I have always been more a deductive thinker, AV sales person, entrepreneur, coach; it always seemed faster to start at a desired result and work back to the first step.
That said, I want to fast forward to the conversation a company has when considering whether they should scale their company via a direct sales force, building a sell-through AV sales channel (via resellers), or both simultaneously.
Having worked with several startups recently, I know many have multifaceted sales strategies. Hybrid approaches are fine if managed by an experienced leadership team.
Allow me to provide some recent observations on direct and channel efforts I have consulted on:
As your ‘product’ readies itself for prime time, keep in mind “never to let perfect stand in the way of progress” (you can tweak indefinitely).
You have an internal sales enablement program for your own team that can be transferred to a channel as needed.
You have the organization alignment and technical teams built to support either direct or channel sales, most often called your sales engineering team.
It always turns out that sales engineers are asked to perform miracles in responding to the opportunity funnel. It is here I drill down to fix the sales qualifying process first, then empower & protect the sales engineering team.
The productivity failures common in the sales engineering process are easily fixed with a concentration on the sales qualifying process and Scope of Work (SOW) refinement.
AV Sales Engineering Best Practices
• Companies almost always start with direct selling – that makes sense, but be sure you have clear job descriptions, written sales goals and regular conversations in place.
Be sure you get this right! It takes an experienced coach to form a great sales and sales engineering teams while building the right culture.
I have worked for mature companies where I had to implement this for the first time. Be sure your company is equipped with a good desktop/mobile video conferencing system, its critical especially for remote offices and AV sales engineering meetings.
• You cannot scale your company without building a loyal reseller channel and/or strategic partnerships.
Loyalty requires work, just setting up a bunch of resellers only increases your burden if you select wrong and have no certification requirements.
Do it wrong and the opportunity funnel will crush your intellectual capital. The qualifying process and rules must be taught and in place.
• Setting up a channel is not for beginners, nor is making it successful.
Having been on both sides of this coin, let me say that resellers can be lazy, as can direct sales people who might be in part asked to support that new channel partner. This also can be corrected, but that is another article.
• Resellers/Integrators have choices.
They even represent competitive solutions to yours, so how do you get them to sell your solution over your competitors? Clearly you must work closely with them. You never high-jack their client.
Make sure your channel program works to generate money and success for the reseller.
Everyone must make money, but these resellers are part of your ‘family’ and they are saving you a hell of a lot of money prospecting and transferring their client loyalty to your brand.
It takes time and effort. Trust must be earned on both sides, but the first step is not from the channel side.
• If your’e channel centric, NEVER sell direct in your reseller territory.
As crazy as it sounds, this happens all the time and sabotages your channel. Most often it is because direct sales compensation is higher than if they help the reseller.
The direct sales force has a quota, they don’t have time to help others and make less money plus get a ‘spanking’ on why they are falling behind meeting that quota.
So, management: fix that! I have been screwed as a reseller so many times I lost count, all I was left with was grey hair. Channel conflict (even with registration) is still a management challenge. Don’t mess it up.
Consider handing the lead over to the resellers that are working hardest for you, which could be different than provides your company with the most revenue.
Priming the Pump for Better AV Sales
I have explored the channels that are supposed to be promoting a company’s solutions such as: business intelligence, cyber-security software, network monitoring to new bundled hardware/software.
As I noted earlier, most already have an alternate competitive solution and will only focus on your solution if you give them a lead. Are all these resellers “slugs” or what? Some are, but poor producers can be won over, assuming your solution differentiation has value.
Show the proper actions by working with them to win and make them money. Make a friend… use word HELPER, not selling. Yes, some resellers need to be fired.
Prime the pump; in fact, work on leads to completion with your reseller. HELP them to add value. You must ‘give to get,’ right! Who is going to do that? IT’S NOT your direct sales force if you provided better incentives for them to sell direct.
Consider a plan to pay some (perhaps the only) commission on reseller deals or create a separate field reseller support team.
Compensation drives behavior, quota bucket attainment and additional commissions based around the recurring revenue (annuity*) programs can provide a great incentive and AV sales engineering team longevity.
Proper quota programs can eliminate any sales entitlement culture and must be associated with any commission annuity program.
Finally, most of your resellers and 95% of the prospects already have done their homework and think they know what they want and why. Be prepared, study your targets business, know how your solution can help them and don’t be afraid of the “Challenger Sale” approach.
Back to a reseller field support team.
Perhaps a new position such as Director/VP or Manager of Strategic Channel Development should be considered. Yes, that position knows your solution and can do a demo. They also buy your reseller donuts and they work in the field to make mutual AV sales calls.
One last note on the direct sales side of the coin.
If you have sold large strategic accounts (say Fortune 50 logos) make sure those are known to the resellers if you work with them directly. Here again, growth requires a direct strategic account specialist full time for that client.
Everyone must make money, but resellers are part of your ‘family’ and they are saving you a hell of a lot of money prospecting and transferring their client loyalty to your brand.
I was able to scale my business because I had two Fortune 10 companies either using or reselling our product and a focused team just for them.
It still amazes me that some startups celebrate that great account contract and expect it to grow on its own.
It won’t, they have other solutions as well and or other things to do.
If you get a GSA contract, MSA, or a reseller contract, it is only day one. Just because you made your first sell-through sale, it will not grow organically (or as fast as it could) if you don’t further invest in that account with a person visiting and servicing them every day.
Experience matters. Scar tissue matters. Don’t be afraid to hire people smarter than yourself. As always look to seek out passionate people who believe in your mission.