Over the past 20 years of training and consulting my firm has had many clients that use non-direct, ‘channel’ salesforces to sell. So how does the sales funnel best work with channel partners?
Focus and alignment. How common is it that your channel isn’t focused where you want it to be selling? The problem sometimes is they bring you into deals too late to differentiate or that aren’t in your strategic wheelhouse. The sales funnel can align and focus selling efforts with your channel. One of our first significant clients was a division of a large company that sold industrial hoses. Management asked me how a sales funnel process would benefit their 125 sellers. I said I didn’t know. Fortunately, they were smarter than me and hired us to make it work. The sales funnel process brought greater collaboration and coordination of selling efforts. That division later was sold to private equity and then bought by another major player in the industry.
- Defining funnel entries. One of the considerations is to define the opportunities on the funnel as either end user or distributor/channel. For example, if your team wants to sell through a new distributor to get better coverage then selling the distributor is the funnel entry. However, if end user pull through is your focus then funnel entries can be defined by end users like a contractor, a retailer, or a manufacturer.
- Better qualification. It’s not uncommon for a channel partner to bring you into deals late in the buying process. It’s hard to differentiate beyond price and harder still to shape the solution to favor your capabilities. Chasing these deals wastes time. A sales funnel process doesn’t eliminate this but should surely reduce the times it occurs. The key is to have regular funnel inspections with your channel sellers. In these conversations you can reset and confirm the deals and accounts both of you should focus on.
- Better accountability. Improving sales productivity and performance ultimately comes down to execution and holding people accountable. You can’t be shy about demanding that kind of relationship with your channel partners. The good ones will respect it.
Author, The Funnel Principle and soon to be released book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching