In 2019, help your channel partners be more productive

If your goal in 2019 is to hit new revenue targets, improving the productivity of your channel partners and distributors can help get you there. In fact, nearly 80 percent of sales executives believe increasing the productivity of an existing sales force is critical to reaching revenue goals.

Enhancing productivity doesn’t require adding new sales partners or increasing your marketing budget, but it does require taking a closer look at the efficiency and effectiveness of your current lead management process.

When we talk about sales productivity we’re talking about maximizing the time your external partners spend on the most high-value sales activities — such as lead contact and nurturing — and minimizing the resources (time and money) needed to accomplish them.

In the indirect sales space, manufacturers are responsible for capturing leads, but very often the hand-off to channel partners is messy. Read: inefficient and ineffective. This is largely due to a lack of visibility into the process between manufacturers and their distributors, which has always been a challenge given that they operate independently.

A survey of 132 sales and marketing execs revealed that sales reps spend half their day searching for content and on administrative tasks, and only a third of their day actually selling. For channel sellers, this productivity problem is exacerbated by the indirect nature of the sales model. Here’s why.

The less productive channel partner

An unproductive channel partner logs-in to portals or CRMs from dozens of different manufacturers who send them sales leads in various formats. Some of those leads arrive via email, others in spreadsheets. Leads aren’t prioritized so the external sales reps spend time on lower-value leads at the expense of higher-value ones. Leads may not be qualified — missing critical data such as email, phone or website info  — forcing the channel partner to spend extra time tracking it down. The result is a high rate of uncontacted leads and/or a slow speed-to-contact rate, and productivity is diminished.

The productive channel seller

By contrast, a productive channel partner accepts qualified sales leads instantly to his or her preferred device without having to go look for it. Because leads are well qualified, the distributor has contextual information — industry, location, or company size by employees or revenue — which make them more actionable. As the channel partner begins the process of nurturing a buyer through the sales funnel, they have instant access to helpful product information, including data sheets, installation and maintenance pdfs, that help educate the buyer and win the deal. All the while, each deal stage and activity status is being tracked in real-time so manufacturer and channel partner can quickly see where barriers pop up and can adjust the process to overcome them.

Get started

The key to improving partner productivity is to take a closer look at your lead sharing process. Here are 4 ways to start maximizing partner productivity.

1. Take stock. Start by documenting your baseline sales process so you have a clear sense of where you’re starting from. Once your entire process is mapped out, look for the areas that distract your channel partners from valuable selling time or that create bottlenecks, such as lead hand-offs, lead qualifying or lead prioritizing.

2. Get help with your data. Streamlining data collection is one of the most time-intensive and inefficient steps of the lead management process. It’s a lot of work for distributors to organize the myriad leads coming from dozens of manufacturing partners. Partnering with a professional services team that can collect and organize all your leads into a consistent database format is a significant time-saver.

3. Qualify and score. Each lead should be ranked or scored to determine its priority level. That way, distributors can quickly determine the highest-value leads to be contacted first.

4. Inform to win. Insist that sales leads shared with your distributors contain critical contact details as well as valuable market details, such as SIC code/description, company size, website, address, etc. With this information — make sure it’s quick and easy to access — your external sales team will be armed with more customer knowledge, which leads to higher win rates.

Ultimately, the key to improving partner productivity is ensuring that they have access to the same tracking and engagement system to understand the status, needs, and next best actions in the sales process.

The best sales technologies automate these activities for you. Instead of spending hours filtering through leads or tracking down product information, a channel partner could use a tool that gives them access to everything they need to nurture a lead at the exact time they need it.

Remember, maximize the selling time of your channel partners and minimizing resources needed to accomplish your revenue goals is the key to improving partner productivity. If the answer to the question, “does this activity help my channel partners nurture my prospects?” isn’t a resounding yes, it’s time to look at another approach.

Want more expert strategies for improving partner productivity? Drop us a line, we would love to chat.

How to keep your channel partners and distributors happy

To improve the engagement, loyalty and productivity of your channel partners, it’s critical you take the time to focus on their satisfaction.

When managing an indirect sales ecosystem, it’s important to remember that you are  competing with other manufacturers for sales partners. This is true both in terms of recruiting partners in the first place, as well as maintaining positive mindshare when a partner may be working with multiple suppliers.

The more attractive you can make working with your business, the easier it will be to keep your external sales team enthusiastic about the partnership. Undoubtedly, your company will grow faster if you invest in engagement strategies with your channel partners.

For companies with a distributed sales teams communication breakdowns are the Achilles’ heel of channel sales business model. This breakdown often emerges due to a fractured lead nurturing process.

Communication hurdles can be mitigated, however, by better pipeline visibility. For example, if both supplier and seller can see in real-time the status and context surrounding every single lead, the cause of channel frustration — disjointed communication — is no longer a factor.

Let’s take a look at strategies you can implement now to improve visibility and communication, thereby boosting channel partner productivity and morale.

Make it easy

One of the biggest frustrations we hear from distributors is that working with suppliers is too complicated and requires too many different systems.

Ideally, you want to share leads and communicate about lead status and quality in a way that is fast and easy for your partners. You might have heard that portals can bridge this gap, but in reality the opposite is true. A portal or similar “static” destination that requires a log-in typically suffers from underutilization and outdated information. Plus, logging-in becomes one more burdensome task to add to a channel partner’s daily laundry list.

Better, reduce the complexity of doing business with you by implementing an all-in-one shared platform, and you will be vastly more attractive to your external sales team.

Score your leads

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.  Guide your channel partners as they track and follow-up on your prospects, and empower them to prioritize quality leads over cold ones. This process will prevent your distributors from wasting time and money on bad leads.

Provide easy-to-access info

Channel partners are only as effective as you are at equipping them with the resources they need. To set partners up for success — and elevate your products over a competitors — provide “context aware” content that maps the right materials to each opportunity by stage, product, and scope. When you give distributors the information they need to personalize their sales pitch to customers, they will be better positioned to convert opportunities into sales.

Encourage frequent feedback

Critical to manufacturer/distributor sales success is regular and routine two-way feedback on the quality, status, and other action items on every shared lead. Without this closed-loop process in place, leads more easily enter no man’s land, where pipeline visibility is nearly impossible. A system that allows for quick and easy feedback will ultimately improve the quality of your communication, and therefore your relationship.

All told, the success of the manufacturer/channel partner relationship — both in terms of its performance and its satisfaction — comes down to the presence of pipeline visibility and streamlined communication processes. The outcome of higher-value communication is channel partners that will sell more and be better engaged with your brand.