When most sales bloggers write about selling, we almost always discuss direct B2B sales. Ignored in all of these articles are those clients and companies that sell through channels. The channels are many, and include stocking distributors, brokers, retailers, VARs, agencies, partners, resellers, rep firms and more. The salespeople charged with selling to and through a channel are different - in many ways - and their goals, expectations, activities, skill sets and strategies must be different as well.
When we work with companies selling through channels, the sales processes, metrics, sales management, sales coaching, sales training, messaging and coaching must be different from what we do with direct B2B sales forces. Channel sales is quite different.
Some channel salespeople simply sell to the channel and the channel does all of the work. Retailers are a great example of this channel and the work they do is marketing and display centric.
Some channel salespeople sell by pulling sales through their distributors. A good example of this is food manufacturers, whose salespeople create a demand with restaurants and hotels, who then purchase the food from their local distributor.
Some channel salespeople work WITH the channel reps, conducting sales calls together. Unfortunately, most of these sales calls are nothing but quick, 5-10 minute product demonstrations. In cases like these, the channel salespeople are more like technical experts.
Some channel salespeople are charged with signing up channel partners. This is more like traditional B2B sales.
Some channel salespeople work with an existing channel and the only way for them to grow revenue is to either get the channel to take on new products or generate new customers for their existing products. In these cases, the channel salespeople function more like coaches.
And, as one of my clients learned recently, if the distributors are very large, control too much territory, your product is not part of their core business, and there isn't a commitment from the distributor's ownership and management to proactively increase the focus and visibility of the product and/or brand, you're in trouble. In this case, it doesn't matter how good your sales management is or how talented your salespeople become. When you are held hostage by your channel, you're screwed.
Having lots of resellers may seem like a lot of work but smaller ones aren't big enough to hold you hostage, they are often more motivated, nimble, and must have stronger salespeople to compete against the larger firms.
Channel management is much more challenging and most companies using channels lack the necessary awareness to determine exactly why their channel isn't moving more of their stuff!
In some cases, it isn't until you've ruled everything else out, that you can finally determine where the real problem lies and what you must do about it.
Do you sell through a channel? Do you have any of these issues?
- They don't communicate their opportunities.
- They don't share their pipeline for your products.
- They won't make a commitment to generate more revenue.
- They aren't proactively looking for business for your brand.
- They don't sell - they mention.
- They don't accept your coaching.
- They want your brand - but only so their competitor can't have it.
- Their reps are awful.
- Their management is ambivalent.
- They think your contract is unfair.
There are many ways to solve the problems of your channel, but all of them require either a different mindset, alternate approach, nerves of steel, or all three. Have you had enough aggravation with your channel to make some changes?
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