Stop Using CRM to Manage Your Channel Partner Relationships

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software has long been considered one of those must-have applications to help businesses sell to customers. After all, it’s a billion dollar industry that’s as ubiquitous in sales departments today as telephones and rolodexes were of yesteryear.  Yet, CRM’s usefulness as a revenue optimization tool has its limitations. In particular, as an effective tool in managing channel relationships.

If your goal is to maximize every opportunity to close more deals, a CRM will leave — or perhaps has already left you — wanting more.

That’s because CRMs are a horizontal approach to sales automation designed for use in a conventional direct sales business model. Its shortcomings become glaringly transparent when trying to force CRM features and functions into an indirect sales environment.

Unique requirements of channel sales & marketing

A CRM system overlooks the unique requirements of channel sales and marketing, offering very little to help a channel partner track opportunities, provide visibility to their partners, and convert more leads to sales.


Channel engagement is a multi-tiered process comprised of numerous processes, from partner recruitment and engagement to enablement and management, none of which are directly addressed by current CRM systems. CRMs are great for managing contacts and providing a snapshot of sales and marketing activity—assuming all the information has been captured —but they aren’t compatible with the dynamic, multi-tenant environment of the channel.

Effective channel enablement requires real-time lead sharing, training and education, and proactive engagement.

Purpose built for optimizing Channel Relationships

In lieu of trying to make a solution work in an environment for which is was not designed, organizations selling via the channel should consider a software platform purpose-built for channel revenue optimization — ideally one that integrates a comprehensive range of channel management functions in a single, easy-to-use interface.For companies that sell through both direct and indirect channels or prefer the CRM to remain the system of record for the business, you can integrate a channel solution with a resident CRM system, enabling a single, unified view of both selling activities.

As you consider your options, look for an intuitive solution that allows you and channel partners to easily capture, organize, track, pursue, and close leads. It should connect and unify all manufacturer relationships in one view, and enable opportunity tracking and visibility to the right players in real-time.

The difference between a CRM and a channel revenue optimization system is that the latter approach actually improves channel sales. Quite simply, the proof is in the results. Companies that implement a tool purpose-built for channel revenue optimization experience double the conversion rates of those who do not.

The ChannelTech Stack is More Than a Partner Portal and a CRM

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.

Here’s why:

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.

4 Strategies to Create a Results Driven Channel Partner Technology Stack

Are you throwing technology darts at a wall and hoping they land near the bulls-eye?

We all know that technology can play a critical role in fixing challenging business processes.

But technology — by itself — isn’t a magic pill. Anyone who has dealt with the data silos, underutilized technology, and integration headaches all caused by the “throwing darts” method will attest to that.

The goal, then, is to move away from “random acts of technology” and create a logical, functional structure based on well-defined processes. Think of it as the drumbeat of your marketing technology.

If you’re new to the concept of technology stacking in marketing, here’s a quick primer: It’s the grouping of technologies that organizations use to conduct and improve their marketing activities, and are most often associated with making the difficult processes easier.

The conversation around marketing TechStack has largely been used in context of traditional B2B or B2C companies. Below, we explain the core categories required for channel-based selling organizations to build a successful ChannelTech Stack.

The four essential building blocks of a ChannelTech Stack are:

1. Communication

  • Build a closed loop and integrated communication flow between you and your channel partners.
  • Create lines of bi-directional communication
  • Disperse information in the right place (including mobile) at the right time so that lead quality increases, conversion rates improve and revenue generation increases

2. Engagement

  • Supply proactive relationship management whereby channel partners receive the sales support, product training/certifications, and incentives they need when they need it
  • Offer sales support in-context; don’t expect partners to seek it out (ie, portals)
  • Previously referred to as Partner Relationship Management (PRM), evolve your processes to a more active engagement at scale with a channel partner network

3. Orchestration

  • Map and optimize workflow related to finding, engaging, and converting customers
  • Look beyond the automation of repetitive tasks like Partner Marketing Automation, to orchestrating the entire sales processes

4. Insights

  • Expect better data on sales cycles, buying patterns, win/loss ratios
  • Analyze data in a single system of record for channel revenue execution

Building a ChannelTech based on these core principles leads to greater efficiencies, revenue optimization and competitive differentiation, but finding them all in a single platform, until now, has proved elusive. With a Channel Revenue Optimization platform like LeadMethod, companies can deploy their ChannelTech stack on a single platform.

In our next blog post, we’ll explore in more detail the features and functions of a well-designed ChannelTech Stack. Stay tuned.

3 Tips to Improve Communications with Channel Partners

Strategies for better engagement, participation, and results

Effective communication between colleagues and co-workers who all work under the same roof is tough enough. For companies that operate using an indirect sales model, the hurdles that stand in the way of effective communication can seem overwhelming.  

For all the obvious reasons, communication has long been a challenge for companies that sell through distributors or channel partners. And it’s hardly surprising why. Numerous systems and processes across multiple regions and multiple distributors is a recipe for inefficiency. Stuff falls through the cracks. Important stuff, like leads and opportunities. Cumbersome processes, outdated or irrelevant information and poor pipeline visibility all result from poorly executed channel communications.

That said, for those that get it right, communication can also be a major source of competitive differentiation From increased channel partner performance and better conversion rates to stronger, more mutually beneficial distributor relationships — the potential benefits are game-changers. Because at the end of the day, better communication makes it easier for your network partners to do their job of selling and servicing your products every day. So, what does effective channel communication look like?

1. Focus on simplicity

We call it the manufacturers’ “black hole” — when a sales lead or opportunity is sent to a channel partner and no one is quite sure what becomes of it. At least not easily. Was the lead contacted? Where is it in the pipeline? Is this information easily accessible in real-time or do you have to dig for it? Effective communication can and should give you crystal clear, up-to-the-minute pipeline visibility. To do this, focus on simplicity. Your channel partners or distributors are already overwhelmed with plenty of “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.

2. Be helpful at the right time

Timely and contextual communication is critical to effective partner engagement. Sending information too early adds to the overload your partners are already experiencing. Not to mention, the longer the information sits before it’s relevant, the greater the chance that it will be forgotten or misplaced. Of course, information that is sent too late is useless. Be helpful by providing product line updates, sales materials and other updates by stage and location at precisely the right time. Your distributors will feel supported and be better positioned to convert opportunities into sales.

3. Create a closed communication loop

Channels communication and collaboration work best when both manufacturer and distributor are working from the same information at the same time. If feedback on the quality and needs of sales leads is limited, or acquired through call centers or blanket surveys, the result will be data that is dated, incomplete and unhelpful. The key is to create “a closed communication loop” in which both manufacturer and channel partner are communicating via the same platform in real-time. All parties can easily view the status, quality and needs associated with every opportunity — the kind of feedback and visibility that leads to huge gains in sales performance.

Want more expert tips on effective channel communication? We can help.

Why Channel Forecasting is a Challenge, and How to Fix it

The ability to see a clear view of current and anticipated sales has long befuddled companies who sell through distributor or channel partners.

And for good reason.

The challenge

Unlike traditional B2B or B2C sales models, companies that sell through distributors or channel partners often deal with a host of different systems, processes and even sales definitions. For large companies that might mean hundreds of disparate methods, which makes accurate and meaningful forecasting an inherently difficult process.

Sure, your channel tools may give you a clear view of the numbers at quarter’s end, but from a business performance perspective this information is too little too late to be meaningful.

And as much as you may want a tighter forecast, your arms-length relationship with your external partners means you have less control.  Plus, since your partner likely represents multiple vendors, is doesn’t make sense for them to provide separate forecasts for every vendor they work with.

The potential payoff

The ability to see a clear, real-time picture of your current and predicted sales has significant benefits to all aspects of your business performance, including your sales, finance and manufacturing teams.

Accurate financial forecasts are particularly important for publicly traded companies that provide quarterly guidance to investors. Manufacturing benefits from improved alignment between production and sales, preventing stock outs, optimizing inventory and aligning production schedules with actual market demand.

Meanwhile solid forecasts boost sales performance and promote realistic goal-setting. When you can eliminate weak opportunities from the pipeline, your partners can avoid wasting time and resources on an opportunity that is not likely to close.

Finally, a current view of the opportunity pipeline enables pipeline managers to identify early warning signals and glaring risks that may pop up, giving them a chance to tackle these issues at an early stage before they affect the performance of your partner.

Take the guesswork out of forecasting

Here are 4 strategies to fix a broken (or non-existent) forecasting process so you can gain crystal clear pipeline visibility:

1. Deploy a single, shared platform among your network of distributors for one overall system of record.  One connected network of channel partners all communicating and collaborating on the same platform about action items, deal status and opportunity tracking will give you the pipeline visibility required for accurate forecasting.

2. Single, shared definitions of deal stage and closing probabilities. If you are all speaking the same language — and seeing the same view of opportunities — it’s far easier to see an accurate picture of your overall pipeline across distributors, and react to it.

3. Near-time/real-time updates on deal progress made possible by integrated system and process integrated with how distributor sells. Leveraging data such as conversion metrics, response times and trend analysis provides an up-to-the-minute view of channel performance.

4. Closed-loop communication across all distributors in network. 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.

Adopt these 4 strategies and your channel sales forecasting efforts will go from cloudy to abundantly clear in no time.


5 Elements of a Successful Channel Engagement Strategy

For companies that sell their products through a network of channel partners and distributors, engagement is king. That’s because the more actively you engage, the more you sell.

According to SiriusDecisions, a whopping 79 percent of sales leads generated by the manufacturer are not contacted by the channel partner.

And traditional forms of engagement, such as follow-up phone calls or emails, are both ineffective and hugely inefficient.

The good news is, you don’t have to increase your marketing budget or generate additional new sales leads. The right engagement strategy should maximize every opportunity to sell to the leads you already have.

Here’s what you need to know to create an effective channel engagement strategy:

1. Connectivity. Manufacturers whose products are sold through dozens or even hundreds of network partners and distributors are least effective — read: convert fewer sales — when they rely on email and spreadsheets for sales execution. To overcome disparate systems and processes requires a connected network of channel partners communicating via the same platform. This kind of 360-view solution allows you see the status of every deal, and turn more leads into opportunities.

2. Visibility. You can’t fix what you can’t see. Once your pieces are connected, it’s critically important to base decisions on a real-time view of your pipeline status by distributor.

Rather than cross your fingers and hope that you’ll reach your sales goals, with a single data source on a unified platform you can gain up-to-the-minute insights into the the status and size of various deals. The data also offers important insight related to the performance of your channel partners.

3. Contextual Enablement. Keeping channel partners updated with the latest sales pitch, product positioning or new features is a challenge, particularly if they have to navigate your website or search through electronic catalogs to acquire the information they need. Or maybe you’ve got some material in your partner web portal, but they have to log-in to get it, let alone remember how to find it.

Either way, they’re likely seeing a sliver of what you have to offer and they may be missing the most powerful materials.

The solution is to provide sales and product information to your distributors at their fingertips, right when they need it. We call it contextual enablement, when you can deliver helpful, contextual information on-demand throughout the deal flow — all without relying on your channels to track down portals, catalogs or website information.

4. Optimization. Once you’ve established connectivity, visibility and contextual sales enablement, the next step is to create a continuous real-time feedback loop of communication to improve lead quality, deal conversion rates, and sales execution. When a distributor receives a lead, is it simple for him or her to score it? Are you wasting resources on a call center or sending out an email or paper survey to see if the lead is worthwhile?

Conversion rates go up when all your players share a common communications platform. Here’s the secret to performing this well: Keep it simple. If the task is complicated or requires extra steps, it will be ignored. Your solution should make it easy for your channel partners to score leads and communicate their status.

5. Insight. A  data-driven approach to understanding distributor performance prevents you from making decision based on assumptions. Without a single, unified view of channel performance, conversion rates, lead response times, not to mention your ability to spot trends or make revenue forecasts, is limited.

Data allows you to gain a 360-view of your channel network, including high and low performers, patterns over time and opportunities for improvement.  

Get these channel-engagement strategies right, and you will help your distributors sell more. A lot more.

See a winning channel engagement strategy in action. Request a demo


Improve Your Channel Partner Engagement

We recently conducted a survey to more than 3,200 manufacturing sales and marketing professionals and the message was clear: They need more engagement and feedback from their channel partners on sales leads.

Here is a key stat that we uncovered: Only 36% of companies get feedback from their channel partners on leads and opportunities. The big question is, as a sales or marketing manager, how are you supposed to make any data driven decisions when you don’t even know what is happening with leads or channel partners?

The good news is, 81% of companies believe that with the right process and software to communicate and collaborate with channel partners on leads and opportunities that they can increase revenue by 10-20%.

That’s really exciting!

Here is an info-graphic highlighting some of the challenges and the solution.





How to Double Channel Partner Sales Conversion Rates

There is no magic bullet when it comes to increasing the performance and revenue contribution from your channel partners.

It takes an integrated, systemic approach that brings together information sharing and performance reporting into a shared view.

Current “functional” approaches to lead sharing and deal tracking rely on emails and spreadsheets that lack a shared, collaborative view where lead status can be updated, opportunity stage is detailed, and a closed-loop feedback process is in place to keep companies and their channel partners aligned and executing.

CRM systems do not extend outside the four walls to adequately address the unique needs of enabling a channel sales program.

If you want to double conversion rates on current lead flow, then add a channel sales engagement platform to the mix. That is what we do here at LeadMethod and we have heard more than once that the companies using us for channel engagement deliver double the conversion rates vs. those who continue to rely on email and spreadsheets.

The impact comes from a single system that delivers, manages, and reports on lead and opportunity status.

That single system is further enhanced by deal stage specific sales materials so the questions that need to be addressed are available at the fingertips of you channel partner. Training and education is hugely important and often inefficiently delivered and retained so putting information “in context” creates a continuous education process. Updating materials is also improved as a single update and publish action replaces any other, out of date materials.

The great thing about increasing conversion rates is that it doesn’t require more leads or more program spend. You are actually just getting more out of your existing spend by creating a direct and integrated connection with each channel partner.

Interested in learning more? Let us know and we can put together a quick analysis to show you what kind of revenue increase you could get from increased sales conversion rates.


3 Metrics to Optimize Channel Revenue

W. Edwards Deming was quoted as saying “A goal without a method is nonsense.”

If your 2017 revenue plan called for increase channel revenue by some percentage or dollar amount, you have a goal. Great.

But do you have a method?

We work with companies who rely on their channel partners for a significant portion of their revenue and have found there are 3 key metrics to optimize channel revenue. Yes, there are many other things that can (and should be) measured but start with these and you’ll see a significant lift in your channel performance.

1. Lead Contact Rate

Seems like this should be 100%, but unfortunately it is not. Sales leads are generated and handed off to channel partners and often fall into a black hole of inaction and neglect. As Woody Allen once said, “80% of success is showing up” and if your channel partners are not “showing up” to follow up on leads, you are definitely not being successful and missing out on revenue opportunities. If you don’t know this rate, time to find out.

2. Lead Feedback Rate

This is a measure of what percentage of leads that you share with channel partners you receive feedback on with regard to quality, fit, or interest. Most companies do not have a closed loop feedback process in place and continue to feed leads to channels partners that are unwanted, unqualified, or worse. Oh, and this is probably directly related to the lead follow up rate above being abysmal.

3. Conversion Rate

This is the measure of what percentage of opportunities converts to transactions (ie, someone buys). You don’t need more leads or more channel relationships, you need to increase the conversion rate on the existing throughput of leads and opportunities being created in your channel. Better training, online/immediate access to important product information, and simply increasing the quality of leads provided (see #1 and #2 above) will move the needle here.

LeadMethod customers and their channel partners have doubled their conversion rates by applying a method to reach their goal. That method includes these three core metrics and is the focal point of what we deliver.

If you’d like to learn more about these important metrics or learn more about how we can help you optimize your channel revenue, let us know!


Channel Partner Sales Enablement

If you sell through a network of channel partners and distributors you understand that keeping them updated on the latest sales pitch, product positioning or new features is a challenge. And it’s no surprise that they are missing a lot of your new training material because they have to navigate your website or search through your electronic catalogs. Or maybe you’ve got some material in your partner web portal, but they have to login to get to it.

The fact is, they’re likely seeing just a sliver of what you have to offer and they may be missing the most powerful materials. A study by Sirius Decisions says that “only 30% of the content that marketing teams put together is actually used by sales.”

Why is that? The answer is simple: According to our research, your channel partners and distributors don’t know where to find this information.

You need an easy way to get your sales and product information to your distributors right when they need it most — when they’re following up on a hot sales lead. Well, we’ve created just the tool for you.

Introducing … Channel Sales Enablement, a core feature of the LeadMethod software platform.

Here is a 2 minute video showing exactly how the system works.


With LeadMethod your channel partners have the right information at the right time so they can close more deals.

Request a demo of our Channel Sales Enablement feature or call us at 800-406-5020.