Someone not in channel sales may be forgiven for thinking that channel partners should just want to sell a vendor’s solutions — selling is central to a partners’ business, after all. But it’s not that simple, is it?
The reality is that channel partners offer many different vendor solutions to customers, and quite often, even represent competing brands. So how does a channel partner decide which vendor’s offering is the best fit for a given customers’ particular requirement?
Of course, partners weigh which solution they believe best meets the needs of the customer. But it doesn’t end there. Other influencing factors come into play, including what the partner has successfully sold before, what they know will perform well over time, which vendor provides the best support — and of course, where the partner will earn the most money.
So how do you become the vendor whose offerings your channel partners repeatedly present and sell to customers?
Build loyalty. Provide sales-enablement tools and rewards. Give recognition throughout the entire sales cycle. Take every interaction you have with your channel as an opportunity to reinforce your brand and build loyalty. When your reps become enthusiastic and loyal advocates, they go out of their way to recommend your products and services to customers. Recognize the commitment that channel sales reps make to your brand and reward them for it. These moves will result in soaring engagement levels, increased revenue and market share.
Think all that sounds simple? As we know, it’s not, but there are tricks of the trade. Here are five:
- Develop sales incentive programs that are paid out directly to the channel sales reps for evangelizing your brand.
- Make your incentive program easy to understand and easy to participate in. Sales reps need to be free to focus on selling, not the administration effort of a rewards program.
- Reward your channel reps for passing tests and/or earning certifications that develop their competency with your brand.
- Recognize channel-rep activity in building their sales pipelines with your products. Focus on strategic alignment and developing line of sight into key opportunities.
- Reward for closed sales.
Let’s delve into incentive programs, which vary based on strategies, goals, specific channel program elements, the products and services being sold, the length of the sales cycle, product value, life-cycle stage and market maturity. There is no one-size-fits all. Some companies pay a percentage of rewards to the partner organization, other companies reward the entire amount to individual channel sales reps and/or teams. You need to analyze your budget and your partners to identify the formula that will work best. Your incentives strategy needs to speak to your partners and answer the all-important question: “WIIFM" — What’s in it for me?
Successful incentive programs have a few common ingredients:
- They’re easy to understand. Your partners know what’s expected over the long term.
- Communication is clear and steady. Minimize change; if the rules of the game change too often, partners find a more stable brand to represent.
- Incentives match the effort that is required.
- Resources, such as sales sheets, scripts, proposals, competitive analysis and market trend data, are available and easy to find. When channel reps can’t find the information they need, they stop looking. The result is that partners lean toward other vendors.
And at the most fundamental level, everything mentioned above – from incentives to communications to resources and training – is available through your partner portal. That’s part of “making it easy."
The largest indicator of a well-oiled incentive program is an increase in sales, of course, but there are a number of other worthwhile benefits. By incentivizing activities based on a defined sales process (say, deal registration or product demo), you are breaking through the clutter of information partners receive and reward those qualifying activities that predictably generate sales. Additionally, by offering your partners incentives, you gain visibility into their behavior, so you can measure and analyze what’s working and what needs improvement.