Indirect sales channels have a bad reputation for not keeping up with current trends. We have seen direct-to-consumer marketers set the pace, business-to-business industries piggy-back off that success, and indirect sales teams lag behind, almost as afterthoughts.
The irony is that in the evolving sales world, indirect channels and partners have actually become the lead revenue generators. Still, managers of partner ecosystems continue to operate using outdated, inefficient sales and marketing strategies and systems that are driving their companies down a path of obsolescence.
“The channel as we know it is completely shifting,” said Charles Layne, president of Signature Technology Group, a Tech Data Company. “It really is a revolution vs. a natural evolution.”
No industry has seen as dramatic of a shift away from direct sales and toward partnerships as the technology industry. Studies of tech companies have found a decrease in direct sales to end consumers of over 20% in some cases. Furthermore, upwards of 70% of global goods are sold through indirect sales channels, and that number is expected to grow. The digital revolution has arrived and infiltrated the indirect sales channel. It’s time for channel businesses to join the revolution or die.
The next stage of channel-dependent growth
As indirect sales continue to take a leading role in business growth, channel strategies must adapt. The old tradition of channel sales – believing partners owe their engagement and loyalty in exchange for incentives and spiffs – is no longer relevant. To survive in the new channel norm, companies need to pivot and start supporting the partners who are driving value to their organisation.
Luckily, in most cases it’s simply a matter of modernising the proven methods that have worked and retiring those that are standing in the way of progress. What are these methodologies? They’re the familiar tried-and-true business principles, but reimagined to meet today’s buyer-driven sales cycle.
“As partners end user’s become more savvy and their infrastructure moves to closer to a hybrid of on and off premise, cloud-based subscription models, the partner ecosystem will need to continue to adapt,” said Layne. “They'll need to be there with the right tools to help guide, engage and form deeper relationships with both buyers, lines of businesses and the overall customer experience. And as suppliers we will need to support our partners by providing the right tools, the right training, and high-value sales, marketing and customer success content in real-time."
As much as it may sting to accept, it’s borrowing many of the best practices direct-to-consumer and business-to-business sales and marketing teams are already implementing: Becoming the 'A' solutions provider, creating customer success, and account-based marketing (ABM).
Aim to be the 'A' solution provider
When you become the go-to brand in the mind of your end consumer, your partners benefit from increased qualified leads and future customers. When prospects search for a solution, they often look for the thought leaders in the industry – the brand that’s an expert in their field, known for providing great solutions, and in tune with industry.
For suppliers to remain competitive, it’s no longer about finding your 'A' lead. Things have flipped. Now you have to become the 'A' solutions provider and prove you have those qualifications.
Focus on customer success
Along the same lines of becoming the go-to solutions provider, it’s essential to understand not only what your customers deem as achieving success around the problem you solve, but also what success looks like to your partners. What are their desired outcomes? What struggles do they face? Both your end user and your partners.
Obviously two very different view points, but by identifying these things you’ll be able to better align your channel efforts, and build the catapults to help your partners and customers get over their hurdles.
Chances are you are familiar with account-based marketing, and you might associate it with an expensive, siloed process. But today, thanks to technology, ABM can be more scalable and automated, which is why it has made a recent resurgence in the B2B marketing world.
It’s an attractive method because many companies practicing it are seeing better alignment between sales and marketing, the ability to close bigger deals with highly targeted prospects, and pipeline acceleration. Following ABM methods essentially allows you to get hyper focused on the best accounts, gain valuable insights, and create deeper relationships.
But the question remains – how do you actually leverage and implement these methods, particularly when faced with a mountain of other priorities? By following the 3 Cs.
As I mentioned, it all starts here. When was the last time you really got to know your end consumer and spent time positioning your brand as the top solutions provider in your industry? You can’t neglect the end buyer. Understanding each step of their journey will help you identify the sales and marketing tools you need to empower your partners. This means identifying several key moments:
- As they move from outside the purchase funnel to the consideration stage, what are identifiable actions your buyers take? What are they thinking? What are emotional triggers that spur them into action? What needs are not being met?
- Who or what is influencing your buyer along their decision-making process?
- What actions do they take to signal they have moved to the next phase of their journey?
Answering these questions will help you streamline your positioning and get everyone in your channel operating on the same page. Being armed with the right content and messaging to meet the needs of this journey is invaluable to all involved. You’ll be able to better equip your sales partners with the precise tools and content they need to provide more value to prospects and build deeper relationships.
Yes, content marketing. Creating original and compelling content will enable you to position your company as the 'A' solutions provider, demonstrate you understand what customer and partner success looks like, and better execute on ABM strategies.
Your partners on the frontlines communicating with your customers on a regular basis. Make them partners in the true sense of the word. Collaborate on creating the high-value content you (and they) need to demonstrate thought leadership, answer questions buyers have, and ultimately help move prospects through to conversion.
This may sound time intensive, but today technology exists to help streamline many of these processes. It’s important to note, that while programs make managing prospects and customers easier, don’t become too reliant on the convenience of automation. There still has to be an element of genuine interaction and listening.
This method of selling is long overdue for a smart overhaul that works for the customer and partner first, and the supplier second. Successful indirect channels are already discovering new strategies to enhance connections with prospects, then leverage technology to grow and manage those interactions.
Because we’re only at the forefront of what indirect sales are capable of accomplishing, the slate is cleaner than ever for you to develop a method that works for you and leverages every tool at your disposal to grow your business.