Partner Selling

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If there’s one thing that vendors and channel partners agree on, it’s selling.  More or less.  Everyone agrees that more selling is better but the discussion can diverge greatly from there.  Vendors and their partners are not immune from the virus that affects direct sales people.  We often hear direct sales people say their leads are no good and we hear marketing say that sales doesn’t follow up.  Sound familiar?  Of course it does.

The name of the game in sales is finding the fastest route to the cheese, so to speak, and anything that slows down the transaction (or the or the mouse) is suspect.  In the real world, we all know that customers are not simply purchase order generators and that selling takes work but this shouldn’t be taken to mean that the marketing and sales process can’t be improved.

Marketing gets a lot of attention today because marketing automation from companies like Marketo, Salesforce, Oracle, and Microsoft is very good today and because it brings some scientific rigor to the process.  Better marketing makes better leads and better leads make for shorter sales cycles and happier partners.  That all sounds good, but how do you get there?  Here are some tips.

First, stop giving every lukewarm bit of customer response to a sales person with a mission to bring in the business.  It’s not a lead — yet.  If a prospect downloads a white paper for instance, it certainly shows some kind of interest but what kind?  Is the prospect looking to buy something or is a grad student writing an MBA thesis?  

Marketing automation is popular today because it provides lead nurturing.  Instead of handing over such “leads” to sales people, marketers hold onto them and put them through nurturing processes that aim to capture more information such as who the buyer is, what the business problem is, whether or not there is a budget.  Only when such information is in hand does a modern marketer release the lead but this brings up a challenge for the vendor-partner relationship, namely, who is responsible for lead nurturing?

The answer is it depends.  It depends on the nature of the product, relationship, and market.  Ideally both parties should engage in some kind of nurturing — partners can’t expect all of their leads to come from the vendor.  This means vendors and partners ought to come to some agreement on how to approach the market and what defines a lead.  This is part of the value a vendor brings to the relationship.

Second, and many partner programs already have this down, a vendor needs to have some standards about lead handling.  There should be mutually agreed SLAs (service level agreements) in the channel defining how quickly a partner contacts a vendor lead AND reports back on it.  There’s nothing worse than nurturing good leads only to have them ignored.  A modern PRM system can usually handle this and it is one of the best reasons to have one.

Third, the vendor must be able to track and report on lead disposition.  Metrics for first touch, follow up, close rate, wins, losses, and no-decisions, and similar things can help a vendor in determining how to share leads and ultimately participate in stack ranking vendors.

Of course, partners have the ability to accept or reject leads once they’ve done their due diligence.  This is completely analogous to direct selling where marketing generates a marketing qualified lead (MQL) and sales verifies it as a sales qualified lead (SQL).  

Rejection is often a good indicator of the lead generation process’s effectiveness.  If too many leads get rejected it might indicate that they’re too raw going out the door and a need for better nurturing.  But if an individual partner has a consistently high reject rate along with a poor win/loss ratio, it might say something about that partner.  That’s why it’s important to capture partner data throughout the deal funnel and to analyze it.

Too often we hear that marketing and selling are not exact sciences, like physics for example, and that’s right.  But they are sciences nonetheless, just more like economics and sociology or anything that relies on a Bell curve.  Using analytics and metrics to understand the fat middle of your curve and to identify your long tail outliers can help any organization improve marketing and sales and that will improve the effectiveness of your channel.

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