Channel Sales – 5 Ways To Make it Work

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For years businesses have sold their products direct to the end-user. Going direct required staffing a sales force large enough to cover the geographical area that the business operated within. If it was a national enterprise it would recruit, hire, and build a national sales force with hundreds, if not thousands, of feet on the street. Direct sales has been the typical way to reach the buyers that fit the business’s buyer profile. Remember the Kirby vacuum salesman? Or how about the Tupperware lady? Or the milkman, or the Schwan’s salesperson who came to your door to sell grocery items from their trucks? Times have changed.

Today a more efficient, effective, and economical way to reach large groups of prospects involves developing and building a strong channel sales program. During my career I have built and developed a number of different channel programs across a variety of industries including; financial services, insurance, and business/professional services. Regardless of the product being offered, or the service being promoted, there are common characteristics to establishing high performing channel sales programs. Here are 5 things every successful channel program must include:

1. The right partner. Finding the right partner takes time, patience, and clarity of the objective. But the most important element in finding the right partner boils down to shared values and culture. Most channel sales programs die on the vine because the two partners do not align culturally. As you are seeking partners to work with be sure to inquire as to their company values. Many organizations post these values online. It’s a good place to start to be sure you are both operating from the same vantage point.
2. Clear value proposition. The essence of channel programs is to create a partnership that delivers more value when combined than either partner could deliver separately on their own. Whether it’s combining payroll with workers’ compensation insurance, or Hershey’s chocolate syrup with Betty Crocker brownies, the point is that the new product created is better than either solution sold separately.
3. Easy access. The customer has to be able to access your channel program with ease. Make sure you create a clear sales path for the buyer. Having well-defined roles and responsibilities for each channel partner is critical to ensuring a satisfied buyer. If the new program created by two channel partners is difficult to obtain or access, the program will fall under its own weight. Today many channel programs utilize technology solutions that provide easy access to their offering.
4. Reporting. A dashboard should be created that tracks, records, and reports key metrics agreed upon by both channel partners. Implementing a Quarterly Business Review (QBR) with each channel partner is an important element to growing and maintaining your channel programs.
5. Escalation Process. The best time to talk about what to do if problems arise is before a problem exists. Having shared vision between the channel partners as to how problems should be escalated including roles and responsibilities must happen as the program is being developed but before it launches.

By taking the time to work through each of these steps you will increase the probability of success for your channel programs while minimizing any risks that come with lack of clarity.  Let me know what you think!

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