Many companies discover that setting up a successful reseller channel can be a very frustrating experience. A direct sales channel is more straightforward: hire good sales people, tell them who to talk to and what to say, fire those who don’t sell. Getting a reseller channel to perform requires different strategies, more planning, and considerable finesse. Since partners often cover more than a single sales territory, hiring and firing resellers can be very costly and result in a revenue set-back measured in years.
To improve selling performance, most companies now sell in teams where more collaboration and ideas bring greater odds of success. This approach is critical in building sales channels. Unfortunately, channel development expertise is not plentiful in most companies so there are fewer opportunities to collaborate and develop the optimum approach. As the philosopher Émile Chartier once said, “Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have.” Too often with channels, it’s the lone idea that gets implemented with unexpected and costly consequences. There is a better way.
One of the most cost-effective ways to rapidly create or improve channel performance is to engage an external channels consultant. Such consultants add to the exchange of ideas and greatly increase the chances that the best approach will be implemented.
Here are 5 key areas where a channel consultant can bring significant value:
1) Strategy Development
Your channel strategy is the foundation upon which everything else depends. While building a winning reseller channel strategy is an iterative process, getting it close-to-right at the start saves considerable time and money, not to mention market credibility. If you’re just starting to put your strategy together or wondering if the one you have might be limiting your success, getting another perspective can be money well spent.
2) Programs & Tools
A former manager of mine once asked why resellers need better programs and tools than the direct sales force. The answer is that, to be successful, a direct rep has no choice but to take whatever you give them and create the rest on their own. Partner reps do have a choice and they make it by promoting whichever product has the best and most complete programs and tools. If your marketing team is not as experienced on how partner requirements differ from direct sales, getting guidance can help substantially in making your product the reseller’s “lead offering”.
3) Channel Program Audits
Companies with an existing channel program may wonder why it has never performed to their expectations. Alternatively, the channel may have been successful but recently sales have declined. Here, an ideal approach is to audit key channel strategies, processes, and programs. By using a structured, methodical approach, problems can be quickly identified and action plans developed to put the program back on track.
4) Market Research
One of my favorite sayings is that whenever you don’t know what to do, you likely don’t have enough information. Independent research can be invaluable in helping you decide which business models to use, which prospective partners to contact, where to make investments, and what kind of support your resellers really need. Good decisions depend on good information and a consultant can help you get it.
5) Operational Support
No matter how large your company gets, there are always special projects with tight deadlines where you don’t have enough skilled people to get the job done. Having access to someone who knows your business, has the skills, and can help with partner recruitment, program/tool building, or program roll-out can make the difference between making or missing your sales goals.
Like most services providers, consultants aren’t all alike. Look for one with knowledge of your industry and a broad experience of channel models and best practice. Also, there’s a huge difference between B2B and B2C channels and very few consultants truly support both.
Woodrow Wilson once said "I not only use all of the brains I have, but all I can borrow”. Borrowing channel expertise can be one of the most cost-effective ways to get your program on track.