Do You Know How to Make Your Channel Partners Happy?
Here’s a question that might make some business-to-business (B2B) companies squirm uncomfortably: What have you done for your sales channel partners lately?
It’s not enough to merely get along with your channel partners and maintain the status quo. Just like other types of relationships, they can become stale; one or more parties may become complacent. In a B2B environment, where it’s important to work together to identify sales and marketing opportunities, close sales channel partnerships are the key to gaining market share and crushing the competition. In this article, we’ll examine some B2B expert advice on how to maintain a successful “marriage” with your channel partners. Your B2B relationship skills can always stand to be improved with these four steps:
- Show You’re Not a Selfish Sales Channel Partner
It’s natural for business leaders to be possessive of their own success. The idea of splitting their margin with other organizations likely makes many companies cringe. But, in B2B markets, sharing is surviving. Dealers, distributors and contractors want partners who will work alongside them and reach mutually beneficial channel sales goals. If you’re waiting until your channel partners “prove” themselves to you before you share a fair slice of margin with them, you’re probably driving them into your competition’s arms.
Veteran entrepreneur and venture capitalist Mark Suster offers the following advice for sales channel businesses: ” You’re investing in your channel partners’ success in the early years so that they’re motivated in your scaling years. That’s going to cost you margin. It’s the definition of ‘investment.’ Margin deals can be all over the map. My starting point mentally is about 30% for the channel partner. You can get away with 25% if they’re not doing much. You should be willing to go up to 50% if they play a significant role in the sales & marketing.”
Another strategy Suster suggests is taking most (75-80%) of the sales margin for yourself, while giving all of the service revenue to channel partners, as long as they do the lion’s share of implementation or servicing.
- Engage in Regular, Open Communication with Channel Partners
Along with sharing fair margin with channel partners, you should be sharing sales strategies, market ideas, insider industry news and product information. Don’t keep your B2B partners at arm’s length, otherwise it will be difficult to persuade them to act in your best interests. The more transparent and engaging you can be about your sales goals and business plans, the more likely your channel partners are to jump on board with your objectives.
In the 2013 Channel Marketer report, researchers found that aligning goals and exchanging strategies with channel partners has helped those in B2B markets succeed. “Value-added resellers and solution providers say they’re engaged in more collaborative, mutually beneficial sales activities with their vendors,” said Lawrence M. Walsh, Principal Analyst of the report. “This is a strong indication that vendors are working more closely with partners to uncover and close sales opportunities.”
- Improve B2B Relationships with Channel Reward Programs
Carving a bigger cut out of your margin for channel partners isn’t necessarily an instant fix to the problem of supply chain disconnect. More margin is good, but more margin by itself is like trying to buy a significant other’s love with trinkets rather than spending meaningful, quality time with them. It may make your channel partners smile for a while, but there’s no guarantee your competition won’t come along and win them over with a better cut. Merely becoming chattier about your business goals and sales ideas might not make an impression on your channel partners, either. Carried out the wrong way or by themselves, these initiatives could seem sketchy or pointless. In order to go from being a faceless commodity supplier to a trusted partner, you need meaningful and cohesive channel reward programs.
A multi-faceted channel rewards program is one of the best ways to invest in your supply chain partners and deliver meaningful, engaging communication at the same time. With a rewards or incentive program, you’re not just throwing money at your problem, but giving partners rewards for very specific behaviors that are lucrative and ideal for your particular relationship.
- Apply Strategic Sales Channel Incentive Ideas
Online sales channel incentive programs, such as those offered by Loyaltyworks, allow methods of tracking sales incentive results and managing multiple systematic sales promotions. You can offer channel rewards to partners for buying/selling specific products, registering warranties or scheduling maintenance and aftermarket services. Applying channel sales incentives strategically using flexible, powerful online technology can reveal your strengths and weaknesses, give you nuanced data about who your best sales performers are and help you develop a more effective sales channel strategy.
An additional or alternative B2B incentive idea is to offer channel rewards for information exchange. You can reward channel partners when they pass online training quizzes, which motivates them to seek out beneficial information from you about product, services, policies, etc.
This keeps them educated on your brand to elevate their selling confidence. Online technology allows you to reward partners for filling out questionnaires, as well, so that you can motivate them to help you fill out missing information gaps in your sales and B2B marketing strategies.
Well though-out incentive communication plans help deliver engaging messages about channel reward programs and invite open, ongoing contact. Ideally, your communication plan should include various ways of reaching program participants, including print, email and Website content. Mobile app and mobile optimized options are already important and will likely become even more crucial as smartphone adoption continues to rapidly increase and younger generations fill in the workforce.
If you’re not treating your sales channel partnerships like committed, long-term relationships, you might be with the wrong B2B partners, or in the wrong market. But if you’ve simply been a bad sales partner in the past, don’t worry—it’s not true that you can’t change. By investing more time, attention, funds and dialog into your channel partners, you can both motivate them to help you increase sales and establish a rapport with them that leads to a long, fruitful partnership.
VP of Sales for The Incentive Solutions Group of companies, consisting of:
• Incentive Solutions
Direct Contact: 678-514-0241
Sales Hotline: (800)-844-5000