Sales managers understand that channel partner engagement is the lifeblood of successful indirect sales. The more effective your channel partner engagement program, the easier it is for your distributors to do their job of selling and servicing your products every day.
Market fluctuations and rapidly changing customer needs, however, have created an increasingly challenging environment for manufacturers. Meeting these challenges requires strong partner relationships. A company with disengaged channel partners will be poorly positioned to outmaneuver their competitors. Open dialogue and strong partnerships foster the collaboration and innovation necessary for success. That’s why effective communication is such an important element of channel management.
But the nature of the indirect sales model — you may be doing business with resellers around the globe — complicates this effort. Beyond geography, partners and resellers typically work with multiple suppliers making it even more important that your engagement plan stands out and builds partner loyalty.
Once established, a good engagement strategy has numerous benefits, including:
- Improved productivity and distribution numbers,
- Increased sales and commission numbers for dealers,
- More successful advertising and marketing campaigns, and
- Improved customer service along the entire channel.
All organizations these days are dealing with an overwhelming amount of information on a regular basis. Whether that information gets to the right person at the right time, without being perceived as burdensome, is the difference between effective channel communication and wasting your time (and theirs).
When creating and executing a partner engagement plan, there are a few key communication tips to keep in mind:
Be timely. To be effective, communications can’t be burdensome. Communications that are too frequent can get lost in the shuffle or leave the partner feeling overloaded. If the communications are not seen as helpful and supportive, they become useless. Consider adopting mobile-friendly communication tools that provide easy access to relevant information.
Be relevant. One of the key communication mistakes is caused by sending “blanket” information addressed to the entire sales network. It’s then left to the individual partners and their individual departments to sift through the information, looking for anything relevant to them. To be effective, communications must be contextual. It should provide 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.
Strike a balance. Sending information too early only adds to the overload that your partners may be experiencing. The longer the information sits before it becomes relevant, the greater the chance that it will be forgotten or misplaced. Alternatively, information that is sent too late is useless to your dealers. A careful balancing act is required. The more effective your overall communication strategy, the easier the balancing act becomes.
A distributor lead management software system improves your ability to execute targeted and helpful communications with your channel partners. With a lead management system designed specifically for distributor engagement, channel partners will have instant access to timely, context-based product information at their fingertips. As a result, your channel partners will feel informed, supported, and valued — the critical link to building strong partner engagement.
Business leaders today rely on data in order to make calculated, smart decisions for their organizations. To stay ahead of the competition and constantly changing business environments, seasonal trends or economic indicators are no longer good enough — particularly with the technology tools available today.
Data is the new currency of the digital age. Whether your company was born a digital native or not, every business needs to empower tracking and analytics systems and processes to ensure you’re meeting customer needs and not leaving money on the table.
Leveraging data provides insights that help you answer a host of key performance questions, which business owners and managers can turn into decisions and actions that can increase revenue.
You can manage what you can’t measure
One of the leading challenges faced by companies that sell through channel partners is pipeline visibility. Tracking and analysis of key performance indicators (KPIs), not to mention marketing effectiveness, is mere guesswork when a considerable chunk of your sales leads are handed off to outside distributors or reps outside the four walls of your business.
And without a clear understanding of key sales performance data and metrics, sales leaders can’t measure what is working and what isn’t working in order to grow their businesses.
You’re essentially throwing money at marketing and demand generation and crossing your fingers that something will stick. Or, you may be relying on past indicators that have already taken place — sales numbers or gross margin, for example. Yes, these are helpful but they won’t give you the complete picture. Regardless if sales are up or down this quarter or year-over-year, you want to be able to answer the questions of why it happened and how.
How to bring visibility to your sales pipeline
The first step to bringing visibility to your sales pipeline is to identify your sales KPIs. These should provide visibility into current sales activity that will impact future productivity. Tracking these indicators now will allow you to identify gaps and make future adjustments. KPIs for channel-based businesses might include:
- Lead contact rates — How many leads are being contacted versus assigned by distributor
- Lead contact speed — How long does it take a sales lead to be contacted once it’s assigned or accepted
- Lead-to-opportunity conversion rates — What percentages of leads convert to opportunities in your pipeline
- Sales cycle time — How much time does it take for a lead to become a sale
- Close or conversion rates — What percentage of leads convert to customers by distributor
- Channel pipeline revenue value — what is the total $ from the opportunities being managed by your channel partners and distributors.
Next, you need to engage with each of your channel partners to collect this data. The best way to do this is through regular, ongoing feedback. If your channel partners have the ability to quickly and easily provide feedback on the status of every lead they are assigned and at every stage of the customer journey, you’ll be ready to analyze your next move with clear, actionable data.
For example, you might discover that the speed-to-contact rate for Distributor A is 24 hours. And since you know that speed matters — faster speed to contact rates lead to higher conversion rates — you can then work with your partner to reduce that rate.
With actionable intel into which partners or regions or processes have room for improvement, you can put a strategy in place to move your business — and your relationship with your distributors and channel partners — in the right direction.
It all starts with putting tools in place to collect and connect all of your data in one spot. With this solid data foundation, you can gather insights, visualizations, and metrics that maximize the potential of every sales lead and support overall revenue growth.
LeadMethod is a software company focused on channel partner engagement and sales enablement, two factors that drive the most ROI and channel partner loyalty. LeadMethod works with more than 23,000 suppliers, reps, and distributors to better align their businesses for growth. LeadMethod clients see between a 10-20% increase in revenue and have stronger communication and collaboration with their channel partners. LeadMethod can be used as a stand alone system or integration with more than 65 CRM, marketing automation or ERP systems for a total solution.
LeadMethod in the news
- 5 Ways to Improve Distributor Feedback and Increase Revenue (Flow Control Magazine)
- Technology Helps Improve Communication Between Manufacturers & Distributors (Industrial Distribution Mag)
- Maximizing Sales Lead Opportunities (World Pumps)
- The Communication Problem in Channel Sales (Modern Pumping Today)
- Manufacturers Boost Sales with Lead Management Software (Industrial Supply)