3 Tips for Successful Channel Partner Nurturing

In a channel sales model, manufacturers generate leads for their channel partners and distributors. Done right, these leads are first scored based on their priority and then passed to the appropriate channel partners for follow up.

What’s happens next, might be less clear. Were the leads contacted? How fast? Was a quote offered? Did the lead turn into an opportunity?

That initial sales lead outreach is just the first step of a critical relationship management process known as lead nurturing. Just as B2B or B2C brands nurture prospects along the buyer’s journey for better sales results, so too can manufacturers nurture their channel partners.

Lead nurturing is essentially relationship building. In the channel sales environment, it’s the process of maintaining relationships with distributors or partners throughout every stage of the funnel. It focuses communication efforts on listening to the needs of channel partners, and providing them with the information and answers they need to better sell your product throughout each step of the end-buyer’s journey.

The key to a successful channel partner nurturing program is the ability for both manufacturers and channel partners to easily communicate about the status of a sales lead in real-time.

Here are 3 key elements to a high-functioning channel nurturing program:

1. Frequent and consistent communication around sales opportunities.

You send a high score (priority) lead to a distributor and expect the lead to be contacted within 48 hours. Let’s say the lead was not contacted within that time frame and the customer is still waiting. You can initiate an automated email nurture to that distributor salesperson as a reminder to contact the potential client. In another example, a lead has been labeled an open opportunity for more than 30 days and you would like to know if the distributor has either quoted the customer, sold the product, or lost the deal. Initiate a distributor lead nurture to remind them after 30 days to quickly update you on the lead status.

2. Provide relevant help at the right time.

Once you know the status of the leads in your pipeline, you can then help your distributors by providing contextual sales information that will be useful to them at the right time. Sending information too early increases the chance that it will be forgotten or misplaced. Information sent too late is useless. Good channel nurturing provides product line updates, sales materials and other updates by stage and location at precisely the right time, which will better position your distributors to convert opportunities into sales.

3. Easy and real-time way to provide feedback.

Effective nurturing in the channel is a two-way street. Distributors need to be able to communicate with you as easily and clearly as you communicate with them. 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. Leads are less likely to fall through the cracks, and outdated or irrelevant information isn’t contaminating the process.

Distributor nurturing is a great way to gently remind distributors to communicate lead status during every stage of the buyer journey.

But how do you do this when everyone isn’t working from a shared platform? They answer is, you don’t.

Communicating with channel partners on a single platform makes executing a lead nurturing program easy by enabling a two-way flow of communication and feedback in real-time. You product stays front and center without ever sending an email, making a phone call or logging into a portal.

When researching channel nurturing tools, look for a platform that allows distributors to quickly update you on a lead’s status without the requirement to log-in or learn software. LeadMethod, for example, only asks distributors to click buttons from their phone to update manufacturers on a lead status. It’s about as easy as it gets. A sound nurturing program that emphasizes these fluid communication and collaboration elements will help you create a strong and productive relationship with your business partners.

For more information on distributor nurturing, let us show you how the LeadMethod program works.

Increase Channel Revenue by 20% Without Increasing Your Marketing Budget

According to SiriusDecisions, as many as 78 percent of sales leads receive no follow-up. That’s a figure sure to keep CFO’s and VP of Sales awake at night. But that 78 percent number also represents a source of incredible opportunity. By simply creating a process to contact more leads — and therefore better understand why current leads go uncontacted — what kind of revenue increase could result?

If timely and proper lead follow-up is a challenge for companies with internal sales teams surrounded by four walls, it’s easy to see why the poor lead follow-up problem is exacerbated significantly in a business model where sales leads are handed-off between different companies.

For one, channel partners sell numerous products from numerous providers, which in and of itself makes it all too easy for opportunities to fall through the cracks. The process is further complicated because manufacturers and distributors are working from different systems, workflows, and even time zones. And therein lies the challenge: No one company controls the lead-to-revenue process. As a lead generator, you hand-off  a sales lead to what can be described as a black hole. Was it a quality lead? How soon was it contacted? What is the lead’s real-time status in the pipeline? What do my distributors think about a lead’s quality and closability?

When this information doesn’t readily exist, the result is costly.

And not just in terms of inefficiencies and workarounds, but in actual real dollars of revenue being lost due to slow or no follow-up, poor sales enablement, or lack of communication.

Rather than spend more budget on generating new leads, there is significant value to be uncovered when you focus on maximizing the revenue potential that are already exists among your current leads. To do that, requires:  

Visibility. We’ve all heard that you can’t fix what you can’t see, and that idiom holds true here. Does your current system give you an accurate, real-time picture of your sales pipeline, as well as future sales projections? What’s your cost of customer acquisition, and your conversation rates by distributor? It’s difficult to measure, plan and improve without tools that deliver this kind of business-critical information. The alternative is throwing your marketing dollars at a board and hoping they land near the bullseye.

Distributor Engagement. Close collaboration, communication and constant feedback are key components to creating a relationship with channel partners that yields higher close rates. To do this, build in a mechanism that increases communication and enables a true feedback loop on the quality and status of each lead you generate.

Data-driven Decisions. By gaining a clear picture of contact rates, engagement metrics, and deal progression, conversion rates from existing lead flow will naturally increase. Data will also help you identify high performing channel partners  versus those that need extra attention, and will aid in distributor acquisition and retention.

When these three elements — visibility, distributor engagement and data-driven decisions — work in unison from a single platform, channel-based businesses can experience a 300 percent increase in channel engagement and a 20 percent increase in revenue. Now those are the kind of figures that will have you sleeping soundly.

Click here to request a playbook on how to increase revenue through better channel partner engagement.

Lead Scoring Playbook for Manufacturers That Sell Through Distributors

Are your distributors receiving sales leads that are clearly ranked in terms of their sales potential?

Treating all leads as equals is not only inefficient, but also inhibits revenue potential (spending time and resources on an unlikely buyer, while a higher-potential opportunity sits idle). This is why prioritizing sales activity — known as lead scoring — is so critical to business performance. It allows sales professional to focus more time on active selling to the right leads and less time on administration, qualifications and research.

If you’ve been following our blog, you’re familiar with the advantages of lead scoring in the channel. If not, you can catch up by reading the 4 Important Benefits of Lead Scoring in the Channel, where we explain what lead scoring is and spell out why it’s so valuable in an indirect sales environment.

In this blog, we’ll take lead scoring a step further and examine best practices for creating channel-specific lead scoring criteria. You’ll learn in greater detail how to define and apply an actionable set of lead scoring criteria for ranking the perceived value of each lead. Armed with this information, sales can then better prioritize and act on those leads deemed more qualified and ready for engagement over those that aren’t.

We’ve found that lead scoring models in the B2B sales space, where points are assigned to pageviews, email clicks, and other engagement statistics, can result in complexity to the point where the core purpose of prioritization is lost. Applying lead scoring to the channel requires a different and more direct approach than traditional direct selling models.

As manufacturers generate leads for their distributors, they should focus on these five criteria:

1. Does the lead match my Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)?

An Ideal Customer Profile is a known and agreed to set of criteria on what makes a great customer. This could be company size, location, industry, or other metrics that inform you who is most likely to buy the product or solutions you sell.

2. Does the lead match my target persona?

Does the title and/or responsibility of the prospect match who you are trying to reach in the organization that has decision-making authority, budget authority, or any other key consideration in the buying journey?

3. What is the source of the lead?

Did it come from a trade show as a result of a passing conversation or a direct quote/pricing inquiry on the website? Was it a marketing-generated lead from a campaign or a highly qualified sales lead based on pre-screening criteria? The source is often a strong indicator of qualification level.

4. What is the level of interest?

Related to the source above but any contextual information related to where a prospect is in the buying cycle – information gathering, committed to a path, comparing products, ready to buy — will help determine a lead’s ranking.

5. What is the opportunity/deal size?

This often requires further sales qualification, but inquiries around certain products or solutions can signal the potential revenue related to a lead. Deal size is an important criteria in prioritization but can also become a distraction if sales professionals chase the largest potential deal sizes at the expense of others. Be sure this metric is viewed in conjunction with the others.

Using this set of criteria, your marketing team doesn’t need to generate more leads in order to see revenue gains. You need only to prioritize the ones you already have — distinguishing the hot leads from the cool ones based on the above set of criteria — before sharing them with your channel partners. With leads that are prioritized based on their sales potential and that contain key contextual information, channel partners will be better prepared to convert more opportunities into sales.

Help Channel Partners Sell More with Lead Scoring

Not all sales leads are created equal. Some leads, because they match your buyer persona or because they have shown a strong interest in your product or service, have a higher probability of becoming conversions. Other leads, because they don’t fit that criteria, are less likely to convert and may actually end up costing you valuable time and resources. As in, your distributor spent too much time chasing an unlikely buyer, while your hot lead was contacted too late.

Sending leads to channel partners or distributors that haven’t been scored is at best inefficient and at worst setting them up to lose. Lead scoring is important because it helps determine the quality of your leads, which are ranked according to their sales potential. Often, the leads that show more interest in your product/service offering and those that fit your ideal buyer persona or target market will be tagged with the highest scores.

Ranking leads by priority from highest to lowest has numerous benefits for companies that sell through channel partners and distributors, including the ability to:

1. Effectively allocate resources

Knowing which of your sales leads have the highest potential to buy is key to effectively allocating your resources and optimizing your sales and marketing budget. The first step is to determine the criteria for assigning values to your leads, which is based on a host of buyer data. The criteria you set will ultimately guide your channel partners as they track and follow up on your prospects, and will help filter out those that are more or less likely to convert. This process will prevent you and your distributors from wasting time and money on bad leads.

2. Establish priorities

Determining whether a lead is “hot” or merely “lukewarm” before you send it to a distributor helps them prioritize their day and signals which leads should be contacted first. Rather than throwing all leads in the same priority bucket, higher priority leads are contacted first while lower priority leads can be given a longer follow-up period. You can even use your service level agreement (SLA) to address this. For example, a high priority lead must be contacted within four hours of receipt, while a lower score trade show lead can be allotted 48 hours.

3. Increase sales productivity and conversions

Lead scoring helps suppliers give distributors the information they need to personalize their sales pitch to customers. The scores also determine which nurture campaigns to place your leads in and the best time for channel partners to engage with those leads. And the more you are able to prioritize quality leads over cold leads, the faster you and your channel partners will see those conversion rates increase.

4. Improve partner engagement

All the benefits of lead scoring noted above will help contribute to a higher-performing channel relationship. But for indirect sellers, the benefits of lead scoring go beyond greater efficiencies and higher productivity. Suppliers who sell in the channel or distributor space know that partner engagement is an ongoing struggle. A manufacturer that can communicate lead priority, and provide additional supporting data, gains a competitive advantage over suppliers that don’t. The outcome of that higher-value communication is channel partners that will sell more and be better engaged with your brand.