Channel partners have been helping vendors get their products into the hands of customers for many years, making indirect sales possible. They can be a great asset, especially for multi-solution companies to rely on, where lead nurturing can be more complex.
Channel Partners act as a middleman between a vendor and the customer, and take ownership of providing sales and customer support services.
When it works, this mutually beneficial relationship is a great driver of growth and revenue. More of the product gets into the hands of customers, and the channel partner generates revenue from distributing the solution.
However, getting solutions in front of the right buyers is more complex than ever. Vendors might have a stellar internal sales team, and a longstanding channel partner, but still find that efforts at scaling growth have stalled.
The market in which traditional channel partners operate, which includes resellers, affiliate partners, distributors, value-added providers, and independent retailers has changed. Changes in the B2B customer, the shift towards consumption models, and a focus on data and technology, and the ever-growing need to nurture leads at the earliest stage have adversely affected the effectiveness of traditional channel partners.
In addition, the relationship between vendors and channel partners is changing, with a push towards both vendor and channel partner digital integration.
In this article, we will discuss the common pitfalls that vendors face with channel partners and how to resolve them.
Your channel partner hasn’t grown alongside the B2B buyer
The B2B landscape looks very different today when compared to a decade ago. Customer behavior, products and sales technologies have changed.
New expectations, spurred on by digitization have led to an increase in demand for self-service portals and digital experiences that are similar to what buyers enjoy in the B2C world. Self-service options, multi-channel environments, personalized customer journeys, video and live chat, and revamped media and landing pages provide prospects with a convenient and satisfying buying experience.
This shift towards consumption-based pricing models, with hardware and software redefined as services, are increasingly becoming the norm. The point of transaction, which is the bread and butter for traditional channel patterns, is becoming less important, and activities before and after the point of translation, such as lead nurturing, and upselling and cross selling, are becoming more important.
This is because buyers spend more time reviewing solutions and scrutinizing the decision-making process. The buying journey is more drawn out and takes more convincing than a simple sales call. Customers want to be reassured that vendors, resellers or distributors have a firm understanding of how the product will help resolve their specific business challenges.
Now, it is all about understanding customers and responding to their needs.
Technology and data are key to facilitate this. New digital tools, such as sales intelligence platforms, sales enablement platforms and sales engagement platforms, have all driven intelligent, efficient and predictable sales processes.
With more vendors on the market adopting digital and self-service solutions, and with buyers wanting to learn everything they can about a solution before making a purchase, we can understand how it has become more challenging for the traditional seller to convert leads.
The traditional channel model now competes with an ecosystem that supports cloud-based vendors selling as-a-service offerings. Vendors are also bringing their partners into expanded digital ecosystems that require increasingly sophisticated ways of monitoring, reporting and tracking.
If the channel partner hasn’t developed and strengthened alongside the changes in the buying landscape in a way that empowers them to sell the product, it is likely that they will struggle to convert leads in volume.
This leads us to our next reason why channel partners are missing the mark.
You expect your channel partner to strike gold in poor leads
Despite changes in technology and more complex customer behavior, the vendor and channel partner relationship has stayed the same. Vendors provide the channel partner a mountain of leads, expecting conversions to come out of it. As mentioned above, the B2B buyer needs to be educated, guided and nurtured before making a purchasing decision.
This is something that vendors understand, and now implement new methods, technologies, and processes to better get to grips with customer needs and data. However, this is often not the case for traditional channel partners.
Vendors and channel partners need to cooperate to identify ideal leads early in the sales cycle. It is vital that vendors provide direction to channel partners by providing high quality leads guidance on what leads to tackle, and what leads to dedicate the most resources towards.
As one Forrester Analyst put it, there is a growing requirement for channel partners to get entrenched in customer journeys as early as possible to stand the best chance of influencing a leads decision making journey. This entails thoughtfully educating leads while they are at the early stages of their journey, characterized by self-research and scoping out the market, as opposed to engaging them with a sales phone call as soon as the lead is delivered from the vendor.
Channel partners need to be recognized as partners, not extensions of the vendor. Channel partners have different capabilities, work culture and processes. So when converting leads, vendors need to make sure that they put in the legwork to bridge the gap in capabilities.
Vendors should sift through leads and only hand over leads that show a strong intent to buy. This way, it ensures high-quality leads are pursued by channel partners, and low-quality leads stay with the vendor until they are ready to be approached.
Here are some methods to help separate good leads from the bad before sending them to channel partners.
Lead Qualification: Lead qualification is a process undertaken to determine the likelihood of a lead becoming a buyer. Lead qualification is considered at every stage of the buyer’s journey, and decides when leads are brought to the next stage of the journey from Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL), to Sales Accepted Lead (SAL) and Sales Qualified Lead (SQL).
Learn more: The complete guide to lead qualification
Lead Scoring: Lead scoring is the process of assigning a value to a lead to determine its value to the seller. The scoring system and measurements used will differ from organization to organization and depend on who the ideal buyer is, and the effectiveness of marketing materials.
These actions and attributes will provide a positive or negative score, which will help determine if the lead should be pursued for lead nurturing.
For effective lead scoring, be sure to analyze first-party and third-party intent data.
First-party intent data: First-party intent data is derived from data the seller has collected from any interaction across the entire seller’s ecosystem leads, from event attendance, to campaign clicks, website visits and content downloads. For example:
- Company revenue
- Number of employees
- Job title
- Industry of expertise
- Years of experience
- Job role
- Decision maker authority
Third-party intent data: Third-party intent data is collected from websites that the seller doesn’t own, such as intermediaries. It looks outwards and takes into consideration the fact that prospect decision-making is multifaceted, and is not only based on the lead, but also other stakeholders and colleagues in the organization.
- Website registration
- Content downloads
- Content conversions
- Email open rate and click through rate
- Demo requests
Learn more: Your lead scoring workbook
By qualifying and scoring leads before sending them to channel partners, vendors will save time and money by ensuring that only high-quality leads are engaged by channel partners.
Your channel partner doesn’t have the tools or training
Vendors and channel partners need the capabilities to anticipate the challenges and needs faced by leads. However, to do this requires data technologies that offer prescriptive insights, recommendations of what leads to engagement, capability to highlight intent, guidance on when to recommend up-selling and more.
However, this remains out of reach for many vendors. A recent research report from Forrester suggests why:
- Vendors have limited visibility into what is happening in the Channel
- The average Channel technology program involves more than a dozen different types of partner
- Short product lifecycles increase the frequency with which vendors need to examine pricing strategy
- A lack of understanding that sales data quality is an obstacle to efforts to optimize sales
- Only a minority of vendors rate their organizations as “very successful” in terms of the way they handle key moments in partner relationships
Learn more about vital sales development tools and technologies:
It may sound obvious, but it is vital that the channel partner aligns with the vendor organization and is the right fit for leads. Channel partners should be equipped with the right training and tools and strategy.
For example, there needs to be shared expectations between vendor and channel partner about what makes a sales-accepted lead or sales-qualified lead. Furthermore, channel partners should have a good grasp of vendor price plans, product types, best lead nurturing questions and ideal customer profile.
It is important for vendors to frequently demonstrate preferences through training and walkthroughs. Whether that is educating channel partners about solutions, or offering guidance on how best to nurture leads that are a priority.
Vendors should get to know channel partners by examining criteria such as their technology capabilities, customer base, market and selling techniques, to have a better idea if the partner is the right fit for the organization and if they will be able to move products and solutions in volume. For example, do they engage in lead nurturing, do they utilize hard or soft sell tactics, and what is the lead qualification process?
Setting up strong lines of communication is key to enable performance reviews and address pain points with channel partners. To foster a good working relationship, it’s beneficial to guide channel partner representatives through several sales opportunities so they understand how vendor sales reps engage leads. This will go a long way in making sure that high-quality leads are not wasted by being engaged too early or too late, and then lost forever.
Whitepaper: The state of the Channel: transformation, technology and data
Your channel partner doesn’t prioritize your solution
Channel partners, more often than not, provide services for an array of vendors and have diverse revenue streams. Where selling a vendor solution makes up a small fraction of channel partner revenue, channel partners will dedicate fewer resources to selling it.
This is doubly concerning, as the channel partner is likely providing the same service to competitors. It is vital to remember that they are not a direct extension of the vendor, and will not always have their interests at heart.
If vendor solutions are not given the attention they deserve, it is a good idea to increase the frequency of communication or meetings with channel partners. Encourage them to focus on the product and advise on selling the solutions. Channel partners that feel supported will in turn have more confidence in selling vendor products.
The key to a richer channel partner relationship? Foundry Sales Development Services
The traditional channel model is often considered backward-looking, offering services to vendors based on their company size, not the leads themselves, nor the data. This results in the largest vendors receiving the most support, all the while, leads are engaged without an overarching strategy that aligns with the vendor’s processes.
As discussed above, there are steps that vendors can take to see better results and enrich your channel partner relationship. To make the most impact, find the high quality leads and send them to your channel partner. Sending them every lead you have without direction is just a recipe for low conversion and wasted resources.
The key is to master your lead data to enable lead qualification, lead scoring, first-party and third-party intent data analysis. However, this requires significant analytics resources, managing multiple data streams, plus a willing channel partner who will work with you to make sense of the data.
This task is even more difficult when vendors and channel partners are struggling with technological and market change.
To help improve your working relationship with your channel partner, enlist the help of an expert Foundry Sales Development Services team.
Channel partners rarely have capacity, technology, or willingness to work with you to nurture leads and unearth high-quality opportunities. Fortunately, Foundry Sales Development Services teams, such as Foundry SDS are at the cutting edge of using data to nurture leads and exploit high-quality prospects.
Used as a bridge between your organization and your channel partner, we can act as an extension of your organization and provide the expertise to score, qualify and nurture leads. This way, channel partners are empowered to do what they do best, sell to leads with a strong chance of buying.
Successful and sustainable lead nurturing is all about understanding customer data and leveraging it to create personalized and informative upselling experiences, to make the customer feel satisfied in their decision making.
SDRs have the training, tools, and capacity available to go the extra mile and ensure continued customer satisfaction, so your customers will be inclined to make another purchase.
Foundry SDS will create a bespoke lead nurturing program to deliver high-quality leads that fit the buyer persona of your business development strategy, and work with your channel partner to ensure they are engaged effectively.
We guide each customer’s journey toward conversion on your behalf, operating as a seamless extension of your in-house business development team. Once we bring your leads to the right level of maturity, we hand them off to your channel partner team for final conversion.
For more on how we can supercharge you channel partner relationship, visit: Our services
Want to learn more about enhancing your channel relationship?