Do you remember the days when the stages between customer awareness and purchase were well defined? Marketing would launch a campaign to build awareness, and then work with interested parties to build consideration for their products or services. At that point, leads would be classified as ‘sales ready’ and turned over to the sales force. Sales would take those leads with the intent to buy all the way to a closed deal. Easy-peasy, right?
But a mammoth shift occurred in the buying process. Along came the Internet, and with it, changes to how customers engage with vendors, changes in what marketing and channel sales need to do to be successful and changes in how the sales funnel needs to be managed.
Today, 57% of the buying process is completed before a prospective customer even speaks to a sales rep.1 With nearly limitless information available to them, customers are educating themselves about options, rather than waiting for a vendor to launch a campaign. The funnel isn’t dead, but it applies to a smaller and smaller part of the market.
Marketing’s role now extends past the creation of sales-ready leads to actively engaging the customer via content, often providing the first point of penetration in a broader ‘land and expand’ strategy. And vendors are making sure that when leads arrive in the channel, the channel is well-incented to report them. This gives vendors a degree of pipeline visibility, but it has also shifted channel behaviour in an important way; the race isn’t to close, it’s to register. As a result, while nearly 100% of substantial deals are registered, considerably fewer of those deals close. For any vendor, this new world is dark and turbulent: it’s hard to see the sales that are coming and even harder to get a handle on important metrics like conversion rates and sales timeframes.
What steps can vendors take to connect customer self-education to top-of-the-funnel (ToFu) activities and what can channel management do to connect awareness, interest and consideration to bottom-of-the-funnel (BoFu) sales outcomes? Vendors and the channel can work together to increase visibility around the entire process – through a strong loyalty program that incorporates successful BoFu and ToFu management.
Many vendors have loyalty programs. Most of these programs don’t work very well. They often reach only the most committed partners, reinforcing pre-existing preferences, or they focus solely on BOFU, paying reps to report on business when the deal is signed. But when a loyalty program does work well, it incents a wide range of channel reps to report on several key milestone stages of their deals. Vendors that achieve that depth of insight can finally get answers to:
- What is my average sales cycle length?
- What proportion of my deals convert?
- What is the final value vs. registered value of deals?
- How effective are different partners – even individual reps at different partners – at pulling through registered deals?
A loyalty program can be designed to give you centralized visibility throughout the funnel. It can also reward incrementally during the sales cycle, capture data at strategic milestones, provide valuable insights, and most significantly, allow you to guide and reinforce desired behaviours.
The best loyalty programs also use the platform to educate and communicate with channel reps. Education improves overall sales productivity, identifies knowledge gaps and competencies and addresses issues in real time without waiting for quarterly or monthly reviews, while channel wide and one-to-one communications help set expectations, encourage feedback and let reps know they are being heard.
80% of sales reps say rewards and incentives strengthen their relationship with a vendor.2 By using promotions, incentives and learning opportunities, you can reinforce positive behaviour along the key milestones of the selling cycle, capturing data all the way through to final invoice number. While in the end, not all deals registered will result in a sale, capturing that information is important to maximize your sales cycle awareness and to influence close rate.
Vendors are facing more challenges than ever before in obtaining and maintaining the loyalty of channel sales reps. 70% of reps report being offered multiple incentive programs, and 25% are actually participating in 6 or more.2 So, it’s important that your loyalty program both engages and retains the reps’ interest. It’s like building a puzzle; not only do you need to make sure that you have all the right pieces, you need to know how to best put them together and keep them together. Sometimes market factors require you to start a new puzzle. Don’t panic, course correct, work your program and you will gain the insight you need to optimize channel sales strategies, drive sales through the pipeline and collect that ever-elusive end-to-end data.
To learn more about connecting top of funnel and bottom of funnel for B2B channel sales success, watch our on-demand webinar.