Distributors: 3 fail-proof strategies to improve sales alignment with manufacturing partners

If you’re a distributor that partners with manufacturers, odds are that a few of them generate and share sales leads with you.

This indirect sales distribution model has numerous benefits for both you and the manufacturer.

You obtain sales leads at little or no marketing expense, and the manufacturer enjoys expanded market share without the time and expense of hiring and training sales force.

Win-win, right?

What should be a symbiotic relationship with a manufacturer, however, can rapidly devolves into something much more chaotic, and much less lucrative.

Distributor-manufacturer relationships frequently struggle to operate within a defined process. Lead qualification criteria, two-way flow of information, and proactive engagement are often woefully lacking, which leads to end-of-quarter sales numbers that are less attractive than they could be.

Common communication-based hurdles like these create serious inefficiencies that can have a serious financial impact. When information for everything from lead status to lead quality isn’t easily seen as it happens by everyone involved — potential sales inevitably fall through the cracks and revenue gets left on the table.

Here are 3 ways to achieve better sales alignment with your manufacturers.

1. Define the process, and then standardize it. Think in terms of both how leads are shared from a single manufacturer as well as how you aggregate and organize them across multiple manufacturers. The key to prioritizing follow-up and tracking progress is a single view of all potential sales leads, regardless of the source.

2.  Determine your shared lead qualification process. Getting this right can be as straightforward as identifying certain industries, roles, or even contact information. Lead qualification can be further improved by enhancing generated leads with additional contextual information like zip code, SIC code, company size and other information that helps you better prioritize and engage the best leads.

3.  Maintain a two-way flow of information. Critical to manufacturer/distributor sales alignment is regular and routine 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.

But I work with dozens of manufacturers — all of which have different processes and systems for lead sharing and follow-up?


The way to bring multiple entities into a single process is to adopt a shared platform. This enables distributors and their manufacturing partners to rapidly and easily share leads and to communicate about lead status and quality.

This proactive engagement approach helps distributors sell more — much more, in fact. 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. It’s just one more burdensome task to add to the daily laundry list.

By contrast, a push-based notification system that leverages email is a rapid and easy way to communicate the acceptance of a lead or the creation of an opportunity. With it, you can build a hassle-free, and optimized, sales process where everyone benefits.

SaaS companies: 5 platform must-haves that maximize channel sales revenue

When we think about companies that sell via channel partners, we often think of traditional industrial manufacturers who create a product and then sell that product through distributors or independent sales reps.

It’s not uncommon, however, for Software as a Service (SaaS) companies to operate using a similar model — partnering with value added resellers and other types of channel partners to sell their “product.”

For SaaS companies, leveraging an indirect sales force can be an effective model to both scale your business and to help you expand globally.

The indirect sales pipeline challenge

But no matter if you make tractors or software — the challenges all types of businesses face engaging with channel sales partners are the same. Poor pipeline visibility, disparate lead management systems, little or no communications on lead quality — all stand in the way of maximizing channel revenue.

Since you are not working from the same system, once a sales lead leaves the “four walls” of your business, you’re essentially flying blind — in the dark about the status of the lead, and crossing your fingers that you’ll hit your monthly or quarterly performance metrics.

A shared platform eliminates visibility issues

Whether your indirect sales partners are distributors located in your time zone or value-added resellers (VARS) located across the globe — the key to optimizing your relationship is a common system of communication.

On a shared platform, you can easily track pipeline activities for internal reporting as well as external channel enablement initiatives. You can also create a mechanism for direct partner feedback so you know exactly how “closeable” shared leads really are.

5 platform must-haves

Here are 5 platform requirements SaaS companies should consider when looking to bolster their channel sales efforts. Your platform should:

  1. Integrate into your current workflow
  2. Hide any complexity from your channel partner
  3. Deliver contextual information at the right time
  4. Integrate seamlessly with existing systems
  5. Provide accurate performance data in real-time

Time to value before the end of the quarter

SaaS companies undergoing rapid expansion and growth can benefit from leveraging channel sales partners, since it’s a faster and more economic approach than setting up a whole new shop in a whole new country.

When time-to-deployment is a critical factor, be wary of a large-scale, multi-month systems deployment and on-boarding program.

For companies that want to see a meaningful revenue impact this quarter, look for a platform that can go to work, and produce results, in less than 30 days.

In a channel sales environment, tracking every sales lead is critical to maximizing revenue. Does your current solution make the most of every lead in your sales pipeline?

Take the Guesswork Out of Channel Revenue Forecasting

Do you find yourself guessing what the revenue contribution from your channel partners will be at the end of the month or quarter?

Do you look at historical performance and “hope” it continues or even increases over time?

For companies that sell through channel partners, separation between financial forecasting and a channel partners’ actual performance has long been difficult to align.

Why does accurate forecasting and deal tracking matter?

Traditionally in the indirect sales model, the time lapse between what you hope will happen and what actually happens can have significant costs associated with it. You might be saddled with too much inventory and forced to incur the associated carrying costs for an anticipated demand that doesn’t materialize . Or, you might experience lost sales because low inventory prevents you from fulfilling an unexpected sale.

When visibility is limited across your channel partner network, the result is an information gap that strains  financial reporting and forecasting, not to mention the operational impact of running an efficient channel-revenue business.

Stop flying blind

Closing this information gap is a critical step to better understanding and managing the channel sales process.

To take the guesswork out of channel revenue requires clear and timely pipeline visibility. When leads are shares with distributors, do you they fall into a black hole? Or, are they easily tracked during every step of the buyer’s journey?

Enabling revenue-related information to flow back and forth seamlessly between a company and its channel partners requires an integrated approach.  In the past, integration has been complicated  by the fact that distributors and channel partners are working from different systems, making it impossible to actively share and update the status of a deal in both directions (from manufacturer to channel partner and from channel partner back to manufacturer).

But the ability to do this is absolutely key to accurate and timely forecasting and opportunity tracking mentioned above.

How to anticipate your needs

Channel revenue visibility allows you to anticipate your needs — whether that be inventory, revenue planning or revenue estimates for shareholders. To do this requires a shared platform that provides a unified view of distributor performance as it happens. Rather than hope or guess at what is taking place among your partners, a connected network of channel partners communicating easily via the same platform around deal status, action items, and opportunity tracking allows you to accurately track, manage and plan.

Armed with deal tracking data in real-time, you’ll know instantly:

  1. whether you need to ramp up inventory or pull back,
  2. if you are on course to meet quarterly revenue targets, and
  3. whether your future revenue estimates are accurate

The bottom line is that you can’t improve what you can’t see. And the ability to quickly respond to needs, demands or changes generates revenue and saves time.

See how the LeadMethod platform creates connections that increase revenue visibility across the partner network.

How to Create a High Performing Channel Sales Engine

This is the second in a two-part blog series that explores the differences between passive and active channel engagement, and provide tips on how to create a high-functioning, outcome-driven channel sales engine. If you missed our first blog that explains the characteristics of a passive approach, check it out here.

6 Steps to Active Channel Engagement

Is all engagement created equal?

When it comes to channel enablement — pushing for high performance and better revenue outcomes — the answer is no.

In one corner is the passive approach. Notoriously inefficient in the channel sales environment, passive engagement is often marked by miscommunication, incomplete or old data, and technology that isn’t built for the unique requirements of channel sellers.

You can read if you fall into the passive camp here.  

By contrast, active channel engagement is distinguished by efficient, two-way flow of real-time information utilizing technology purpose-built for companies that sell through distributors or partners. Brands that adopt active engagement strategies are better able to adjust to market dynamics and customer needs, and experience immediate revenue gains from existing leads and opportunities.

Redefining Channel Sales

Active channel engagement is an approach that leverages pro-active and contextual engagement to truly enable the channel and maximize revenue potential. It’s the link that provides critical information flows between the manufacturer and channel partner based on the same view of the data.

Here are six critical elements that define an active channel engagement approach:

  • Unified view
    A unified view of all lead and opportunity details so that both manufacturer and distributor see the same updates and points of need.
  • Alignment
    Push-based notifications that align with current workflow providing information to the right person at the right time consistent with a “next best action” approach to sales enablement.
  • Continuous feedback
    Closed-loop feedback and status reporting that builds an information bridge between a manufacturer and all their distributors so that details on lead quality, deal status, training and education needs are clearly actionable.
  • Contextual
    In-context sales content and materials provided at the system level and positioned at the right deal stage and right product offering allowing for continuous training and knowledge transfer while providing a single publish and distribute interface for the manufacturer.
  • Visibility
    Visibility to leading indicators of channel performance like lead scores, follow up times, and deal stage conversion rates as a single view that both manufacturer and distributor can use to manage the channel.
  • Create a high-performance sales engine
    When active channel engagement strategies are implemented, the result is immediate revenue gains — generated from existing lead and opportunities as well as from cost reductions. Longer-term, the channel is able to reach its revenue potential, and better adjust to changes in market dynamics or customer needs.

Adopting an active channel engagement approach is essential to maximizing revenue and return on investment from channel activities. By establishing and integrating engagement, feedback, sales enablement, and nurture processes, manufacturers become better aligned with distributors and create a high performance channel sales engine.

Want more expert Channel Engagement advice? Drop us a line.

Is your Channel Engagement Approach Functional, or High Functioning?

This is the first blog in a two-part series that explores the differences between passive and active channel engagement, and provides actionable steps to help manufacturers create a high-functioning, outcome-driven channel sales engine.

5 Characteristics of Passive Channel Engagement

Selling through channel partners and distributors is an established, proven, and scalable go-to-market approach for manufacturers of all types. Channel partners that specialize by industry, region, or account are an important piece of the sales puzzle and provide access to large market opportunities without little to no internal investment.

The channel sales model, however, is not without its challenges — mostly notably disparate systems and processes fraught with inefficiencies, miscommunications and missed opportunities. This leaky system tends to inhibit revenue optimization. Sure, you’ve got a car that runs. But it’s not firing on all cylinders, and it’s bleeding precious fuel.

Activities versus outcomes

To date, “enabling” the channel has been more focused on activities rather than outcomes. Sign up channel partners, make sure they have access to the information they need, send them sales leads, support them when they request it, and reap the benefits of their efforts.

This passive approach is functional, but not high-functioning. It does not give channel partners any reason or motivation to engage. And most importantly the passive approach doesn’t promote ‘sales enablement’ in order to help channel partners sell.

Companies that continue to use passive channel engagement practices are losing money. We characterize passive channel engagement as the use of the following:

  • Web-based portals
    Providing a web-based partner portal or secure site that asks channel partners to log in and learn software. These tools offer suffer from low usage and low relevance.
  • Internally oriented CRM
    Trying to manage external selling relationships with an internally oriented CRM system that does not accommodate for the disparate parties involved and their often conflicting processes and systems.
  • Incomplete
    Absence of valuable feedback and input via a continuous and collaborative approach to information sharing.
  • Inconsistent communication
    Ad hoc communication around the quality of sales leads, status on open opportunities and needs related to training and education.
  • Old data
    Relying upon emails and spreadsheets to collect, aggregate, and report on channel sales performance creating a lagging view of revenue generation and goal tracking.

In our next blog in the active versus passive channel engagement series, we’ll explore how to create a higher-performing sales engine and share 6 tips for developing an active approach to channel engagement.

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.

3 Tips for Successful Channel Partner Nurturing

In a channel sales model, manufacturers generate leads for their channel partners and distributors. Done right, these leads are first scored based on their priority and then passed to the appropriate channel partners for follow up.

What’s happens next, might be less clear. Were the leads contacted? How fast? Was a quote offered? Did the lead turn into an opportunity?

That initial sales lead outreach is just the first step of a critical relationship management process known as lead nurturing. Just as B2B or B2C brands nurture prospects along the buyer’s journey for better sales results, so too can manufacturers nurture their channel partners.

Lead nurturing is essentially relationship building. In the channel sales environment, it’s the process of maintaining relationships with distributors or partners throughout every stage of the funnel. It focuses communication efforts on listening to the needs of channel partners, and providing them with the information and answers they need to better sell your product throughout each step of the end-buyer’s journey.

The key to a successful channel partner nurturing program is the ability for both manufacturers and channel partners to easily communicate about the status of a sales lead in real-time.

Here are 3 key elements to a high-functioning channel nurturing program:

1. Frequent and consistent communication around sales opportunities.

You send a high score (priority) lead to a distributor and expect the lead to be contacted within 48 hours. Let’s say the lead was not contacted within that time frame and the customer is still waiting. You can initiate an automated email nurture to that distributor salesperson as a reminder to contact the potential client. In another example, a lead has been labeled an open opportunity for more than 30 days and you would like to know if the distributor has either quoted the customer, sold the product, or lost the deal. Initiate a distributor lead nurture to remind them after 30 days to quickly update you on the lead status.

2. Provide relevant help at the right time.

Once you know the status of the leads in your pipeline, you can then 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 and real-time way to provide feedback.

Effective nurturing in the channel 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 — without the hassle or cost of surveys or call centers. Leads are less likely to fall through the cracks, and outdated or irrelevant information isn’t contaminating the process.

Distributor nurturing is a great way to gently remind distributors to communicate lead status during every stage of the buyer journey.

But how do you do this when everyone isn’t working from a shared platform? They answer is, you don’t.

Communicating with channel partners on a single platform makes executing a lead nurturing program easy by enabling a two-way flow of communication and feedback in real-time. You product stays front and center without ever sending an email, making a phone call or logging into a portal.

When researching channel nurturing tools, look for a platform that allows distributors to quickly update you on a lead’s status without the requirement to log-in or learn software. LeadMethod, for example, only asks distributors to click buttons from their phone to update manufacturers on a lead status. It’s about as easy as it gets. A sound nurturing program that emphasizes these fluid communication and collaboration elements will help you create a strong and productive relationship with your business partners.

For more information on distributor nurturing, let us show you how the LeadMethod program works.

Increase Channel Revenue by 20% Without Increasing Your Marketing Budget

According to SiriusDecisions, as many as 78 percent of sales leads receive no follow-up. That’s a figure sure to keep CFO’s and VP of Sales awake at night. But that 78 percent number also represents a source of incredible opportunity. 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?

If timely and proper lead follow-up is a challenge for companies with internal sales teams surrounded by four walls, it’s easy to see why the poor lead follow-up problem is exacerbated significantly in a business model where sales leads are handed-off between different companies.

For one, channel partners sell numerous products from numerous providers, which in and of itself makes it all too easy for opportunities to fall through the cracks. The process is further complicated because manufacturers and distributors are working from different systems, workflows, and even time zones. And therein lies the challenge: No one company controls the lead-to-revenue process. As a lead generator, you hand-off  a sales lead to what can be described as a black hole. Was it a quality lead? How soon was it contacted? What is the lead’s real-time status in the pipeline? What do my distributors think about a lead’s quality and closability?

When this information doesn’t readily exist, the result is costly.

And not just in terms of inefficiencies and workarounds, but in actual real dollars of revenue being lost due to slow or no follow-up, poor sales enablement, or lack of communication.

Rather than spend more budget on generating new leads, there is significant value to be uncovered when you focus on maximizing the revenue potential that are already exists among your current leads. To do that, requires:  

Visibility. We’ve all heard that you can’t fix what you can’t see, and that idiom holds true here. Does your current system give you an accurate, real-time picture of your sales pipeline, as well as future sales projections? What’s your cost of customer acquisition, and your conversation rates by distributor? It’s difficult to measure, plan and improve without tools that deliver this kind of business-critical information. The alternative is throwing your marketing dollars at a board and hoping they land near the bullseye.

Distributor Engagement. Close collaboration, communication and constant feedback are key components to creating a relationship with channel partners that yields higher close rates. To do this, build in a mechanism that increases communication and enables a true feedback loop on the quality and status of each lead you generate.

Data-driven Decisions. By gaining a clear picture of contact rates, engagement metrics, and deal progression, conversion rates from existing lead flow will naturally increase. Data will also help you identify high performing channel partners  versus those that need extra attention, and will aid in distributor acquisition and retention.

When these three elements — visibility, distributor engagement and data-driven decisions — work in unison from a single platform, channel-based businesses can experience a 300 percent increase in channel engagement and a 20 percent increase in revenue. Now those are the kind of figures that will have you sleeping soundly.

Click here to request a playbook on how to increase revenue through better channel partner engagement.