• Is Your Company Channel Ready? (Part 2 of 4)

    When you get ready to enter the channel, whether a test run or full court press, you need to assess if the company and your products are ready. Much like assessing the readiness for a product for launch, a company needs to address requirements needed for the channel to sell and implement. Those that launch without working through these issues will find their program does a start – stop. They will have to go back and develop policies in the middle of a sales process or customer crisis. Here is a checklist of top items needed and their impact if they are not.

    Product packaging and pricing - As with most aspects of the channel, simplicity is critical. This is especially true of your product. If you have a broad product line, consider what products will be sold in the channel and why. Once you have identified the products, view the packaging and pricing from an outsider’s perspective.

    How simple is it? How much support do you need to sell it? What is the experience for installation? How much hand holding will this take, or can you develop tools interfaces that will streamline the experience? Since the channel is selling more than just your product, their attention span and how much training it takes to sell your product is a factor in success.

    When it comes to pricing, it needs to be simple. Complex or long price lists will require company assistance to prepare a quote. Are you prepared to provide the phone support? If creating a quote takes some skill, consider creating a packaged product or price list just for the channel that focuses on the core products you want them to sell. Then provide support on the backend for larger more complex deals.

    Training – How will you train the sales and support staff? The typical response is to use the corporate training material. This usually doesn’t work. It is too long (time is money). And they are only interested in the meat of what you are training: how to identify a prospect, how to talk to their customers, how to sell, how to compete, how the product works, and who to call when they need help. If it doesn’t fall into these categories, keep it out.

    As you develop your training, keep in mind your product will be fitting into the their company’s value proposition. The more you can communicate refine the message to their world, the better they will be in executing.

    And oh, by the way, most channel sales training is done in two hours or less.

    Support – This is one of the most overlooked areas when launching a channel. Yet, it can have the biggest impact to its success. Studies over and over have shown the support is the top criteria cited by partners in successful programs. They want access to knowledgeable people, fast. The channel’s reputation is on the line when there is a problem.

    Their ability to escalate and get things resolved has immediate influence and will be a reputation builder. This is especially true for the early stages of a relationship when they do not have a history of resolving issues with your company

    So, the big question is: what is the priority of the partners in your company? If you are a company like Compellent, you have designed your entire strategy around successful partners. And wow, do they like them! Review your escalation process and how will partner needs will be prioritized against a call from the end user or internal staff.

    Services and Implementation – Does your product require services to use the product. How extensive is the engagement? Who will provide them? Are you prepared to support the sales effort or is there a standard statement of work that can be included in a proposal? Will you train the partner to deliver the services and provide them the tools to easily replicate what you already do? Or is this a conflict within the company by taking business away from your services team?

    Many companies will initially provide the services jointly with the partners. The intent is to have the partner shadow their experts and then take on the services and revenue. This works well, especially when the company has clear customer segmentation defining the ‘territory’ of the partner and their internal services team.

    This is the second of a four-part series of articles on channel marketing by Camberley Bates, Managing Director at Evaluator Group.

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