This is the second in a two-part series on how to build a successful ChannelTech Stack. In our first installment, we discussed the four key elements required to develop a results-driven channel partner technology stack. If you missed it, catch up here.
Leveraging today’s technology to enable channel sales requires an approach that goes beyond traditional partner portals and customer relationship management (CRMs) systems.
As we explored in last week’s post, the aim of technology stacking is to make difficult business process more fluid, efficient and transparent — the end goal being a higher-functioning and higher-performing relationship with your channel partner. Neither partner portals nor CRMs, by themselves, move the needle for businesses that recognize the value of optimizing channel revenue through improved distributor engagement and better pipeline visibility.
Partner Portals: The passive approach to channel engagement
A partner portal is a web-based application that allows a manufacturer’s channel partner or distributor to obtain direct access to marketing resources, pricing and sales information, as well as technical details or support. For example, the partner portal may list new promotions or discounts for the partner, allow the partner to examine service memoranda, or connect the partner with an assigned sales support representative for configuration assistance. The partner portal is typically accessed through the manufacturer’s web site, and requires the use of secure logon credentials assigned to the partner.
As a sales enablement tool, partner portals are ineffective. They suffer from low utilization rates and infrequent updates and maintenance by the companies that host them.
In pursuit of a competitive edge, manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to draw channel partners’ attention to their latest products, discount deals or incentive programs. But adding more bells and whistles to a partner portal is like putting lipstick on a pig. Because at the end of the day you’re faced with the same shortcoming: placing the burden on your channel partner or distributor to engage.
CRM: A square peg in a round hole
If your company markets products or services directly to an end buyer, a customer relationship management (CRM) system is a fine solution for automating your sales process and tracking opportunities in the pipeline. But for those companies whose products reach their final destinations through a network of distributors or channel partners, a CRM — on its own — is not the right tool for the job. That’s because CRM systems are designed to automate and optimize the relationship between a vendor and its customers. Channel partners, however, are not your customers — at least not in the traditional sense.
In the indirect sales channel space, you rely on your partners to generate revenue by selling your products effectively in the locations you designate. With so much revenue riding on these critical business relationships, it’s necessary that you have a tool in place that’s been specifically designed to actively engage with them. Channel engagement with CRM software alone will cause you and your partners to miss out on opportunities.
A CRM system is designed to “speak the language” of a single company. While effective for tracking sales activities in a B2B or B2C landscape, they are inadequate when used among companies who rely on each other for up-to-date information about leads and sales opportunities.
In a channel sales environment your platform must be able to share information and update channel partners in a way that is centralized and unified. That way, channel partner sales activity is clearly visible, which leads to better forecasting and sales support.
If your goal is channel revenue optimization by way of improved distributor engagement and better pipeline visibility, traditional siloed approaches won’t get you there. To increase productivity and sales, look for ChannelTech Stack solutions that emphasize technology-driven processes that make the most of your channel relationships.