sales Priorities:

  • Closing more deals (71%)
  • Improving efficiency of sales funnel (44%)

Marketing Priorities:

  • Converting contacts/leads to customers (70%)
  • Growing traffic to the website (55%)

Both sides agree that closing more deals and converting contacts/leads to customers are the top priorities. Sales’ second most important priority is improving the efficiency of the sales funnel; marketing’s second is growing traffic to the website. This makes sense since marketing should focus on generating more leads and sales should focus on driving a sales process with those leads. Priorities seem to be in order given the respective roles of sales and marketing.

Sales Challenges:

  • Growing traffic to the website (55%)
  • Closing deals (35%)
  • Identifying/prospecting good leads (30%)

Marketing Challenges:

  • Generating traffic and leads (67%)
  • Proving ROI (40%)

Driving B2B sales channel strategy using timeliness and relevancy.

Things diverge a bit when we look at the top challenges. The top two sales challenges relate to getting a response from prospects (leads) and closing deals from the leads that marketing has delivered. Yet, the top marketing challenge is generating traffic and leads that sales is claiming are tough to get a response from and close!  The third sales challenge relates to identifying/prospecting good leads – something every salesperson does anyway (and should) while the second marketing challenge is to proving ROI. Herein lies the tension between sales and marketing. 

Thanks to leading marketing automation platforms we can get a great deal of information about each lead, the companies they work for, how these leads engage with our company’s content, search terms that were used to find us, events attended, interactions conducted over time, and a great deal of other information.   We can design a lead scoring algorithm that assesses relevancy from this information. 

Creating a scalable method of generating leads that can be scored this way is not easy; a software stack, know-how, workflows and processes must be put in place. As a result, in a B2B sales channel, the vendor is increasingly taking the lead in developing this capability for the benefit of their sales partners given the level of sophistication required to do it right.  

Once a researching buyer converts to a lead and is recorded and scored high for relevancy - it’s a warm lead. It should immediately be assigned to a channel partner to run the sales play, continue to assess fit, and move it to an opportunity. The software stack must allow for the rapid assignment of these leads to the right channel partner. There is a short shelf life to these leads at this stage.

That leaves the assessment of timeliness. Diagnostic questioning by skilled sales reps can easily and effectively determine timeliness.  Opportunities in which the buyer must solve a problem right go from being a warm lead to a hot lead for the sales rep.  Both timeliness and relevancy now are confirmed.  Channel sales reps love these leads and vendors who can consistently deliver them to reps in the channel get the most attention. If it’s determined from a prospect that a solution is highly relevant but not yet timely, sales reps should continue to nurture these throughout the sales cycle.

In the sales channel, some things change, some things stay the same.

Creating a channel strategy that’s focused on building a pipeline of leads that find our companies’ offerings both relevant and timely is where marketing and sales need to align. Mapping this process between a vendor and its sales channel partners offers a scalable way to divide and conquer, efficiently allocating resources across the channel and driving marketing and sales process and related technology decisions. 

These priorities and challenges are nothing new to marketing and sales teams.  What is new are the ways in which buyers are approaching and entering the sales process. Optimizing the marketing and sales process in a sales channel requires addressing and adapting to new buying behaviors.  These behaviors require a shift in roles across the marketing and sales processes between a vendor and its channel partners. We discuss this topic in detail in our recent webinar, Right Place. Right Time. Adapt your lead management strategy or get left behind.  You can access a recorded version by clicking here.