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6 Tips for Aligning Channel, Direct Sales Teams

Got your own branded products or services for sale? Take a few lessons from suppliers to improve sales across both direct and indirect channels.

As more MSPs, MSSPs, VARs and VADs blur the line between partner and supplier by adding their own channel and peer collaboration programs, it’s not uncommon for knowledge and resource gaps to develop between direct and indirect sales pros. Not only can such gaps impact the bottom line, they can also impede the success and satisfaction of your company’s partners and your end customers.

The following best practices used by successful channel-focused suppliers can help address these gaps and develop a technology sales strategy that is effective across your direct and indirect channels.

Collaborate with Complementary Partners

A positive indirect channel experience starts with pursuing resellers with complementary technologies — preferably strategic alliance partners, or those that have value-added services complementing your offerings. This means doing a bit of research to identify and profile the right channels to sell with, but that extra legwork will be worth it in the end. Working with partners that are not a good fit for your products and services, or that don’t have complementary sales strategies, is time-consuming and ultimately not beneficial to either business.

Provide Ample Training

Whether in-person or virtual, an interactive and comprehensive training track is not only crucial for educating and enabling partners, it can also help you gain mindshare. Nevertheless, providing flawless training on your partner portal is not enough. The best place for an indirect rep to learn your product is in the field, which is why field enablement training is a must for helping to turn mildly informed channel sales reps into experts in your product and your space. On-the-job field training helps people learn faster.

And remember, education goes both ways — be open to new channel-sales tactics that may inform and improve your training curriculum, enablement resources, and in some cases, even the direction of your overall strategy. As you find partners who are familiar with the market in which your company operates, they likely will have valuable insight into areas such as the competitive landscape, common challenges, concerns and questions among prospective customers.

While channel sales reps may receive various types of training from channel managers, direct sales teams can acquire significant mindshare from their indirect peers by involving them in meetings or demos. At the same time, because direct sales reps tend to be closer to the company and are often more familiar with its offerings, marketing strategy and enablement resources, they can also play a pivotal role in the training process by sharing their knowledge with their indirect peers.

Foster Trust Across Channels 

Direct sales teams should have regular touch points with their channel sales peers to develop rapport and establish themselves as resources and advocates for each other. Trust isn't built overnight, however; it’s an ongoing process. Train your indirect sales team on honoring deal protection, bringing channel partners into direct sales opportunities, and working collaboratively and transparently with their indirect peers to help drive mutual success.  

Implement a PRM

A partner relationship management system, or PRM, is a centralized, and in most cases, customized platform that allows vendors to support partners in various ways. Most channel sales teams love PRMs because they typically serve as a one-stop-shop where teams can manage deal registrations, access marketing development funds (MDFs) and sales promotion incentive funds (SPIFFs), track opportunity milestones and avail themselves of virtual training sessions, sales presentations, and other enablement resources, to name a few.

While your program might not be large enough to warrant a PRM at first, don't discount the idea. A PRM also holds valuable data that direct sales teams can use to adjust both their internal and external strategies. This type of platform helps automate not just your channel sales activities, but also operational tasks with your marketing, finance and business operations teams. It provides a holistic look at a partner's activity and plays a critical role in driving sales engagement across direct and indirect channels. A PRM that syncs with your internal customer relationship management system (CRM) is especially essential when you have two teams (indirect and direct sales) working a single opportunity, which is typically the case. This medium helps make the flow of information smoother and assures no data get lost through emails and other modes of communication.

Include Indirect Channels in Your Direct Sales Strategy

Your peers have great ideas. It’s important to keep your channel-partner reps in the loop whenever they bring your direct sales team into an opportunity. Keep the boundaries clear — since they own the relationship, they should schedule the demo and make all the sales moves. But through increasing your partner's knowledge of your sales strategy via field enablement, you can be sure the right information gets across.

Offer Incentives

It should come as no surprise that performance incentives and rewards can help drive revenue for indirect channel sales. First of all, it shows that you want to go the extra mile for your channel partners. Rewards don't have to be company-branded merchandise or cheesy prizes. They should be things that could further help to increase sales down the line. Rewarding incentives based on opportunity stages is a great example of a milestone SPIFF that impacts the entire sales cycle. Additional margin for services or products and management SPIFFs are also great ways to drive revenue and mindshare from partners.

You can also incentivize your own direct sales teams by creating a dual-incentive strategy. In this scenario, your direct sales team earns extra bonuses on top of their commissions by bringing more sales opportunities to a partner. When each side of the coin has a stake in the game, it becomes clear that everyone is truly on the same team.

Direct sales and indirect sales are not two opposing teams. They simply represent different methods of achieving the same goal: driving revenue and success for your product or service.

As director of global channels at Flashpoint, Ayesha Prakash leverages her extensive experience driving business development and marketing efforts in the IT sector to build Flashpoint’s global channel program. Follow her on Twitter at @yoursocialnerd.

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