Money for nothingIf you are any where in the sales channel chain, you've kicked a trashcan or two through the years. Frustration, misunderstandings and lack of empathy are common in sales channel relationships.
Manufacturers often lament that sales channel partners are under performing. typical shortcomings include:
- Don't create projects - only respond if someone asks them
- Don't communicate consistently
- Expect quotes and engineered solutions and never follow up
- Don't close leads which they are sent (generated at great expense)
- Never learn product very well
- Don't seem committed
Channel Management on AutopilotIn some cases poor channel selections are made (often adopting someone who brings a project as a channel partner) and then aren't proactively trained, managed and culled if appropriate.
But in most cases channel performs exactly as the factory has taught them that they should.
You know exactly how that message is conveyed. There may be a cursory initial discussion around mutual commitments, and thereafter the monthly pipeline spreadsheet is the extent of the channel management program.
Everyone's busy; conflict is undesirable; and training, nurturing and managing accountability are resource demanding activities. And yet mutually beneficial collaboration is somehow supposed to coalesce from the ooze of emails...Pretty silly, isn't it?
Select carefullyIt's amazing how few companies take the time to consider different channel models for specific product/market/vertical circumstances. They reflexively use distribution in each case and each market. That may be the best choice, but if so it's arrived at only by accident.
And channel partners themselves are rarely measured against a carefully established baseline profile. Not only are simple metrics (# of offices, sales/admin/support people, geographical coverage, competitive products, etc) often disregarded, but the more substantive mutual business planning is never undertaken.
Plan extensivelyStrong channel partners will value relationships which challenge them to grow and perform. Any channel engagement should begin with carefully vetted candidates and build on a channel business plan. Dedicated resources, other products which will be dropped to enable adequate focus, training and demo commitments and investments, joint travel and meetings and other related topics must be preemptively discussed and agreed upon.
Execute obsessivelyEarly nurturing and collaboration will not only reinforce the mutual commitments but set a tone for the life of the channel collaboration. Communication must be proactive and management of objectives and KPIs (not just revenue) should be consistent.
And even if you do it all right....it won't always be smooth. Selling through sales channel is really tuff. Doing so domestically is hard enough - doing so internationally is even more challenging. But the business imperative is clear - so it stands to reason that companies that can become incrementally more effective will substantially improve their business growth.
You will have stumbles. You'll select some sub-optimal partners. Some may age out of effectiveness. Others will be sold or change management - either of which can disrupt the chemistry of collaboration.
But if you "manage" your channel like most companies, the fault for frustration and poor channel performance very likely lies with your inadequate channel management.
It's really, really tough to reframe existing channel relationships. But your business growth may require doing just that. In any event, starting any new channel relationships out right is entirely within your immediate control.
So stop whining about your lazy and ineffective channel and take a critical introspective look at how you may have fostered and enabled mediocrity.
Then get to work improving it!