Selling through channel partners is the prevailing distribution method for manufacturers, especially in industries that sell complex products, such as heavy construction, agriculture and mining equipment, and technology products. While the indirect sales model serves manufacturers well, the digital age has changed how we interact with each other and our expectations as consumers. We want things quickly, from goods and services, and information, to communication with others; and we typically demand that each be delivered digitally.
In order to meet the expectations of end users and customers—as well as the dealers themselves—the indirect distribution model has undergone a transformation to adapt to online and digital business processes. Technology systems to help manage the channel are typically delivered through software as a service (SaaS) model. What was once known as Dealer Portals, has evolved into Partner Relationship Management (PRM) platforms focused on the expanding needs of manufacturers that sell via dealers and distributors.
The transition to digital, and then to online and cloud-based dealer portals, hasn’t been smooth for many businesses. Challenges like implementation, training, reporting, and enablement are faced by any business making the digital switch. For those who sell indirectly, these issues are further complicated because they work with a network of independent sales partners. One of the overarching challenges of working with an indirect sales channel is that sales partners are external companies with their own business processes and goals, meaning digital transformation has to be exceptional, or manufacturers risk losing sales or worse losing partner relationships.
While each distribution channel is unique, there are a few underlying challenges every manufacturer faces when selling through independently owned and operated resellers.
LogicBay has identified six key areas of excellence for managing a distribution channel with digital platforms. They are:
We’ll cover each of these areas and point out opportunities to excel, and share how a PRM platform with predefined workflows ensures optimal results.
The first step of any indirect sales channel is to effectively recruit and onboard the right dealers. From there, the goal is getting these dealers ready to sell and service products efficiently. Let’s start with recruitment.
Recruiting new dealers is an ongoing process for manufacturers, especially those looking to grow their business. The first step, which is critically important, is to have an understanding of your ideal dealer to sell and service your products. Much like a buyer or customer persona, your ideal dealer profile helps you connect with the right kinds of businesses that’ll produce new opportunities—and ultimately generate more revenue and improved relationships with the end customer.
In addition to knowing who to target, building out a go-to-market strategy for your indirect channel can help make the right connections. It will also help you map out and articulate your unique value proposition to your dealers. Good marketing shouldn’t just be saved for end users and customers—marketing to your dealers is equally as important.
Recruiting the right dealers is one thing, but once you have them initially engaged, you need to support them, enable them to succeed, and motivate them to focus on selling your products over the competition. This means setting them up for success from day one with a well-thought-out onboarding process. Effective onboarding will lead to immediate sales success with new dealers and arm your channel with the right materials and tools and sell your products. But what does an efficient onboarding process look like?
While there is always an element to onsite relationship building, the bulk of the onboarding process happens digitally. Onboarding materials, like documentation and video tutorials, should be easily accessible. With a PRM solution, you can manage all the documentation your dealers need to get started. Content and training can be delivered to the right individuals by role, and activity can be monitored to see how dealer employees are progressing through the onboarding tasks. If progress is slow or stalled, notifications can trigger immediate check-ins to offer support.
Onboarding should address both the technical aspects of working with your brand (your PRM and any other applications or services), as well as your business processes and information about the products the dealers and distributors will be selling and servicing. A thoughtful and scalable onboarding process is key to getting off on the right foot with any new dealer.
Sales channels are notorious for conflict. Whether your dealers’ target markets overlap geographically or, in an online environment, demographically, conflict can cause tension and impact sales, if dealers are competing over the same business. Effective lead management includes dealer lead registration, the ability for a manufacturer to pass leads down to the right dealer, status updates tied to notifications, and CRM integration at the manufacturer and dealer level. The combined solution provides 360 degree visibility, ensures accurate sales forecasting and minimizes channel conflict.
Notice how we said “minimize” channel conflict. Some competition between dealers can be healthy, and conflict is unavoidable with “border zone” dealers, whose territories or demographics overlap. But minimizing conflict through selecting the right partners and having a documented process for handling conflicts helps resolve issues before they impact sales.
A PRM solution is vital to managing lead flow in the digital age. From the perspective of the channel manager, a PRM provides real-time data on your entire sales pipeline. Whether its leads you have brought in from your brand’s marketing efforts or deals your partners have registered from their own outreach, you have complete visibility into your pipeline at your fingertips with PRM. One central system, like a PRM, compiles all the information from your whole channel for you, saving time and resources of your team trying to chase down and manually enter every lead coming in from dozens of places. This helps predict conflict and prevent tension when distributing leads to partners.
When you’re using the right PRM, dealers can access everything they need to manage the marketing and sales efforts for your products from one place, and deal registration is simple and seamless. In addition to ease of use for the entire channel, a PRM with the right functionality can actually foster collaboration, which helps improve close rates and increase sales.
Onboarding is critical to getting partners off on the right foot, but ongoing training and certification programs keep them engaged and on the right path. Sales enablement is the process of aligning the goals and expectations of an external sales staff, while providing the technical expertise to service technicians helps generate service revenue at the dealer level, and improves customer satisfaction.
Enabling sales partners is different from enabling internal sales reps. Communicating the value of additional training and enablement materials is extremely important for the distribution channel. Enablement and training take extra time, so their value has to be made apparent, and accessing them has to be easy. An effective PRM must have a comprehensive Learning Management System (LMS) built in to host, track, and report against training and enablement programs.
Training typically comes in one of two forms:
Each has their own benefits to the dealer employees, and most manufacturers will find the need to offer both types, based on the audience being served. Individual training content in the form of online courses or in-person classes should be delivered as part of a curricula or certification program that ensures the learner emerges with the skills they need to do their job more effectively. The degree to which you can make it easy for your dealers to access the training that is most relevant to them, the greater the return on investment will be.
The internet and cloud-computing have given us a whole host of business technology solutions, but no matter the productivity boosts or process enhancements they offer—if they’re not communicating with each other, there will be miscommunication and disconnected data. Especially within a dealer network, the need to access multiple systems is usually required simply to conduct business on a daily basis.
A PRM system acts as a central data hub for your sales channel. In addition to the information and tools your channel partners need, including training courses, marketing materials, deal registration, and incentives, your PRM should also support an integration strategy that allows members of your dealer network to access the right systems based on their job role.
At LogicBay, we’ve partnered and integrated with leading technology companies to help ensure a solution that meets the unique needs of the manufacturing sales channel. This includes Sisense for reporting, Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics 365, and HubSpot for CRM, HMI Performance Incentives for fulfillment, and DocuSign for electronic contract management. In addition to these out-of-the-box integrations, we have also designed our solution to easily integrate with client and third party systems to function as a comprehensive channel management solution for manufacturers and their partners.
Since channel sales partners often work with a variety of product lines (some might even stock your competitors’ products), you’re constantly competing for dealer mindshare. In addition to being easy to do business with, incentives that align with known actions and behaviors that result in successful outcomes ensure optimal results.
There’s a variety of incentives you can offer on all an individual, department, and company level. One incentive method that’s popular is offering redeemable points to individual employees at the dealer level for participating in training, or for achieving certain performance goals. While this works on an individual level, incentives that address a partner company as a whole can build sales and strengthen relationships.
Market development funds (MDF) are one way to help your partners at a company-wide level. Dealers can apply for funding to develop marketing campaigns on your behalf. But oftentimes, the process to apply for funding can be complex for dealers, and managing and tracking MDF programs is difficult for the channel manager. A PRM platform can streamline both the application process for partners and managing MDF programs for the channel manager.
We’ve talked about the variety of ways a PRM system can be a centralized hub for the various business activities required of a manufacturer and their dealer network. The more processes and programs being supported within a given environment, the more important it becomes, to track your channel’s performance with customizable reports and dashboards.
With an emphasis on measuring channel performance, it’s imperative to measure what matters for your channel and pave a path of progress toward your business goals. There are five categories of key performance indicators (KPIs) to capture the performance of your sales channel:
Each channel is unique, so it’s important to focus on what matters for your business. Our PRM allows you to customize dashboards with the reports that matter, making it easier to understand the health and performance of your channel, and to have immediate access to actionable data.
Partner Relationship Management is about making it easy for dealers and distributors to effectively and efficiently sell and service your brand’s products, and providing the right support throughout the partnership to achieve mutually aligned goals.
At LogicBay, we’ve been delivering Partner Relationship Management solutions since 2005. Our platform has been evolving to meet the changing needs of the manufacturing industry and adaptation to new digital capabilities. We strive to help manufacturers, large and small, achieve growth and foster opportunities to innovate and serve customers more effectively.
Are you thinking PRM may be right for your business? Get a demo of the LogicBay platform customized to address the unique needs of your sales channel.