4 Strategies to Create a Results Driven Channel Partner Technology Stack

Are you throwing technology darts at a wall and hoping they land near the bulls-eye?

We all know that technology can play a critical role in fixing challenging business processes.

But technology — by itself — isn’t a magic pill. Anyone who has dealt with the data silos, underutilized technology, and integration headaches all caused by the “throwing darts” method will attest to that.

The goal, then, is to move away from “random acts of technology” and create a logical, functional structure based on well-defined processes. Think of it as the drumbeat of your marketing technology.

If you’re new to the concept of technology stacking in marketing, here’s a quick primer: It’s the grouping of technologies that organizations use to conduct and improve their marketing activities, and are most often associated with making the difficult processes easier.

The conversation around marketing TechStack has largely been used in context of traditional B2B or B2C companies. Below, we explain the core categories required for channel-based selling organizations to build a successful ChannelTech Stack.

The four essential building blocks of a ChannelTech Stack are:

1. Communication

  • Build a closed loop and integrated communication flow between you and your channel partners.
  • Create lines of bi-directional communication
  • Disperse information in the right place (including mobile) at the right time so that lead quality increases, conversion rates improve and revenue generation increases

2. Engagement

  • Supply proactive relationship management whereby channel partners receive the sales support, product training/certifications, and incentives they need when they need it
  • Offer sales support in-context; don’t expect partners to seek it out (ie, portals)
  • Previously referred to as Partner Relationship Management (PRM), evolve your processes to a more active engagement at scale with a channel partner network

3. Orchestration

  • Map and optimize workflow related to finding, engaging, and converting customers
  • Look beyond the automation of repetitive tasks like Partner Marketing Automation, to orchestrating the entire sales processes

4. Insights

  • Expect better data on sales cycles, buying patterns, win/loss ratios
  • Analyze data in a single system of record for channel revenue execution

Building a ChannelTech based on these core principles leads to greater efficiencies, revenue optimization and competitive differentiation, but finding them all in a single platform, until now, has proved elusive. With a Channel Revenue Optimization platform like LeadMethod, companies can deploy their ChannelTech stack on a single platform.

In our next blog post, we’ll explore in more detail the features and functions of a well-designed ChannelTech Stack. Stay tuned.

3 Tips to Improve Communications with Channel Partners

Strategies for better engagement, participation, and results

Effective communication between colleagues and co-workers who all work under the same roof is tough enough. For companies that operate using an indirect sales model, the hurdles that stand in the way of effective communication can seem overwhelming.  

For all the obvious reasons, communication has long been a challenge for companies that sell through distributors or channel partners. And it’s hardly surprising why. Numerous systems and processes across multiple regions and multiple distributors is a recipe for inefficiency. Stuff falls through the cracks. Important stuff, like leads and opportunities. Cumbersome processes, outdated or irrelevant information and poor pipeline visibility all result from poorly executed channel communications.

That said, for those that get it right, communication can also be a major source of competitive differentiation From increased channel partner performance and better conversion rates to stronger, more mutually beneficial distributor relationships — the potential benefits are game-changers. Because at the end of the day, better communication makes it easier for your network partners to do their job of selling and servicing your products every day. So, what does effective channel communication look like?

1. Focus on simplicity

We call it the manufacturers’ “black hole” — when a sales lead or opportunity is sent to a channel partner and no one is quite sure what becomes of it. At least not easily. Was the lead contacted? Where is it in the pipeline? Is this information easily accessible in real-time or do you have to dig for it? Effective communication can and should give you crystal clear, up-to-the-minute pipeline visibility. To do this, focus on simplicity. Your channel partners or distributors are already overwhelmed with plenty of “noise.” Don’t add to the clutter by asking them to log-in to your special portal, or sift through generic emails combing for information relevant to them. Provide a solution that allows them to quickly and easily communicate the quality and status of each lead they receive.

2. Be helpful at the right time

Timely and contextual communication is critical to effective partner engagement. Sending information too early adds to the overload your partners are already experiencing. Not to mention, the longer the information sits before it’s relevant, the greater the chance that it will be forgotten or misplaced. Of course, information that is sent too late is useless. Be helpful by providing product line updates, sales materials and other updates by stage and location at precisely the right time. Your distributors will feel supported and be better positioned to convert opportunities into sales.

3. Create a closed communication loop

Channels communication and collaboration work best when both manufacturer and distributor are working from the same information at the same time. If feedback on the quality and needs of sales leads is limited, or acquired through call centers or blanket surveys, the result will be data that is dated, incomplete and unhelpful. The key is to create “a closed communication loop” in which both manufacturer and channel partner are communicating via the same platform in real-time. All parties can easily view the status, quality and needs associated with every opportunity — the kind of feedback and visibility that leads to huge gains in sales performance.

Want more expert tips on effective channel communication? We can help.

Why Channel Forecasting is a Challenge, and How to Fix it

The ability to see a clear view of current and anticipated sales has long befuddled companies who sell through distributor or channel partners.

And for good reason.

The challenge

Unlike traditional B2B or B2C sales models, companies that sell through distributors or channel partners often deal with a host of different systems, processes and even sales definitions. For large companies that might mean hundreds of disparate methods, which makes accurate and meaningful forecasting an inherently difficult process.

Sure, your channel tools may give you a clear view of the numbers at quarter’s end, but from a business performance perspective this information is too little too late to be meaningful.

And as much as you may want a tighter forecast, your arms-length relationship with your external partners means you have less control.  Plus, since your partner likely represents multiple vendors, is doesn’t make sense for them to provide separate forecasts for every vendor they work with.

The potential payoff

The ability to see a clear, real-time picture of your current and predicted sales has significant benefits to all aspects of your business performance, including your sales, finance and manufacturing teams.

Accurate financial forecasts are particularly important for publicly traded companies that provide quarterly guidance to investors. Manufacturing benefits from improved alignment between production and sales, preventing stock outs, optimizing inventory and aligning production schedules with actual market demand.

Meanwhile solid forecasts boost sales performance and promote realistic goal-setting. When you can eliminate weak opportunities from the pipeline, your partners can avoid wasting time and resources on an opportunity that is not likely to close.

Finally, a current view of the opportunity pipeline enables pipeline managers to identify early warning signals and glaring risks that may pop up, giving them a chance to tackle these issues at an early stage before they affect the performance of your partner.

Take the guesswork out of forecasting

Here are 4 strategies to fix a broken (or non-existent) forecasting process so you can gain crystal clear pipeline visibility:

1. Deploy a single, shared platform among your network of distributors for one overall system of record.  One connected network of channel partners all communicating and collaborating on the same platform about action items, deal status and opportunity tracking will give you the pipeline visibility required for accurate forecasting.

2. Single, shared definitions of deal stage and closing probabilities. If you are all speaking the same language — and seeing the same view of opportunities — it’s far easier to see an accurate picture of your overall pipeline across distributors, and react to it.

3. Near-time/real-time updates on deal progress made possible by integrated system and process integrated with how distributor sells. Leveraging data such as conversion metrics, response times and trend analysis provides an up-to-the-minute view of channel performance.

4. Closed-loop communication across all distributors in network. A real-time tool that enables ongoing feedback between you and your partners creates a “closed loop” around opportunity status, lead quality and needs — without the hassle or cost of surveys or call centers.

Adopt these 4 strategies and your channel sales forecasting efforts will go from cloudy to abundantly clear in no time.

 

5 Elements of a Successful Channel Engagement Strategy

For companies that sell their products through a network of channel partners and distributors, engagement is king. That’s because the more actively you engage, the more you sell.

According to SiriusDecisions, a whopping 79 percent of sales leads generated by the manufacturer are not contacted by the channel partner.

And traditional forms of engagement, such as follow-up phone calls or emails, are both ineffective and hugely inefficient.

The good news is, you don’t have to increase your marketing budget or generate additional new sales leads. The right engagement strategy should maximize every opportunity to sell to the leads you already have.

Here’s what you need to know to create an effective channel engagement strategy:

1. Connectivity. Manufacturers whose products are sold through dozens or even hundreds of network partners and distributors are least effective — read: convert fewer sales — when they rely on email and spreadsheets for sales execution. To overcome disparate systems and processes requires a connected network of channel partners communicating via the same platform. This kind of 360-view solution allows you see the status of every deal, and turn more leads into opportunities.

2. Visibility. You can’t fix what you can’t see. Once your pieces are connected, it’s critically important to base decisions on a real-time view of your pipeline status by distributor.

Rather than cross your fingers and hope that you’ll reach your sales goals, with a single data source on a unified platform you can gain up-to-the-minute insights into the the status and size of various deals. The data also offers important insight related to the performance of your channel partners.

3. Contextual Enablement. Keeping channel partners updated with the latest sales pitch, product positioning or new features is a challenge, particularly if they have to navigate your website or search through electronic catalogs to acquire the information they need. Or maybe you’ve got some material in your partner web portal, but they have to log-in to get it, let alone remember how to find it.

Either way, they’re likely seeing a sliver of what you have to offer and they may be missing the most powerful materials.

The solution is to provide sales and product information to your distributors at their fingertips, right when they need it. We call it contextual enablement, when you can deliver helpful, contextual information on-demand throughout the deal flow — all without relying on your channels to track down portals, catalogs or website information.

4. Optimization. Once you’ve established connectivity, visibility and contextual sales enablement, the next step is to create a continuous real-time feedback loop of communication to improve lead quality, deal conversion rates, and sales execution. When a distributor receives a lead, is it simple for him or her to score it? Are you wasting resources on a call center or sending out an email or paper survey to see if the lead is worthwhile?

Conversion rates go up when all your players share a common communications platform. Here’s the secret to performing this well: Keep it simple. If the task is complicated or requires extra steps, it will be ignored. Your solution should make it easy for your channel partners to score leads and communicate their status.

5. Insight. A  data-driven approach to understanding distributor performance prevents you from making decision based on assumptions. Without a single, unified view of channel performance, conversion rates, lead response times, not to mention your ability to spot trends or make revenue forecasts, is limited.

Data allows you to gain a 360-view of your channel network, including high and low performers, patterns over time and opportunities for improvement.  

Get these channel-engagement strategies right, and you will help your distributors sell more. A lot more.

See a winning channel engagement strategy in action. Request a demo

 

Improve Your Channel Partner Engagement

We recently conducted a survey to more than 3,200 manufacturing sales and marketing professionals and the message was clear: They need more engagement and feedback from their channel partners on sales leads.

Here is a key stat that we uncovered: Only 36% of companies get feedback from their channel partners on leads and opportunities. The big question is, as a sales or marketing manager, how are you supposed to make any data driven decisions when you don’t even know what is happening with leads or channel partners?

The good news is, 81% of companies believe that with the right process and software to communicate and collaborate with channel partners on leads and opportunities that they can increase revenue by 10-20%.

That’s really exciting!

Here is an info-graphic highlighting some of the challenges and the solution.

 

 

 

 

How to Double Channel Partner Sales Conversion Rates

There is no magic bullet when it comes to increasing the performance and revenue contribution from your channel partners.

It takes an integrated, systemic approach that brings together information sharing and performance reporting into a shared view.

Current “functional” approaches to lead sharing and deal tracking rely on emails and spreadsheets that lack a shared, collaborative view where lead status can be updated, opportunity stage is detailed, and a closed-loop feedback process is in place to keep companies and their channel partners aligned and executing.

CRM systems do not extend outside the four walls to adequately address the unique needs of enabling a channel sales program.

If you want to double conversion rates on current lead flow, then add a channel sales engagement platform to the mix. That is what we do here at LeadMethod and we have heard more than once that the companies using us for channel engagement deliver double the conversion rates vs. those who continue to rely on email and spreadsheets.

The impact comes from a single system that delivers, manages, and reports on lead and opportunity status.

That single system is further enhanced by deal stage specific sales materials so the questions that need to be addressed are available at the fingertips of you channel partner. Training and education is hugely important and often inefficiently delivered and retained so putting information “in context” creates a continuous education process. Updating materials is also improved as a single update and publish action replaces any other, out of date materials.

The great thing about increasing conversion rates is that it doesn’t require more leads or more program spend. You are actually just getting more out of your existing spend by creating a direct and integrated connection with each channel partner.

Interested in learning more? Let us know and we can put together a quick analysis to show you what kind of revenue increase you could get from increased sales conversion rates.

 

3 Metrics to Optimize Channel Revenue

W. Edwards Deming was quoted as saying “A goal without a method is nonsense.”

If your 2017 revenue plan called for increase channel revenue by some percentage or dollar amount, you have a goal. Great.

But do you have a method?

We work with companies who rely on their channel partners for a significant portion of their revenue and have found there are 3 key metrics to optimize channel revenue. Yes, there are many other things that can (and should be) measured but start with these and you’ll see a significant lift in your channel performance.

1. Lead Contact Rate

Seems like this should be 100%, but unfortunately it is not. Sales leads are generated and handed off to channel partners and often fall into a black hole of inaction and neglect. As Woody Allen once said, “80% of success is showing up” and if your channel partners are not “showing up” to follow up on leads, you are definitely not being successful and missing out on revenue opportunities. If you don’t know this rate, time to find out.

2. Lead Feedback Rate

This is a measure of what percentage of leads that you share with channel partners you receive feedback on with regard to quality, fit, or interest. Most companies do not have a closed loop feedback process in place and continue to feed leads to channels partners that are unwanted, unqualified, or worse. Oh, and this is probably directly related to the lead follow up rate above being abysmal.

3. Conversion Rate

This is the measure of what percentage of opportunities converts to transactions (ie, someone buys). You don’t need more leads or more channel relationships, you need to increase the conversion rate on the existing throughput of leads and opportunities being created in your channel. Better training, online/immediate access to important product information, and simply increasing the quality of leads provided (see #1 and #2 above) will move the needle here.

LeadMethod customers and their channel partners have doubled their conversion rates by applying a method to reach their goal. That method includes these three core metrics and is the focal point of what we deliver.

If you’d like to learn more about these important metrics or learn more about how we can help you optimize your channel revenue, let us know!

 

Channel Partner Sales Enablement

If you sell through a network of channel partners and distributors you understand that keeping them updated on the latest sales pitch, product positioning or new features is a challenge. And it’s no surprise that they are missing a lot of your new training material because they have to navigate your website or search through your electronic catalogs. Or maybe you’ve got some material in your partner web portal, but they have to login to get to it.

The fact is, they’re likely seeing just a sliver of what you have to offer and they may be missing the most powerful materials. A study by Sirius Decisions says that “only 30% of the content that marketing teams put together is actually used by sales.”

Why is that? The answer is simple: According to our research, your channel partners and distributors don’t know where to find this information.

You need an easy way to get your sales and product information to your distributors right when they need it most — when they’re following up on a hot sales lead. Well, we’ve created just the tool for you.

Introducing … Channel Sales Enablement, a core feature of the LeadMethod software platform.

Here is a 2 minute video showing exactly how the system works.

 

With LeadMethod your channel partners have the right information at the right time so they can close more deals.

Request a demo of our Channel Sales Enablement feature or call us at 800-406-5020.

 

Sales Pipeline Radio interview with LeadMethod CEO: Channel Engagement

Our CEO, Justin Johnson was recently interviewed by Sales Pipeline Radio.  Here is a link to the 20 min interview on the challenges and opportunities of selling through channel partners – distributors, manufacturers reps, dealers, or resellers.

In the interview Johnson discusses why having a clear process and the right software product for engaging channel partners on leads and opportunities is critical to increasing revenue, to the tune of 10-20%.

To achieve maximum revenue potential across your channel partners Johnson suggestions:

  1. Implementing a process and software to make it easy for channel partners to engage. This means not requiring them to login or learn CRM software
  2. Ask them simple and important questions to gather data on leads and opportunities
  3. Nurture channel partners with smart and timely emails and give them a process to quickly and easily update you as opportunities progress through the sales process
  4. Sales enablement is also very important, giving channel partners the right training information at the right time in order to sell more

Johnson also highly recommends having channel partner engagement software and the process tightly integrated with your CRM, so there is a transparency between systems. For reference, LeadMethod integrates with Salesforce, MS Dynamics, Sage, and dozens of others.

 

3 Ways Manufacturers Can Accelerate Sales

Suppliers that start to leverage data and metrics to optimize their channel partner relationships will see huge gains. Strong results will come when suppliers start to proactively manage and communicate with their channel partners in order to drive more revenue.

Understanding channel partner engagement with leads and opportunities is critical. For example, research conducted by LeadMethod shows that more than 70% of channel partners do not regularly follow up on leads and opportunities that are shared with them. That amounts to a significant number of missed sales.

Why it Matters

“Suppliers that embrace process change and software investments to better engage their channel partners will see significant growth. We recommend three core strategies: Understanding Channel Engagement, Creating a Process for Channel Feedback, and Providing Training and Sales Coaching” Justin Johnson CEO LeadMethod

And what about the feedback from channel partners on leads and opportunities? Did any of the leads turn into opportunities? Did any turn into sales? Suppliers consistently tell us that less than 20% of their channel partners provide them with feedback. A partnership can’t work properly when the 2-way communication between suppliers and their channel partners is completely broken.

But, it’s no surprise, channel partners are not given an effective tool to give feedback on what happened to the leads. So, there is a major disconnect between suppliers and their channel partners on lead status and sales pipeline analysis.

Suppliers that sell through channel partners must start to focus on the core metrics and activity that contributes to making the most of the partner relationship. Just having channel partners is not enough to maximize revenue potential, the relationship must be built on solid engagement and activity metrics to ensure growth.

Suppliers that embrace process change and software investments to better engage their channel partners will grow by more than 20%. We recommend three core strategies: Understanding Channel Engagement, Creating a Process for Channel Feedback, and Providing Training and Sales Coaching.

1. Understanding Channel Partner Engagement

Understanding channel partner engagement is critical in order to measure the effectiveness of partner relationships. Suppliers need to know if and how often channel partners are engaging with leads, opportunities, and repeat clients. For example, suppliers need to clearly understand if leads are being contacted by channel partners, and how fast the initial contact is happening. Also, is the lead being nurtured in a timely and effective way. Having a scorecard of these metrics is critical for measuring the effectiveness of each channel partner and identifying areas that need improvement.

2. Creating a Process for Channel Partner Feedback

Two-way communication with channel partners is essential for success. But it’s so much more than just an annual sales meeting or a quarterly status check-in call. Partners need a process and tool to quickly and easily provide feedback on leads, opportunities, and projects that they are working on.

The process and software must be easy to use and work with channel partner business processes and systems. LeadMethod, for example, is a channel lead management software program that makes it fast and easy for channel partners to provide feedback on leads and opportunities and integrates will all major marketing automation and CRM programs, making the solution really easy for the channel partner.

3. Providing Training and Sales Coaching

Suppliers have always struggled to engage their channel partners for training, sales coaching and product information. Suppliers offer their partners information on their website, catalog, intranet and some even offer an online partner portal. But partners have to login to a system and take the time to go hunt down the information when they need it. So, because partners don’t know where to find a lot of the supporting sales material, they just rely on the knowledge that they have picked up of the products and that often creates challenges and misinformed conversations with clients.

Suppliers need to position sales materials, product information and training when channel partners need it most – when they’re following up on a hot sales lead. We call this Partner Sales Enablement, giving partners the right information at the right time so they can close more deals.

In summary, suppliers that embrace process change and software investments to better engage their channel partners will see strong growth. We recommend three core strategies: Understanding Channel Engagement, Creating a Process for Channel Feedback, and Providing Training and Sales Coaching.

Click here to schedule a live LeadMethod demo or call 800-406-5020.

For the complete white paper published by the Sales Lead Management Association click here (PDF).