Do you have aggressive growth targets, but don’t have the means to build a large sales team? Or are you planning to enter a new city or country and want to test the waters first without investing in an in-house sales team?
Channel sales can be a powerful means to grow your revenue – providing you do it right! Most companies are unable to build a successful channel sales engine. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work. Those same companies could be successful if they avoided a few common mistakes.
Knowlarity has relied on channel sales from its earliest days. Along the way we have learnt several things about how to build an exceptional channel management machine.
5 common channel sales mistakes and how to avoid them:
When you are a startup, you will probably not have a dedicated channel sales team. People from your sales team will be taking care of it.
However, as soon as you begin to generate revenues from channel partners, you should hire a dedicated channel sales manager.
The most important reason is to avoid clashing priorities. It’s extremely difficult to create an inceptive structure where your salespeople are motivated to give sufficient importance to channel sales. In most cases, they will end up going after their direct sales targets because that’s where they will have higher incentives.
In addition, channel management goes far beyond just sales – it’s about the entire sales, delivery and support value chain. Your channel partners need a lot of support from you to successfully keep selling and even after the sale. Most companies neglect to provide that support and hence their efforts fall flat. Neglect this and you will have extremely high customer churn and many refund requests too.
Therefore, create a cross-functional team with people from marketing, product delivery, customer success, technology, etc.
Your marketing team will need to build custom collaterals for the channel team. Generic collaterals might not work.
Your salespeople will need to step in to close deals. They will always have more product knowledge than your channel partners and will be able to do a far better job of converting prospects. Moreover, the channel partners will give them highly qualified opportunities that are very close to a win – and the conversion rates will be very high.
Some companies have channel partners who are responsible only for sales. In other cases, partners also take care of delivery, and sometimes even support.
Whether you have a low-involvement or a high-involvement partnership, it’s imperative that you have the right technology to support the range of activities that a partner does.
The first step is to determine the process flow. Train your in house people and your partners in managing the respective steps of the process.
You should ideally have a cloud communication system like Knowlarity’s SuperReceptionist in place for all your phone calls. It’s best if can include your partners in that communication system. This helps in several ways:
o A cloud communication will help your partners keep track of their own sales activity more closely and make them far more productive.
o The CRM integration with your cloud telephony system will ensure that your in house team and channel teams do not inadvertently reach out to the same prospect. If anyone does, it will immediately be identified and you can assign an appropriate responsibility quickly.
o An useful hack to use here is to use a tool like Knowlarity’s cloud based call conferencing feature where all parties can get together on the call. Since it will also be integrated with the CRM, it will be easy to monitor the progress of that particular opportunity.
o Your cloud communications system can also be integrated with a customer success tool like Zendesk or Freshdesk. That will allow you to carefully monitor the onboarding and delivery process and keep mistakes to a minimum. For instance, if the new customer ends up calling the channel partner for support instead of the standard support line, that interaction can easily be tracked and forwarded to the right department. Far better than asking the customer to call a different number, right?
Finally, an integrated call and support system is the simplest way to identify the customer who is calling and which sales source they came from. This is important if you have different SLAs (service level agreements) for different customers based on which channel partner has sold them the solution. For instance, service agreements might differ according to city, state or country.
If a particular customer has purchased a higher support package, your support executive should be able to identify that immediately and take it forward appropriately.
Probably the worst mistake that you can make is to choose the wrong channel partners. Average partners can end up selling little or nothing and will waste your time and money. Bad partners can damage your brand by representing you by misrepresenting your product.
Here’s how to avoid working with bad partners:
Have clear and rigorous standards for choosing your channel partners. Avoid taking on board anyone who says they are ‘interested’. For all you know they have expressed interest with anyone they have met! There are too many people out there with little work on on their hands who go around trying to sell other people’s products.
Do sufficient background checks to make sure that they can deliver. Ask them for their track records and have them commit to specific targets.
Do periodic reviews to make sure that your partners are performing. Non performers should be discontinued. Also keep watching your customer churn rates. If customers acquired from a specific channel partner have a higher than average churn rate, that indicates that something is wrong. Maybe the partner has exaggerated what your product can do.
It’s best if you could integrate your partners in your call handling system as we discussed before. That will allow you to check call recordings to ensure that they are being ethical in their selling approach. Not all partners will agree to do this, but it’s worth it to try and get as many people on board with this.
Remember that your channel partners represent your brand. If they do anything unethical or unprofessional, that damages your reputation too.
Most companies fail to realize the huge benefits of channel sales. Knowlarity has a successful channel sales program because it has learnt from its experiences – good and bad, and has made several improvements to its channel sales program over the years. As long as you avoid these key mistakes, you can drive substantial revenue from this avenue.