You Need Your Channel to Sell: 4 Ways to Leverage the Value of the Channel
By Steven Kellam
Companies do two things: they make stuff and sell stuff. It’s simple, but Tiffani Bova, chief growth evangelist at Salesforce and author of the bestselling book GROWTH IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business, believes that the beginning of any conversation about sales must start with this very general yet accurate idea – no business (big or small) can survive without selling something. From there, the different ways that “stuff” gets sold becomes a bit more complex. But the fact remains, the center of it all is selling.
If you’re not a company that customers are buying your stuff directly from you, then you have to rely on the channel ecosystem within your market to do the selling. Those channel partners play a critical role in the amount of stuff being sold, who’s buying it and how it’s being sold. Realizing the value of the channel in this process is essential. More importantly, though, is making them sell more. This is the challenge and opportunity on every sales leader’s mind.
During another insightful and entertaining ChannelEdge Podcast interview, I spoke with sales expert Tiffani Bova to get her take on the importance of sales to the channel. More specifically, Bova helped our listeners understand four key ways to think differently about the channel so brands and manufacturers can improve their channel mindset and amplify sales.
- Allow the channel to play their part in the sales journey:
The relationship between brands and their channel should be mutually beneficial, symbiotic and strategic. They both need each other to succeed. However, too often, the channel waits for vendors/brands to implement huge programs, including go-to-market, digital transformation and incentive initiatives – all aimed to educate and motivate the channel sales machine. While these programs initiated by vendors are imperative, the channel shouldn’t always have to wait for them in order to perform. The channel needs to play their part to make sure they’re selling – no matter what. Partners need to add value throughout the entire sales lifecycle and not just act as a fulfillment and customer relationship connection.
When channel partners take more initiative in this joint relationship, they can really stand out to brands. They become an indispensable part of the selling process and can even lead the way in innovation and transformation.
- Leverage partners to meet customers’ expectations in a digital world:
You can’t do the selling if you don’t have customers. It’s always about the customer and understanding their habits, persona and buying journey. As Bova mentions, “you must adapt sales models to evolving buying processes, not ignore or resist them — a big transition for many firms whose marketing, sales-training and -enablement tools, and most selling expenditures focus on inside-out tactics, not a customer-centric process geared to today’s purchase criteria in their markets.”
Channel organizations have deep connections with customers and understand what they demand in the Digital Age. Brands can take advantage of the loads of customer data the channel has and use it to fine tune their sales strategies – connecting with the right customer, at the right time, with the right message and offering.
- Focus on the right channel partners – not every partner
In this instance, quality always trumps quantity. Instead of working with as many channel organizations as possible and trying to get them to sell a product or service, brands should do their homework and find the right partners who are already well-versed in selling your offering and have a customer base that is interested in it. “Leading the horse to water does not make them drink,” Bova reminded us during the podcast. Aligning your organization with a channel partner that has a similar culture, mission and even leadership style will save hours of pain and produce significant greater output and ROI.
- Make time for innovation planning:
Far too often sales leaders spend many more hours of their day dealing with the “here and now,” instead of the “what’s next.” Running a business or sales division is time-consuming, but the most successful leaders make the time during each day to forecast, brainstorm, prepare and even imagine. That’s how companies innovate. That’s how success is achieved long-term. Evolving, adapting and innovating doesn’t come from daily reports – it comes from anticipating trends and then pivoting accordingly. Bova explains that a good quarter is because of decisions made two years ago, not two months ago.
The pandemic has forced a “come to Jesus” moment for many decision makers. While no one could anticipate a global health crisis that would bring life and business as we know it to its knees, the organizations that were already anticipating an accelerated digital transformation fared far better than those who ignored the signs. Inertia is the enemy of progress. Sales leaders must embrace the fact that change is not a weakness or a sign of failure. In fact, it’s the opposite in today’s sales ecosystem. Being able to be flexible and nimble puts you ahead every single time.
The channel will continue to play an essential role in sales. Brands that are able to leverage their strengths in order to fulfill the needs of an evolving customer, will have a massive competitive advantage. Companies need to sell stuff; customers want to buy stuff, and the channel is the bridge between the two. Understanding and optimizing these relationships will create lasting sales success (and more stuff to go around).
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