How to Gain a Competitive Advantage with Channel Sales Enablement

Struggling to motivate an underperforming network of distributors or channel partners? Looking for ways to gain a strategic advantage over your competitors while maximizing channel sales? The problem may not be the distributor(s). The problem may be a lack of support.

Sure, any business with a network of indirect sellers can build revenue. But are you making the most of this relationship by maximizing the revenue contribution that can be obtained from them? This, in essence, is the goal of channel sales enablement. To optimize channel relationships for better revenue, happier distributors and strategic competitive advantage.

But how?

A rising tide…

As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats, and it’s an apt expression for channel sales enablement. The better you are at supporting your channel distributors with the resources they need to be successful, the better revenue gains for everyone.

To do that requires viewing the world through the lens of your distributors and channel partners.  What are their needs? How can you support them to better engage with potential buyers, and to ultimately increase the number of leads that turn into deals? Are you sending partners quality leads worth following up? Is it easy for them to provide ongoing feedback on the status of each one?

The distributor perspective is key as you work to anticipate their needs and provide the right product information at the right time. The tricky part is this: All this communication needs to happen without disrupting their daily activities or requiring them to do something new.

The problem with portals

Herein lies the problem with partner portals. They are easy for manufacturers, while inconvenient, at times irrelevant, and ignorable, for partners. Portals are a one-size-fits-all solution that puts the burden on the distributor to access during the right stage of the buyer journey. The information they access isn’t context aware, doesn’t have “right timing” going for it, and is not targeted specifically to a channel partner’s unique requirements.

Enter “context aware” sales enablement

Context aware sales enablement puts the right information into the hands of the right person at the right time. The reality of successfully executing this process, however, is no easy task. Particularly the timing element. Send information too early and it will be put aside and forgotten. Send it too late and it’s irrelevant.

To land in the “just right” sweet spot requires a shared platform for collaboration that is not adjacent to core workflow but integrated into it. That means it leverages email, resembles spreadsheets, and has a light but secure interface that is easily accessed from a desktop or mobile device.

Context aware sales enablement provides what portals can’t. It pushes contextual information to the channel partner by deal stage, product line, customer type, or geography. The criteria doesn’t matter as much as being able to segment and supply information based on their individual needs.

Here’s a real-world example of context-aware channel sales enablement in action.

Manufacturer A sells its products through channel partner B and uses a shared platform for real-time collaboration and engagement. As the channel partner is leading a potential buyer through the sales funnel, he or she has instant access to helpful product information, including data sheets, installation and maintenance pdfs, that help educate the buyer and win the deal. The channel partner doesn’t need to go searching for updates, or log-in to a portal. The information they need is in line with their activities as they receive a lead, update status, and track activity.

Manufacturer A has turned sales enablement into a competitive advantage and the revenue contribution of their channel partner increases as a result.

Sales enablement is an essential function to master and requires viewing the world from your channel partners’ point of view. Make it your mission to make them successful and you will be as well.

5 Channel Sales Strategies You Can Make Now

Challenging times are an opportunity for organizations to review their current processes and implement new strategies to drive growth for their businesses.

The key to instituting a change you can actually keep is to identify low-hanging fruit where achievable gains can be made quickly and easily.

The most common goal for companies who operate in the channel-sales space is to optimize the channel revenue execution process. But that’s the kind of nebulous resolution, by itself, that is hard to implement in a practical way. The better approach is to break up channel revenue optimization into manageable, easy-to-execute chunks.

Here are LeadMethod’s 5 Channel Sales Solutions for that are easy to keep and deliver rapid benefits:

1. Enhance forecasting and revenue visibility. Selling through partners without timely and accurate visibility to the entire sales pipeline complicates decision making and can lead to negative surprises at the end of the quarter. To improve forecasting and revenue visibility, both manufacturer and distributor must work from the same platform to successfully track and manage opportunities.

2. Improve lead and opportunity tracking. Without proper tracking, leads and sales opportunities invariably fall through the cracks. The result is lost revenue and wasted marketing dollars. Know exactly what happens to every lead at every stage of the sales process by aligning with how your partners sell.

3. Improve channel sales enablement. Channel partners are only as effective as you are at equipping them with the resources they need. To set partners up for success, provide “context aware” sales enablement that maps the right materials to the opportunity by stage, product, and scope.

4. Expand channel revenue contribution. When you depend on the channel for the majority of your revenue, you take actions that you expect to deliver results even though you are not directly involved in that execution. Get involved and drive the execution by aligning processes and systems with your partners.

5. Implement a closed-loop feedback process. Stop doing the things you have always done if you aren’t sure if they are useful or valuable. Give your channel partners a direct voice on the quality of leads you share by implementing a closed-loop feedback system.

These 5 strategies are easy to implement with the help of a technology partner committed to maximizing the revenue execution process for companies who depend on distributors. Talk with us to find out more.

How to Overcome Channel Conflict for Better Results

Google “channel conflict” and top results and definitions all relate to unwanted competition between business partners — sales reps, retailers, distributors, etc. Perhaps channel partners unnecessarily compete with one another for customers, or possibly even with the brand itself. What typically follows is financial losses and low morale.

Here at LeadMethod, when we share best practices for minimizing channel conflict, we take a different approach because we’re dealing with businesses that face a different problem.

From the distributor-based companies we work with, we regularly hear how channel conflict arises, not from partners undercutting a supplier, but from a disjointed and fractured lead nurturing process. This has traditionally been the achilles heal of the channel sales business model.

Here’s the rub: Suppliers get the initial lead and perform the initial nurture before passing it off to a distributor. Conflict bubbles up because this handoff isn’t as seamless, as it should be for the potential buyer. The timing and messaging are off, critical details are poorly communicated. Or maybe the supplier and distributor are stepping on each other’s toes.

To avoid this scenario, it’s critical that suppliers and distributors are aligned in both their messaging and in the timing of their nurturing. Suppliers should nurture when the lead has been captured to let the buyer know that Distributor A will be contacting them soon to deliver the quote and product details. Then, Distributor A’s nurturing takes over (and the supplier’s stop) to show the lead how to buy and service the products.

At the end of the day, all of these timing and communication hurdles can be mitigated by better visibility. If you can see in real-time the status and context surrounding every single lead in your pipeline, the root cause of channel conflict — disjointed communication — is no longer a factor.

The best and easiest way to avoid the negative impacts of channel conflict is to adopt a programmatic approach enabled by an underlying technology platform.

The programmatic approach is designed so that:

  • Products are aligned with the right distributors
  • There is visibility to how much lead volume is going to each distributor
  • Revenue visibility is available across all distributors
  • Distributors are provided a way to share accurate and timely feedback.   

To do this, you need a technology platform with a rules-based approach to lead assignment. This will allow you to get the right lead to the right distributor at the right time. And it will allow for the seamless transition of transferring a lead from the supplier to the distributor — unnoticed by the buyer — before the channel works the lead through its sales process.  

Where possible, a direct system-to-system connection can be made to enable the channel sales process. At a minimum, all players should have access to the same tracking and engagement system to understand status, needs, and next best actions in the sales process.

This kind of lead nurturing visibility is a proactive approach that diffuses channel conflict before it has a chance to begin. And the beneficiary of all this channel kumbaya? Your customers, and your bottom line. They enjoy a streamlined, consistent buyer experience that hits all the right notes at the right time. You experience a healthy uptick in sales.