Channel partners and Value-Added Resellers (VARs) are the redheaded stepchild (treated without the favor of birthright) when it comes to obtaining the attention and resources from manufacturers of the countless products they sell. They’re the last to get training and the first to be held accountable for meeting their quotas. With limited marketing budgets, and outdated sales tools, they’re struggling to effectively communicate why products are unique and different.
What is Channel Sales? A method of distribution used by a business to sell its products, usually by dividing its sales force into groups that focus on different selling conduits. For example, a company might implement a channel sales strategy to sell its product via an in house sales force, dealers, retailers or by direct marketing. Business Dictionary.
In recent years we’ve seen explosive growth in the marketing technology sector, causing research firm Gartner to famously predict that CMOs would outspend CIOs on IT by the year 2017. This leads me to wonder how, or if, OEMs will adjust their marketing strategy, and more importantly, will there be a newfound focus on sales enablement tools that could significantly affect the growth and success of there channel sales?
With new technologies rapidly changing the landscape of marketing and sales enablement I imagine the future of channel selling will alleviate some of the challenges channel partners and VARs currently face:
- Training – A recent study done by Qvidian shows that it takes an average of 9 months to successfully train a Sales representative, and it can sometimes take up to one year for them to become fully effective. While the average representative may be responsible for selling one particular product, or product line, VARs are tasked with selling multiple products from different companies. If this statistic is true for direct sales representatives, one can only assume that a channel partner tasked learning the ropes for a more expansive product set from more than one manufacturer could take much longer to train.
- Lack of Engaging Sales Tools – 40% of all marketing materials are not used by sales teams, which makes sense when you consider that often these materials are static brochures and collateral, looping videos, or standardized PowerPoint presentations that don’t truly help create an engaging Sales process. As current purchasers are looking for more and more control, channel partners must be able to provide an interactive and engaging Sales experience, for any and all of the products/solutions they sell. When selling products from a variety of companies directly competing with each other, it is likely that channel partners will spend their time attempting to sell the products they find easiest to differentiate–and therefore close deals on. Product manufacturers have realized this, and are already turning to virtual 3D Product Models, that look and behave just like the actual product, to get their offerings into the hands of Sales teams and channel partners. However, channel partners are often the last to receive these interactive sales enablement tools due to high software license fees, if they receive interactive tools at all, leaving them at a HUGE disadvantage.
- Globalization – VARs and channel partners are often located across the globe, potentially very far from the nearest manufacturer’s location or product demonstration centers. Therefore, they need tools that will allow them to sell better in any location, at any time. While mobile applications are starting to alleviate this problem, many tablets/smartphones carry greater weights of popularity in various countries, making content deployment more challenging, as a sales enablement tool must be able to work on ANY device the channel partner has at their disposal. Language barriers also render many sales tools useless, unless they can be translated into the local language for use in foreign countries.
- Universal Access – As mentioned previously, globally dispersed representatives utilize many different devices, from laptops to mobile devices, and need a tool that works seamlessly cross-platform—providing a universal experience regardless of location. According to Qvidian, the number one reason that Sales disregards marketing materials is because they are unable to locate or access them. This means getting the right information deployed into the hands of channel partners and VARs on the right devices is of paramount importance to communicate your message seamlessly and consistently. For use in regions where consistent Internet access is difficult to attain, or for use in venues like corporate headquarters or hospitals where Internet access is often restricted, channel partners need an application that works both ONLINE and OFFLINE, on laptops, smartphones, and tablets. Often, these sorts of applications require licenses (based on the number of users), which leaves channel partners and VARs at a huge disadvantage, as many OEMs are hesitant to pick up the tab for a sales enablement tool partners may or may not actually utilize.
Imagine a Utopian Future for Channel Selling
Sales enablement tools made especially for channels would not only provide 100% accessibility to interactive products, (by demonstrating them virtually) but would also show how various products can work together to better solve customers’ business challenges, regardless of which company manufactures them. This would turn every partner into a product expert, as they would have relevant product demonstrations, supporting materials, and marketing messages at their disposal at a moment’s notice. Eventually, channel partners would be able to integrate all of these virtual 3D product demonstrations, regardless of the OEM, into one interactive sales enablement tool with their own branding, allowing them to demonstrate the best solution for consumers by unifying various offers from their partners.
Not only would the ideal tool have access to all product lines, but unlimited users will have access 24/7, online or offline, any where in the world—providing a universal experience regardless of location or platform. Easily translatable text would make creating international versions of the application a snap, and universal cross-device compatibility would turn any device partners’ possess into a captivating sales accelerator.
While this may seem like a dream, I believe the future of interactive, cross-platform tools like this for channel partners and VARs may not be too far off!
This research stems from a survey of 165 marketing, commerce and supply chain executives, and 12 deep-dive interviews with executives who reveal the ways they are rethinking their engagement strategy.