Building a Sales Pipeline with Channel Partners
The other day I was speaking with a client whose products are sold through direct and indirect sales channels. This client relies on channel partners to sell their products in Europe. He was telling me about their 90/10 experience – that is, 90% of European sales were generated by 10% of partners. His response generated several questions:
Why do you think the 90/10 scenario occurs?
Is this experience consistent with your U.S. manufacturing reps?
What should you provide your channel partners in terms of product messaging and channel marketing support?
What sales and promotions do you offer partners and reps?
What could you as a manufacturer do differently to improve and broaden channel sales?
Some answers were known, others were not as clear, which begs the bigger question:
What Do Dealers and Manufacturing Reps Want?
Your channel partners are on the front lines when it comes to representing your company, your products and services, engaging prospective customers and keeping current customers happy. It’s in your best interest to equip them with the tools and support necessary to effectively sell your products and services.
Here are some of the things dealers want, and how you can provide them:
1. Attention & Recognition
There needs to be a channel for two-way feedback and cooperation. While they don’t need (and you don’t want) handholding, regular outreach and acknowledgement will reassure dealers that they are important to your company and its goals. You can provide this affirmation by increasing the frequency and decreasing the length of training, email newsletters, and other interactions. By highlighting individual dealers in social media, case studies, etc., not only does it make them feel appreciated, but it also personalizes your marketing (puts a face to your brand), which draws attention to your company as a whole. Providing product messaging and content (such as product pages for the website and email newsletters) with the ability to co-brand shows that you are interested in helping their business grow.
2. Honesty & Clarity
“Truly successful channel relationships are driven by how suppliers arm partners to make selling their products and services as easy as possible,” says CEB. The ease of doing business with channel partners often hinges on trust. Be straightforward when answering questions and communicating issues. Maintain standardized pricing and offers whenever possible. Implement clear, across-the-board policies that all dealers can follow. Efficiency is also important. It won’t matter if you're honest about problems if you don’t give your partner adequate notice or time to fix it.
It is important to be aware of the various buying environments in which your dealers are working, especially if you sell internationally. For example, you might decide to hold a raffle through your company blog, but differing sweepstakes laws would make including international customers problematic. If you do the raffle, you are left with the choice of either risking legal problems or excluding a large base of customers. (Consumer Advertising Law Blog has a helpful series of posts on the challenges of running international sweepstakes.) It is best to avoid activities that are discriminatory and/or increase complexity for dealers.
Make it easy for dealers to promote your products in their own way, to their customers. Put standards in place, but make them adaptable. Design marketing materials (such as those co-branded web pages and email newsletters) for translation and localization. And keep in mind that different cultures have different sensibilities — what is funny to you might be perceived as offensive or just foolish to someone else. Check out this MarketingProfs post about American companies marketing to Europe.
Following the above steps — recognizing dealer work, communicating openly and honestly, and understanding each dealer's unique customer base — will help boost the performance of all your channel partners. For those who continue to underperform compared to their peers, an honest assessment regarding the value they provide is warranted.