08 October 2020 | Channel Business
In this opinion piece, Annika Buntzoll, Sales Director at Aximpro and an expert in managing highly complex partner programs, writes about ways to drive channel sales. She breaks these down into five practical steps – from defining and grouping channel partners to incentivizing products and educating partners. She also offers some useful tips for each step.
Driving your channel sales can be a challenging task due to factors such as high partner numbers, complex partner relationships and a diverse partner range. The following five steps could help you overcome these kinds of channel challenges and drive channel sales.
Step 1: Define your channel partners and cluster them
As easy as this might sound, it can be quite daunting once you really sit down to cluster your partners. However, if you want to improve channel sales, this is the very first, and perhaps most important, step. So, how do you approach this? Think about which clustering approach makes most sense for you. Clustering according to partner levels based on their sell-out volume, for example based on the previous year or quarter’s figures, is often very useful. By separating big partners from smaller ones, you can address every partner segment individually and make selling your products more interesting for them. You could also approach smaller partners with a bonus or attractive cashback offering for products that are not often sold in their segment, but which are sold every day by bigger partners. To offer a bonus for everyone would only waste money, as most of the funds would go to big partners who already receive discounts. With a bonus for the small partner segment, the correct partners would benefit. Keep in mind that one or two more monthly sales by many small partners, can make a big difference to the bigger picture.
Tip: Clustering partners based on the sell-out volume is most often applied. It’s also important to consider country- or market-specific clustering approaches and whether these would work for your company.
Step 2: Incentivize products you want to sell
You cannot only drive sales through your channel in general. It is also important to focus on certain products or product groups. To start with the incentivization, you should not only choose products that are very rarely sold, but also some products that are sold more frequently. For sales of the latter, you can offer a very low reward, but it is important to feature these because it will give partners a reason to engage actively with the incentivization you provide. Through this approach, they will also be informed about the products that are more difficult to sell, but that have higher rewards. It’s a good way to drive their motivation to sell.
Tip: This is where you should really make use of your partner segmentation. Analyze the past sell out of your partner groups and form attractive incentives for every group out of this – being clear about your goals. This does not necessarily need to be an incentive of “the-more-you-sell-the-more-you-earn”. It could also be a cross-sell incentive for products that fit together pretty well.
Step 3: Educate and empower partners
Selling is easier if you are well prepared. The same is true for the partners who want to sell your products. The better they understand your products, the easier they will sell them. So, provide partners with online product trainings. Should they not complete these trainings, provide them with a personal motivation to do so. The reward for trainings completed doesn’t need to be high, but it is proven that even a small reward will make partners take the trainings seriously. Another important way to educate partners and improve sales, is through downloadable, ready-to-go and up-to-date sales material. It is also proven that the easier to understand and better prepared the sales material are, the more they are utilized.
Tip: Try various formats for the trainings and sales material to establish what is more accepted and used best by partners. Try to get feedback through, for example, a survey about what information is needed most and where you can make improvements. The easier selling is, the more will be sold.
Step 4: Communicate your incentives
Utilize and try out different communication channels to see what works best within your partner base. Provide regular communication and implement an incentive communication routine. This way, partners will know when to expect new information about incentive offerings. Furthermore, it is important that the rhythm of the communication routine matches the sales cycle of your products. These individuals need to receive the communication, view the incentives, train their salespeople and then actually sell the incentivized products – all within the timeframe in which the incentive offering is active.
Tip: While the natural approach is usually shorter timeframes, longer timeframes can work equally well. Quarterly or half-year incentivization, for example, are quite usual for complex products within the IT industry.
Step 5: Offer support and use feedback
By offering dedicated support, you not only help partners but also receive valuable feedback to identify problem areas and establish what training material is needed. For example, if feedback includes that partners are not using the partner program or opening your emails, you could act on this feedback by promoting the program at events, seminars or conferences as well. Furthermore, you can drive special incentives that partners can only know about when opening the emails. There are many options and through this feedback process, you will have a more targeted and tailored approach.
Tip: If partners are not approaching your support team with questions, you can conduct a survey to get their views on the incentives, communication or sales material offered.
Actioning all these steps will take time, but the process is very helpful and rewarding. It is bound to take you beyond short-term success and improve your channel sales on a long-term basis.
About the Expert: Annika Buntzoll is Sales Director at Aximpro, a multinational software development, as well as omnichannel marketing and consulting company with long-lasting expertise in the channel business. She has hands-on experience in successfully managing multinational and highly complex partner programs. Annika is excited about all the possibilities that sales incentive and partner programs hold and is always eager to go beyond the current standard.
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