By Barton Goldenberg, Founder and President, ISM Inc.
Working with a channel sales partner is a unique relationship. Not only is it no longer all about you, your product or service, and your company, they may also work with many other vendors—some of which may be in direct competition with you—and as a result, field a variety of different requests and priorities.
The following are a few ways to stand out from the crowd, build your relationship, and sell more effectively with channel partners:
Take the time.
A great sales rep will understand the importance of co-selling with partners, whether it’s a distributor or a partner sales rep. The channel represents feet on the street above and beyond your single self, so it’s time well invested when you work closely together.
Think about it: maybe the distributor has 50 sales reps. If you can motivate even a fraction of them, there's a greater likelihood of selling much more. This means going out on sales calls, buddying up, and answering questions, as well as potential social activities such as dinner or a ballgame. Your success is dependent on them, and it can only happen if you take the time and invest in the relationship.
It’s very important to work tightly with partners on promotional activities. For example, a partner may come to you and say they doing a trade show or a special event, and they’d like you to be represented. Yes, you will show up as the vendor or the manufacturer, but you’ll play an active role in helping to generate leads. This will also help the partner sales reps see how you sell because you know your product or service intimately. And the best part is you can actively play a role to directly hand over new leads to the partner reps.
Speaking from practical experience, when a sales rep is active in a social media community, there's an amazing amount to learn by listening. It's a very good place to learn what, where, and how you should be selling. Customers are asking questions, but so are distributors and partners. By participating in these forums, a sales rep—and all of the other partners—can provide their own unique expertise to questions depending on where they are coming from. A sales rep’s time spent on social media communities, particularly the private communities that companies have where they invite their customers, is a tremendous way to sell more effectively through partners.
Create a best practices community.
Following on with social media, there is also the opportunity to create shared experiences and communities. This can take the form of invitation-only pages for all vendors, partners, and companies, and customers to all come together and share best practices.
Why would a distributor want to be a part of a best practices community? From the partner side, their success obviously depends on the ability to sell the products. But they also need “just in time” information that can help them be specific enough to address a customer problem that they're facing and trying to address. In a B2B social media community, they can find applicable success stories from other distributors, partners, and customers. They can also ask questions to each other. These answers aren’t just from the vendor or the manufacturer, but also other partners doing the exact same thing they are. If you have a community of best practices, it's potentially worldwide and always open 24 hours a day.
Co-invest with your partner.
You can also encourage co-investing between your organization and the channel partner. Remember, a channel partner would always like to have more salespeople, but they cost money. So your company could actually co-sponsor or co-invest with dedicated sales reps. This makes it very attractive to the partner—and you have reps who are very interested in your own product.
If your company co-invests, you can say, "We will pay for 50 or 75 percent of the sales rep, but here's the criteria. They have to go to our rep training school or make X number of new calls per day to new customers. Or we will reward the rep three times the amount of commission to a new customer versus an old customer.” There are many different ways that your company can incentivize the representatives with co-investing, and it can be an incredible leverage to create new sales and build a true working relationship.
Based in Pittsburgh, Catalyst Connection is an economic development organization dedicated to helping small manufacturers to improve their competitive performance. Catalyst advisors, consultants, and instructors offer training, consulting and administer financial programs that can provide funding for equipment, machinery, or capital improvements. As a nonprofit 501 (c)3 firm, the organization has been supporting Southwestern Pennsylvania manufacturers for more than 25 years. For more information call 1-888-887-7472 or go to www.catalystconnection.org.