Sales enablement is now being seen as the driving force behind well-managed sales channels, successful selling partners who meet or exceed quota and, ultimately, the key to driving sales revenues. This has caused the average sales enablement budget to double in the last two years. The overall investment in sales enablement has increased by over 65%.
While channel sales enablement can make sales channels more effective, it also presents unique challenges. In the case of direct sales, ultimately the company and the salespeople are clearly a team. There is no conflict of interest and the challenges are pretty much the same across all sales teams in the company. However, channel sales enablement is a very different ball game. For one thing, every channel partner deals with multiple vendors. This translates into intense competition amongst vendors to grab the channel partner’s attention. Vendors want to ensure their brand gets the attention it deserves. To add to the complexity, you have multiple channel partners to manage, and not every partner’s needs are the same. For every channel partner who works wonderfully, there’s one who is struggling to push the brand. For every partner who is extremely successful with marketing campaigns, there’s one who wishes the vendor offered them better marketing support.
Adding to this chaos is the lead generation challenge—the challenge to capture the attention of the next-generation buyer and holding it. Today’s buyer is more knowledgeable and empowered than ever before. With information at their fingertips, the next generation buyer is constantly evaluating the seller’s brand, researching, getting peer reviews and has pretty much made up their mind before the seller’s channel partners even approach them. How can businesses help their channel partners engage with these buyers at the right time? How can they make their brand a favorite with their channel partners? How does one ensure that products and services are marketed effectively? Vendors all over are having a difficult time answering these questions.
This blog outlines the unique challenges that are a part of channel sales enablement and explains how this affects channel sales enablement efforts
Challenge #1: Maintaining the brand
When you sell through channels, channel partners become your brand ambassadors. They become the face of the business as far as the end customer is concerned. But how do vendors ensure that their brand and its messaging are portrayed exactly the way they want? What if there are compliance requirements in relation to the messaging. How to ensure they are met? One inadvertent slip-up can prove fatal for the brand.
Sales enablement for channels requires providing channel partners with tools that allow them to customize sales collateral, without disrupting the vendor’s branding standards.
Challenge #2: Generating, following and closing quality leads
Lead generation and closure is often a bone of contention between vendors and their channel partners. Vendors may perceive that their channel partners aren’t pursuing their leads effectively; channel partners argue over the quality of leads handed over by vendors.
With leads flowing in from multiple vendors, it is only natural that partners gravitate towards leads that are hot. They invest time and efforts where they believe results will be better and quicker. However, this means leads that are not ready to buy immediately are often ignored and lost for good.
Sales enablement for channels means providing channel partners and vendors with lead scoring, segmentation and nurturing tools that ensure only the most potent leads are shared with channel partners and those that are not ready to make an immediate purchase are automatically groomed until they are worth the channel partner’s time.
Challenge #3: Poor marketing results
Vendors feel they are not being marketed correctly by their channel partners and that their channel partners don’t always use the right messaging. Ultimately, companies and their channel partners alike are disappointed with their marketing programs as they don’t bear the desired results. For the best results, the marketing campaigns designed by vendors should be tightly woven into the channel partner’s business goals and should be easy-to-implement. If this isn't done, no one is happy, and both blame the other.
Sales enablement for channels entails empowering vendors to provide their channel partners with pre-approved marketing and sales collateral. This ensures that the message sent out by the channel partner resonates with corporate messaging, yet still can be personalized by the channel partner to reflect their identity.
Challenge #4: Lack of trust between vendor and channel partners
Vendors often accuse channel partners of not giving enough preference to their offering. There is a general sentiment that the vendor’s products/services are not being ‘pushed’ enough by their sales channels. Also, vendors end up relying on complex spreadsheets or sales/marketing records of channel partners which contain manually input data. From the vendor’s perspective, such records raise questions about the accuracy, authenticity and freshness of data. Channel partners, on the other hand, feel that vendors are on a fault-finding spree and not truly interested in supporting them.
Sales enablement for channels entails bringing about transparency in the relationship between vendors and their channels. This becomes possible by providing access to a detailed reporting system so that vendors know every bit of important information such as marketing/sales campaigns run by channel partners, actions taken by them on incoming leads, lead closure/drop rates, etc.
Challenge #5: Measuring channel effectiveness
Vendors have too much to keep track of: managing multiple partner relationships, various marketing programs, and multiple products and services. All of these elements come together creating a complex mesh that makes it difficult for vendors to measure the effectiveness of their channels. Often vendors know who their top-performing channel partners are, but when it comes to identifying the problems with their other channel partners, vendors are left clueless. End result? They are left battling poor channel performances with no idea of what’s wrong with their channels.
Sales enablement for channels entails keeping the vendor in the loop with respect to every interaction that happens between channel partner and prospect. It involves making the performance reporting system independent. When vendors need not rely on their channel partners for performance reports, it helps on three accounts. One, it lends more authenticity to the reports, since they are system generated and can be directly accessed by the vendors. Two, reports pertaining to all channel partners are available in a single format. Third, the vendor is able to provide all its channels with a standard repository of marketing/sales assets; making an apple-to-apple comparison of channel partners easy. This enables vendors to understand which channel partners are doing well and which ones are struggling to perform. With all the subjectivity and ambiguity out of the relationship, vendors are able to make effective channel partner management decisions that are based on solid facts and figures.