Common Sales Force Challenges Encountered When Working With Channel Partners

Last week we clarified our understanding of the dynamics of channel partnerships and explored the challenges they bring. I also shared an example of a successful coverage model. This week, let’s take a look at the common challenges confronted by both direct and indirect sales forces.

Challenge #1: the ability to effectively describe how your company’s offering can be used by your end users to achieve their goals or mitigate their challenges.

Ineffective channel managers, as well as direct sales people, often believe that if you “show up and throw up” your product features and functions, the prospect will magically understand and purchase your product. Is this approach to product training and feature presentation effective? I think you know the answer: absolutely not. Any—I repeat— any representative of your company needs to learn to describe HOW your product or offering can help its potential user solve a problem, satisfy a need or achieve a goal. And most importantly, the rep must learn to mold the conversation to the individual they’re talking to.

There’s an old saying in sales: You get delegated to the person you talk and sound like. If a rep learns to speak the language of the executive, he will be delegated upward to prove himself. If he focuses on points irrelevant to the prospect or uses meaningless jargon, then he will be delegated downward from where he wants to go. This results in lengthier sales cycle, costlier sales engagements, and most likely an “undecided” ending.

Challenge #2: greedy behavior.

If a direct sales person uses an indirect channel, she will most likely want compensation for any business secured in their territory. This reveals another significant challenge companies must address when managing blended sales coverage: compensation.

The best and most effective way to direct and align a sales rep’s behavior is through her pocketbook. As illustrated in the coverage model we discussed last week, it is critical to align compensation with the desired company outcome. What does this mean? No more double compensation, no more enabling of greedy behavior, and no more pay for no work. Focus the direct sales force on larger engagements or accounts, and use channel partners for the penetration and coverage of smaller accounts with a higher volume and a lower price point. This will generate peace in the ranks and more harmonious market coverage.

Challenge #3: using selling methods that conflict with the image the company wants to convey.

This behavior can spoil the company’s ability to accurately and reliably manage and grade its pipeline, and it can cede the client experience to a third party over which little control can be exerted.

This challenge is a bit trickier to deal with. If your offering, geography coverage, or specialty places you in a dominant market position, you can dictate an end user’s sales engagement process to your channel partners. If you are not in a dominant market position, then it becomes a negotiation. The manufacturer who influences its channel partners by providing their support, sales tools, and conversation-based sales training will be in a much better position to successfully convey their sales engagement model.

This last point provides a nice segue into next week’s post, which focuses more acutely on the skills and behaviors a channel partner manager must master. In the meantime, what are some of the challenges you’ve encountered when working in a blended sales environment?

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