Magazine Article | August 1, 2018

Increasing Revenue From Your Channel Partners: 5 Practices That Work

Source: Software Executive magazine

By Paul DeMore

In order to have a truly effective channel program, your partners need to be able to answer critical questions about your software and must have the sales skills to consistently execute in front of customers.

A channel program is an effective way to increase your capacity and expand market share. However, without putting resources behind enabling this avenue for revenue, you’ll likely do more harm than good.

In order to garner the many benefits that come from a robust channel program, you need to put the time and resources into ensuring your channel sellers have the same understanding of your value and differentiation as your own field or inside sales teams.

In our experience, that enablement comes from five clearly defined practices that we’ve seen produce bottom- line impact for high-powered sales organizations. They will likely help you, too. In addition to those five steps, you should also know:

  • The four essential questions each channel partner needs to be able to answer.
  • Three critical sales skills you need to ensure your channel partners have.
  • The five steps to enabling channel salespeople.

Achieving predictable and repeatable sales growth comes down to two major areas of focus — productivity and capacity. When you’re able to make your salespeople as productive as possible and you have enough team members to execute, your revenue numbers naturally increase.

PRODUCTIVITY X CAPACITY = GROWTH

Unfortunately, many sales leaders overlook the value of enabling a channel organization and the positive effects it can have on meeting your revenue goals. At a basic level, the more people you have selling your software the better (capacity), but what are the specific steps you can take as a sales leader to drive productivity within your channel partner community?

There are a variety of areas to tackle, including sales manager enablement, better channel solutions, and effective marketing campaigns. All of these are important, but if your channel partners are not able to fully execute in front of the buyer, these other important areas will fall short. You’ll spend thousands of dollars on programs that won’t make a difference because they are not accounting for the channel partner’s ability to execute at the point of sale.

THE VALUE OF A PRODUCTIVE CHANNEL

As in any channel sales opportunity, your ability to control the sales process is limited, if not eliminated. You have to accept that your partner controls the time frame, message to the customer, and, ultimately, your forecast.

For any sales leader, the loss of visibility — and frankly, control — can be frustrating. However, the benefits of a robust channel program often outweigh the perceived negatives. Your cost of sale decreases, reach into new markets improves, and overall seller capacity grows without necessarily adding internal head count.

A channel program can help you reach your growth goals faster. For many sales organizations looking to increase market share, investing in a channel program makes sense.

All too often, channel sales investments are an afterthought of direct sales implementation. It’s true, we take care of the immediate family first, and that will always be the plight of a channel leader. It comes with the territory. But, as you build territory assignments, demand generation campaigns, and technology investments, accounting for the value of your channel will help you increase the productivity of this important sales avenue.

As channel leaders, we are competing for partner mindshare. There are only so many hours in a day or days in a quarter that a partner will actively sell our software. For those that sell other solutions, there may be an expanded time frame when your products are not top of mind. So, if that is the case, how can you enable the partner to keep your solutions at the forefront with the right buyers and deliver the right value proposition to the buyer?

"You have to accept that your partner controls the time frame, message to the customer, and, ultimately, your forecast."

Best-in-class channel enablement programs ensure their partners have a clear understanding of that value proposition. Everyone in their channel knows what challenges are top of mind for their buyers and what their solution can help solve. Perhaps even more importantly, they know how they can deliver that solution better than the competition.

Each channel partner needs to be able to answer the following essential questions as they relate to your solution:

  • What problems do we solve for our customers?
  • How do we specifically solve these problems with your solution?
  • How do we do it differently from the competition?
  • What is our proof?

If your partners don’t have consistent answers to these questions, they’re wasting valuable time with important buyers. Chances are, their sales process is longer, causing the cost of sale to increase, and therefore reducing the overall profitability of the partnership. Furthermore, your forecast suffers as you continue to lose revenue from a potential new customer. Think of the value to the buyer, and frankly to your bottom line, if each partner salesperson could answer those questions consistently.

It is critical that channel partners are situationally fluent in front of a client. If you want to increase channel productivity, your partners need to execute effective discovery. Then, in a consistent way, they need to deliver a message back to the client that describes your solutions to customers’ problems in a way that (1) has meaning to them, (2) demonstrates differentiation, and (3) enables them to charge a premium for our products and services.

Use your channel partners as a strategic way to extend your value message, increasing your capacity, and improving your overall sales productivity numbers.

FIVE STEPS TO CHANNEL PARTNER SUCCESS

1. Ensure company message and partner sales message are consistent.

The ability to drive consistency between the headquarters of your organization and the partner in supporting a customer’s buying process has never been more important. The plethora of digital content available means customers are seemingly more informed. They’re educating themselves about your offerings prior to any conversation with an actual salesperson. This situation creates a potential for missed opportunity if that partner is misaligned with your overall message.

It is your job as a sales leader to ensure you first have consistency on the four essential questions internally. Seems like a simple statement; however, getting channel sales, marketing, product marketing, etc. to all agree is not an easy task. See for yourself. Ask some key leaders in your company what their answers would be to those four questions mentioned earlier.

These questions are simple, but the answers typically are not. Most companies don’t have alignment internally on these questions, let alone through their partner network. If you are not aligned as a company on those answers, how can you expect your partners to position your solutions correctly in the field? Align internally on the answers, and then make sure your partners are aligned in the same way.

Does your message support the channel buyer’s journey? Can your partners execute that message? Do their marketing materials, sales tools, and presentation decks all have that same unified message?

2. Educate the partner community on the critical sales skills to be successful in today’s markets.

Your partners won’t be successful in selling your solutions if they can’t effectively execute in front of the customer. We believe there are three critical sales skills every salesperson needs, including those in your channel organization. They need the ability to:

  1. Uncover customer needs by executing an effective discovery session.
  2. Articulate value and differentiation in a way that has meaning to the buyer.
  3. Position and negotiate value, preserving margin and avoiding price cuts.

Figure out a plan to ensure every person selling your solution has these three critical sales skills.

"Too often, software companies launch a channel partner program without accounting for the steps needed to truly enable execution at the point of sale. This oversight is a fundamental mistake and will hinder the long-term success of the program."

3. Implement and inspect what channel leadership adopts in the field.

Remember, people do what you inspect, not expect. At the same time, ensuring that your channel leaders are driving enablement and adoption in the field will help drive greater success. Precall planning, creating discovery questions, role-playing, conversing with a buyer, etc. are all ways that will help increase transaction sizes across the board. Don’t just tell your channel managers what to do. Provide them with the “how.” Give them tools and processes that allow them to implement the right behaviors, and coach to success.

4. Arm partners with competitive intelligence to accelerate the sales process.

How does your solution differ from the competition’s? How is that differentiation tied to what drives value for your buyer? Provide specific competitive information to your partners that outlines what about your solution is:

  1. UNIQUE — your competition doesn’t have the same features or capabilities.
  2. COMPARATIVELY DIFFERENT — features or capabilities that are similar, but are delivered in ways that are more valuable to the buyer.
  3. HOLISTICALLY BETTER — qualities about your company that would mitigate risk in the buying decision (e.g., years in business).

5. Provide the channel with proof points that demonstrate your success.

Customer testimonials are an asset to any sales conversation. Providing tangible points of reference on how your solution provides the results you promise strengthens your message. They’re also invaluable for the channel. You can talk about how you are better than your competitors all day long, but putting evidence behind those claims helps your potential buyers see the positive business outcomes they can achieve through your solutions.

Effective proof points speak to the priorities and the perspective of your customer. If you’re going to articulate to buyers how your solution is better than your competitor’s, you need to make sure your proof points are solidly in place. More importantly, they need to be consumable for your channel partners to execute. If your solution saved another customer x% of revenue, then that’s valuable information for a channel partner to have. Develop a way for channel partners to easily tap into case studies, testimonial quotes, and proof points for use in their own sales conversations.

CONCLUSION

Best-in-class sales organizations understand that a channel organization is a key enabler of their revenue goals. They invest in making sure these critical partners are enabled in a way that drives consistency in the marketplace, preserves margins, and improves market share.

Too often, software companies launch a channel partner program without accounting for the steps needed to truly enable execution at the point of sale. This oversight is a fundamental mistake that will hinder the long-term success of the program.

Take the time and invest the resources necessary to drive consistency and success. Your revenue goals are too important to leave them to chance

PAUL DEMORE is the senior partner of channel strategy and programs at Force Management, a B2B sales effectiveness consulting firm that specializes in helping software companies improve sales productivity, driving predictable revenue growth. He has 25+ years of experience in software sales, enablement, and leadership.