Selling direct is a breeze — kind of. You control everything — you choose the salesperson, you provide the training, you establish the payment structure, and you decide on the marketing message used to reach customers, among other things.
When you sell through the channel, howevr, things get complicated. You need to depend on your partners to hire, train and motivate sales people. You may pass them leads, but they have to go out and sell your products.
Vendors fret about this uncertainty — but life isn’t a cakewalk for partners, either. They face uncertainty from their vendors around things like incentives and marketing efforts. They may lack the expertise to close deals and need to team with other resellers — but how? And what happens when the vendor’s training is lacking or impossible to get?
Consider the CRM Metaphor
The average partner company works with eight different vendors, a recent Baptie & Company/CompTIA study revealed. A fifth of all partner companies work with 15 or more vendors — and these are often competing vendors.
In order to win these partners’ attention — and the dollars that come through channel sales — you need some things: a compelling product; a good economic proposition; and the ability to fulfill your promises to your partners.
You also need to embody something that’s an underpinning of CRM: You need to be easy to do business with — or at least easier than your competitors.
The CRM metaphor is important to consider when thinking about the channel. We tend to see CRM as something for direct sales, but the ideas behind the discipline are at play in dealing with partners.
They’re not just the conduit to your end customers — they themselves are customers whose experiences need to be considered and thought through. After all, if their experience is good, the result will be sales — potentially an exponentially greater volume of sales than your direct force can bring in.
So making yourself easy to do business with is a lucrative thing. Unfortunately, most vendors don’t think about this partner experience, and the result is costly in a number of ways.
Fine-Tune the Experience
Vendors should provide portals that are effective, efficient and frequently updated. One early stumbling block is in the assigning of passwords; many vendors issue different passwords for different portal functionalities. This forces the partner to manage five or six passwords — and invariably, one goes missing.
The best result is that the partner calls your IT company to update the password. The worst result is that the partner goes to a vendor that offers single sign-on — the obvious solution to this impediment to doing business.
Vendors should make sure the portal provides partners with the basics. Portals should be one-stop resources for partners, providing training, marketing materials, MDF and co-op applications, deal registration, and other things critical to the vendor-partner relationship — and they should be easy to find and easy to use.
You’re busy — so are your partners. Making them hunt for things is inconsiderate of their limited time, and they may opt for a vendor who’s more considerate and shows it through its portal.
Another way to make the portal more partner-centric is by profiling your partners and using those profiles to deliver specific content tailored to their needs on each visit. Partners don’t go to portals just to hang out.
Fewer than 30 percent of partners visit a specific partner portal every month, according to a study by CSG and ChannelFocus. That’s because most portals are static and unchanging. How many times do you need to look at the same billboard? Profile-based content allows you to keep the portal fresh and make it easier for your partners to find what they need.
This doesn’t just keep partners on your side. It also saves your channel team time they can use to improve your program. An estimated 40-70 percent of channel managers’ time is taken up by calls from partners asking about things that are already on their portals. Those calls aren’t placed if partners can find the information easily.
An effective portal also earns you greater wallet share, since so few portals are working the way they’re supposed to. If you can deliver the basics via your portal, you’ll be instantly ahead of most competitors.
You’re probably already spending a lot of time thinking about the experience of your end customers. That’s important if you want them to do business with you — but your partners are also part of the equation. Tune their experience to their needs, and they’ll bring more business to you.