Some business goals are never changing. For example, in order to have a healthy, sustainable model, we all need to grow revenue and reduce costs. How important is channel engagement to achieving these goals?
If your company’s go-to-market strategy is through an indirect sales channel, keeping your entire channel engaged is critical when it comes to driving sales and increasing revenue for your company. So, this begs the question: what are the most effective ways to engage your sales channel?
The 6 Reasons That Front Line Sales People Sell continues to be my company’s most widely downloaded e-book. It outlines our research findings of the six reasons sales people move your product. (A bit of context on the book: Since we were building from scratch way back in 2008 when our company was founded, it made sense to me that we would interview as many potential users as possible so we could have a blue sky outlook of what we should build. Along the way, I really wanted to know what made sales associates show one brand over another and the result is the above e-book.)
But back to channel engagement.
The challenge is often that not all of these driving factors fall under your personal control in your role, and yet for continued growth you need to be working to increase the level of engagement from the top of your channel to the bottom. Things that are in most cases out of your control are things like quality of your product, consumer-level brand awareness, and retail price point.
Train Well, Train Often
Things that are in your wheelhouse when it comes to channel engagement are making sure that your entire sales channel is educated on the product itself, because we all know an educated channel generally speaking moves more product. I have previously written about training incentives in this column, so for today’s article I will be brief on this matter and summarize: There is enormous value and scale in offering incentivized digital training. You are effectively combining two of the six top elements that drive a sale at retail: product knowledge and incentive and building massive engagement along the way. (Feel free to read the original article or visit my website for more on this.
Connectivity Is Key
Relationships are another controllable factor when it comes to keeping your channel engaged, hence the better relationship each channel partner has with those above and below them is likely directly related to how much product is on the move. If you have digitized your incentives claims process, then by now you have begun to build greater connectivity to the key people in your channel: sales managers of all types and sales associates themselves. I would challenge you now that you have built this point of connectivity, what are you going to do with it? Think hard on this – these are the people who are making or breaking brands presence every day at retail and you need to have them on side.
What’s In It For Them?
Then there’s the third and most important driver of engagement: incentives. I say ‘most important’ because it’s often your incentive programs that are going to get you past some of the biggest barriers to channel engagement such as lack of channel visibility once you sell into your distributor level. Incentives aren’t always what are going to drive the sale, but a compelling incentive program is often the first point of engagement between your brand and the people who sell it.
There are all types of programs, from sell through allowances to sales spiffs, and I would urge you again to put some focused effort into creating custom programs that consider the needs of your partners alongside your own business goals. One of my clients was running a fantastic single program nationally when they started with us five years ago, but have been running in excess of 250 concurrent tailored programs ever since. It’s safe to say the experiment of customizing their incentives back then has found a permanent home in their incentives toolbox.
Look - we’re all really busy and people are not engaged naturally. It takes a concerted effort from a product manufacturer to make sure that the product is continuously pushed through the channel. Keeping your channel engaged by educating them on new products and their features and benefits, making sure relationships are fostered between channel partners, and constantly incenting the channel at all levels, will lead to more sales, more revenue, and more fulfillment by each person taking your product to market.