How to select the right sales software to accelerate your channel partner and distributor revenue

Three questions to determine if sales technology is enhancing or hindering partner productivity

When it comes to sales technology tools, more is not necessarily better. Rather than increase business efficiency and performance, an overabundance of tools  — today’s sales reps use on average six — can actually hamper productivity.

Why? Because more sales tools doesn’t automatically equate to ROI. In fact, quite the opposite. Too many tools, particularly those that aren’t well-integrated, slow sales reps down as they waste time navigating a hodgepodge of CRMs, partner portals, email clients, and more. For channel partners, we know the struggle to manage multiple tools is even more burdensome — given that one distributor may be working with dozens of suppliers, each with its own tool.

Because of this, companies are struggling with redundancy, poor engagement and flat-out waste in their tech ecosystems.

How do you decide which technology tools land in the sweet spot of increasing efficiency and performance without adding more hassle? Or worse, lead to little or no ROI?

For manufacturers and their distributors in the channel sales space, pipeline visibility and channel engagement are the two most critical areas on which to focus — as they represent the greatest opportunity for revenue growth.

For manufacturers, it might be a CRM and a channel engagement software product to gather sales pipeline data from their distributors. For distributors, it’s likely an easy CRM to manage sales reps performance and pipeline. But they also need that CRM to be able to connect with their suppliers systems so leads can flow directly into their CRM without duplicating work. Feedback on what happened to a given lead should automatically be sent back to the suppliers, as well.

For channel sellers considering whether to adopt new technology tools(s), ask yourself:

Is it simple?

Suppliers need crystal clear, up-to-the-minute pipeline visibility. But your channel partners or distributors are already overwhelmed with plenty of technology “noise.” Don’t add to the clutter by asking them to log-in to your special portal, or sift through generic emails combing for information relevant to them. Provide a solution that allows them to quickly and easily communicate the quality and status of each lead they receive. You’ll get the pipeline visibility you need, and they’ll be more engaged in the process.

Is it helpful?

Technology that can offer timely and contextual communications are critical to successful partner engagement. 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. This will better position your distributors to convert more leads into sales.

Does it help you sell more?

At the end of the day, your technology tools should pay you back, and then some. For channel sellers, that might be automated lead capture and assignment so your partners get leads faster. Or, ability to auto append your leads in real time to give your partners better, more detailed information on every lead. Real-time 2-way integration with your CRM is critical, as it provides you a clear picture on both your direct and channel sales pipeline and performance indicators.

By taking a closer look at your sales process and asking these 3 critical questions when evaluating your technology needs, you can see which tools improve productivity and lead to revenue gains and which are time and money wasters.

Digital Transformation Done Right: How LeadMethod’s CRM Connector Automates Proax Sales Process and Accelerates Revenue

Proax Technologies calls LeadMethod’s CRM Connector the ‘Holy Grail’ of software platforms for industrial distributors

Facing a rapidly increasing volume of leads, Proax today announced its partnership with LeadMethod to improve visibility into its sales pipeline and accelerate revenue opportunities. Proax currently works with more than two dozen manufacturing partners worldwide.  

As a leading distributor of products and expertise in machine automation, motion control, and machine safety industries, Proax was keenly interested in automating more of its processes and not falling behind the digital transformation trend. LeadMethod’s Distributor CRM Connector offered the ideal answer,  seamlessly integrating incoming leads and opportunities from its suppliers with Proax’s existing Hubspot CRM.

“LeadMethod has built the holy grail of software platforms for distributors that need to connect their sales technology to suppliers,” said Carlos Martins, E-Commerce and Business Development. “LeadMethod’s Distributor CRM Connector platform allows our salespeople to spend more time selling and far less time on busy work within our CRM. It’s been a revenue accelerator for us.”

By automatically routing leads from suppliers directly to Hubspot, Proax has:

  • Eliminated manual lead entry and resulting errors or omissions
  • Improved accuracy of quarterly projections
  • Reduced abandonment rates
  • Enabled easy communication with suppliers on the status and quality of every lead

The result is a competitive advantage for both Proax and its manufacturing partners, allowing the latter to manage their lead process more efficiently and take action on promising prospects faster.

“As trusted technical experts focused on meeting the needs of their customers, the team at Proax has set the standard among industrial automation distributors, ” says Justin Johnson, LeadMethod CEO. “We’re excited to help them find more success and revenue, by improving collaboration with their manufacturer partners to accelerate sales.”

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.

Optimize your channel lead management process to sell more

5 strategies to convert more leads into paying customers

If your marketing efforts and lead volumes are in good shape, and your external sales team is handed a healthy list of sales leads, but your conversion rates aren’t keeping pace, the problem may be your lead follow-up process.

Industry research tells us that time and again more than a third of sales leads are never followed up on, and I’d bet that figure is even higher among companies that use a channel partner sales model, where there are far more opportunities for sales leads to fall through the cracks.

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?

One of the biggest complaints I hear from manufacturers that sell through channel partners is the struggle for pipeline visibility. They’ve established a strong lead generation program with plenty of marketing qualified leads. But once handed off to a channel partner, too many of these prospects go dark. They become difficult to track, and conversion rates — and by extension the bottom line — suffer.

To improve conversion rates, you need to develop a visible lead follow-up process that ensures you don’t leave leads, and potential revenue, on the table.

Here are 5 strategies that should be a part of your process:

1. Don’t let your leads spoil

According to a Harvard Business Review study which involved 1.25 million sales leads, firms that tried to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving a query were nearly seven times as likely to qualify the lead (which they defined as having a meaningful conversation with a key decision maker) as those that tried to contact the customer even an hour later—and more than 60 times as likely as companies that waited 24 hours or longer.

Therefore, the faster your external partners connect with potential customers, the more likely your product will be top of mind when the prospect picks up the phone.

2. Establish priorities

Treating all leads as equals is inefficient, and inhibits revenue potential. (Spending time and resources on an unlikely buyer, while a higher-potential opportunity sits idle).

By determining whether a lead is “hot” or merely “lukewarm” before you send it to a distributor, you help them prioritize their day and signal 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.

3. Commit to follow-up

Recent research from Harvard Business Review reveals that sales reps can experience up to a 70 percent increase in contact rates by simply making a few more call attempts. Since you never know when a customer will be ready to buy, asking distributors to consistently and continuously follow-up with a lead increases the chance that they will make a connection that pays off.

Rather than burden channel partners with keeping track of these additional touches, a shared platform for communication makes follow-up easy to see and track.

4. Be relevant

Help your distributors by providing contextual sales information that will be useful when communicating with leads at the right time. Think about the questions that most potential customers have when they reach out to you, and supply your distributors with helpful content right when they need it, including product line updates, sales materials and other updates by stage and location. This will better position your distributors to convert opportunities into sales.

5. Tweak, refine & win

Once you begin communicating with your distributors about leads more closely, you can track every activity and fine-tune your process. Log contact rates, speeds and conversion to see what it most effective. The only way you can improve your sales figures when working with large distribution channels is to use your data to uncover where there are barriers in the buying process and take steps to remove them.

Without proper tracking through every stage of the buying process, there is no way to maximize the potential of your leads and sales opportunities. The result is lost revenue and wasted marketing dollars.

Implementing these 5 strategies will provide you insight into exactly what happens to every lead at every stage of the sales process — so your channel partners can turn more opportunities into closed deals.

How to enable your channel partners to sell more

Latest industry research uncovers what sales channels need for double-digit revenue growth

B2B enterprises more often provide tools and training to their direct sellers, while frequently overlooking their indirect or partner channels. That’s according to recent findings by Forrester Consulting, in a survey of more than 200 sales enablement leaders at B2B companies across the U.S.

Why does this support gap matter? By neglecting indirect sellers, companies are impeding their own performance and overall business success, the researched revealed.

For companies that rely on an indirect sales model, channel partners are a vital revenue stream. Survey respondents reported that, on average, indirect channels generate nearly half of their annual revenue, which equates to a $2 billion opportunity in the hands of partner sellers.

Is your indirect sales force underserved?

Despite their impact, channel partner sellers don’t get as much support from their suppliers as direct sales employers do, according to the report. Less than half of sales enablement leaders are confident in the level of brand consistency delivered across channels during the sales process. And more than 40 percent feel that the buyer experience is less than consistent. This is due in large part to a gap in resources provided to direct sales employees versus partners, which creates inconsistent buyer experiences and reduces visibility into the sales process.

The survey indicates, however, that sales enablement platforms are mitigating these challenges. In fact, companies that have deployed a sales enablement platform to their partners are two times more likely than other companies to report double-digit revenue growth. What’s more, partner users of sales enablement platforms find is 2x easier to accelerate deal closure and report stronger customer relationships.

Key sales enablement platform features

Decision-makers surveyed said they value sales enablement platforms that:

1. Are easy to use and implement

2. Provide actionable sales data

3. Enable collaborative discussions with channel partners

4. Are compatible with mobile devices

Technology-enabled salesforce

Gone are the days of generic sales pitches, one-size-fits-all sales presentations based on incomplete or old data, and technology that isn’t built for the unique requirements of channel sellers. Today’s buyers expect personalized pitches and consultative sellers with deep, contextual knowledge.

Forrester’s research found that interactive sales tools overwhelmingly aid sellers — both in terms of accelerating deal closure and increasing a deal’s average value.

Here are three ways you can leverage interactive sales tools to better enable channel sellers:

1. Visibility around every sales opportunity.

Gain visibility to leading indicators of channel performance like lead scores, follow up times, and deal stage conversion rates that both manufacturer and distributor can use to manage the channel. Your platform should provide a unified view of all lead and opportunity details so that both manufacturer and distributor see the same updates and points of need.

2. Relevant help at the right time

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, real-time feedback

Effective channel enablement 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. Leads are less likely to fall through the cracks, and outdated or irrelevant information isn’t contaminating the process.

Key takeaways

The Forrester report concludes that in today’s sales environment, winning complex business deals requires sophisticated, consultative, and technology-enabled salespeople. Sales enablement platforms help partner sales reps deliver the kind of consistent, compelling sales interactions that drive growth.

Transforming the buying experience is no easy task for B2B enterprises that rely on partner sales channels outside of their own control for business growth. But in order to compete, sales leaders must extend sales enablement strategies and technologies beyond the direct sales force and support the success of their external sales partners.

Get more channel partner-specific sales enablement strategies.

Industrial sales reps, it’s time to optimize your LinkedIn profile

Manufacturers reps and distributors: Here’s how to optimize your profile to engage prospects

Last month, LinkedIn — the business-focused social network — reported it has 562 million users. That’s up from the 500 million figure it recorded in 2017.

While the total number of LinkedIn users is interesting, what’s more relevant for today’s sales rep is the number of senior-level influencers (61 million) and corporate decision makers (40 million) that use the platform on a regular basis.

Despite this, many sales reps fail to take full advantage of LinkedIn’s capabilities to court buyers and engage prospects. We often see profiles listing skills, achievements in sales and employment history — fine for someone who is job hunting.

But those who want to leverage the business networking value of LinkedIn — and thereby improve their sales performance — need to go further.  If you are in a sales position and your LinkedIn profile looks more like your resume, you’re most likely leaving leads on the table. Same goes with profiles that are outdated, lean on content or mistake-riddled.   

Go beyond your resume

If you think of your LinkedIn sales profile as a digital business card or online resume, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to engage with potential buyers. The key shift here is to see LinkedIn not as a record of your work history, but as a reputation builder.

Essentially, your LinkedIn profile is the platform to shape how others see you.

Sales reps who use it most effectively present a digital version of themselves that is meaningful and useful to the buyers they hope to attract. This might including sharing how they’ve enabled their buyer’s achievement, providing helpful information that boosts their credibility and establishing themselves as a product expert or trend spotter.

What should a LinkedIn sales profile look like?

Here’s are five key areas to help optimize your LinkedIn sales profile for better sales performance.

1.  Write an attention-grabbing headline

Remember, the aim is not to recite your resume. Use this highly visible real estate to demonstrate how you add value to your clients and customers. A concise summary of who you help, and how, is more compelling than a standard job title.

2. Put your best face forward

Your LinkedIn profile image is the digital equivalent of a first impression — so choose an image that is warm and genuine.

Profile photos should be:

  • High quality and cropped to 400×400 pixels to fit the space
  • Of you. No friends, children or pets.
  • In front of a neutral background.
  • Professionally captured, if possible. (LinkedIn profiles with professional headshots get 14 times more profile views.)

3. Summary = Your Value Pitch

Like the headline, the aim of your summary is to convey the value you add to your customers and clients. Here, you can provide more details about your products, your clients’ success, and your results. You can also include a clear call-to-action that communicates why and how a buyer should get in touch with you.

4. Add content that builds credibility

Does your company have a case study that highlights a satisfied client of yours? Do you maintain a blog? Aim to have at least two pieces of content displayed on your profile, including links to blog posts, videos, or landing pages. Think of your profile as your opportunity to educate prospects about market trends, products comparisons, or other content that will solidify your reputation as an expert in your field.  

5. Seek out recommendations

One of the best sales tools on LinkedIn is the ability to get third-party recommendations and then prominently display them on your profile. Ideally, clients should mention specific benefits from their association with you, either in terms of a statistic, dollar figure, or achievement. LinkedIn recommendations are especially powerful because they are tied directly to people’s profiles — making it quick and easy for your prospects to see that the review came from a real person in the business community.

Once you’ve optimized your LinkedIn profile for selling, it will quickly become one of your best sales tools. Given LinkedIn’s reach — particularly among corporate decisions makers — it’s worth investing a little time to update your profile so that it works as an engagement tool and reputation builder.

Distributors, it’s time to increase revenue with a well executed sales pipeline

Here’s how to build a sales pipeline that converts opportunities into revenue.

At its most fundamental, a sales pipeline is simply insight — the ability to see every stage of your sales process front and center from prospect through to deal closure.

Why should today’s distributor define a formal sales process?  

The more control and visibility you have into your sales pipeline, the more revenue you’ll bring in. That’s according to HubSpot Research, which found that the more opportunities in your pipeline, the more likely you are to reach or exceed your revenue goals.

A Harvard Business Review survey generated similar results. It found an 18 percent difference in revenue growth between companies that defined a formal sales process and companies that didn’t.

Therefore, if knowledge of your pipeline is based on best guesses or last month’s figures, you’re probably leaving money on the table.

“Knowing your numbers in sales is like following a good recipe,” writes Laurel Mintz, CEO of Elevate My Brand. “When you know what components are going in, you know what’s going to come out. But, if you forget a few ingredients, you’re going to have a tasteless flat cake that no one wants to eat. It’s the same thing in sales.”

What is a sales pipeline?

A sales pipeline is a specific sequence of actions that a sales rep needs to take in order to move a prospect from a new lead to a customer. Once each stage is completed, the prospect is advanced to the next stage. Sometimes depicted by a funnel, the wider top indicates a prospect or leads that then narrows to decision and purchase.

An opportunity moves from stage to stage of your pipeline based on concrete actions, which can be represented visually in your CRM or other shared platforms. Because sales processes differ from company to company (and even product to product), your sales pipeline should be unique to your business and reflect your typical buyer’s journey.

How to build your sales pipeline

1.  Clearly define the stages of your sales cycle

Start by defining stages and milestones that are universally understood by your salespeople. Your sales team shouldn’t have to guess where a particular deal stands or how they should be managing deals in each stage. In addition, your sales process should align with how your customers move through their buying process. Too many sales teams use generic sales processes and consequently get generic sales performance. Invest the time in developing a unique process for your team, and make sure that they understand how to use it.

As a distributor, your customer’s journey may vary, depending on the manufacturer, product or region in which you’re selling. For example, sellers that partner with manufacturers to obtain sales leads, lead generation, prospecting and in some cases qualification might be unnecessary steps in your pipeline. Instead, the top of your pipeline may begin with initial contact or proposal.

2. Calculate your numbers

How many deals do you need to add to your pipeline to meet your objectives? If you know how many deals you win on average, you can easily calculate the number of deals you need in each of the early stages by following these steps:

  1. Identify how many opportunities typically advance to the next stage
  2. Working backwards, calculate the number of opportunities you need at every stage to reach your goal
  3. Pinpoint the common reasons an opportunity converts at every stage — including the actions the rep takes (performing a demo) and prosper response (request for a proposal).

Decide on a shared platform

Pipeline visibility gives salespeople a snapshot of pipeline performance. It is often a CRM feature — but can be done on any shared platform, such as Google Sheets — and allows reps to determine how pipeline activities are tracking towards overall goals. Based on this insight, reps can adjust pipeline volume and budget expectations for more accurate sales forecasting.

Whatever method you use, be sure to ask:

  • Does the CRM help salespeople focus on activities?
  • Are salespeople able to see everything that’s happening in their deals?
  • How does it allow salespeople to stay organized?

If your system is not meeting these baseline objectives, invest in a shared sales pipeline visibility platform that does. The return will be worth the investment.

Once you have your sales pipeline established, the world is your oyster. You’ll be able to forecast revenue more accurately, manage your sales team more effectively, increase deal speed, and increase total deal volume, size and revenue.

A well-managed sales pipeline is about continuously improving the process and honing the skills of your salespeople. Everyone’s aim should be to keep the pipeline moving from one stage to the next – and of course, to close sales.