Salesforce calls it The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Industry 4.0. Today’s B2B sales companies find themselves staring into an alphabet soup of industrial acronyms: SaaS, CRM, IoT, BI, UX. How do these factors change the process in B2B sales? Where does the human element fit into the modern sales channel? Are B2B sales companies destined to become commodity suppliers?
Sometimes, before finding solutions, it’s necessary to define the problem. Last week, we had a chance to interview Joseph Lombardo, Channel Sales Leader at Carbonite, a B2B data protection company that provides platforms for data backup, migration, and disaster recovery, to protect its clients against data loss and cyberattacks.
With over 11 years of sales channel experience, with a focus on SaaS in the telecom and IT industries, Joseph Lombardo knows a thing or two about helping his clients navigate their sales channel. Together, we were able to compare note to try to pinpoint the problems B2B companies are facing and what factors companies should take into account as they update their channel sales management strategies.
Channel Sales Management Strategies Q&A
Q: What is the number one frustration you hear from the clients you work with in regard to their sales channel?
A: I encourage my team to talk with newly onboarded partners and ask them why they came to us. One of the most common frustrations we hear is how hard it is to do business with some vendors. That might sound like an easy fix, but I believe that reducing operational friction in the sales process can be a differentiator in partnerships.
Q: Can you expand on what type of operational friction you hear your clients mention?
A: A lot of partners will complain about the amount of time they spend waiting on the vendor. Whether it’s waiting to get onboarded, waiting on a quote, waiting to get a deal registration approved, or trying to get a sales demo scheduled, a lack of responsiveness is a big issue.
Q: What can B2B companies do to improve their user experience?
A: I think it’s important to make the partner’s buying experience as seamless and automated as possible. The more manual intervention is required, the longer partners are waiting to make money.
Q: How has the move towards more of a SaaS model changed channel sales? Why is having an effective channel sales management strategy important for today’s SaaS companies?
A: For many SaaS companies, particularly those selling into a horizontal market, embracing the channel is a cornerstone of their go-to-market strategy. Channel partners help companies scale and open new doors to their connections, giving these companies a broader geographic reach. These partnerships also bring credibility to the idea that your company’s a trusted advisor, which in turn builds trust for your brand in the market. Training an inside sales team can be expensive and time consuming for a company. Leveraging an indirect salesforce helps SaaS companies be more agile.
Q: How have digital transformation and data enablement shaped channel partner relationships?
A: With data enablement, partnerships are becoming more dynamic. One of my favorite use cases is helping partners identify upgrade and cross-sell opportunities using customer data. Analytics also allows for greater visibility into these partnerships: Why is a partner not performing or declining? Is the issue the amount of pipeline? Are we losing deals in a certain stage of the sales cycle or in deals of a certain size? These insights allow for a greater degree of customization and a more focused analysis of your partner base so that you can provide quality enablement, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach.
Q: When we were speaking earlier, you mentioned making it easier for your partners to sell your products. How would you go about doing that?
A: Channel partners have the luxury of selling to whoever they want. They don’t have to work with you. That’s why it’s essential that your channel program can build two things – trust and loyalty. Partners want more than a price book or a portal login. Most professionals I talk to want engagement and enablement. This comes down to investing dedicated resources in your partners beyond just providing sales account managers or working together on co-branded marketing campaigns. The most important thing is helping your channel partners understand how your solution addresses their clients’ business objectives across all lines of business. How do they pitch it to more than just the CIO? This, complemented with content-specific training, competitive comparisons, and customer testimonials will set them up for success. By equipping your channel partners with tools to qualify opportunities and overcome objections, you will be enabling them to evangelize your solutions.
Q: Where do you see things going as far as the future of channel sales? What are you (or your clients) excited about?
A: I’m interested to see how traditional Value-Added Resellers and Managed Service Providers adapt due to shifting demographics and evolving buyers. Where traditionally those companies they have aligned themselves with IT, we’ve seen more and more tech and software decisions made by the other lines of business. CMOs are spending way more than CIOs on technology. Being able to have specialized conversations across all lines of business and tying the value proposition to each of their business objectives will be critical.
Key Take-Aways for Your Channel Sales Management Strategy
First of all, we’d like to give a huge shout out to Joseph Lombardo for taking the time to talk channel sales management strategies with us. We found his answers to our questions very insightful, and it’s always interesting to explore new firsthand perspectives on the B2B sales process.
Many of his experiences match up with ours. With that in mind, we thought it might help to pinpoint a couple of key take-aways businesses can use to refine their channel sales management strategies:
- Data is more important than ever. Companies that are able to collect the right data and leverage that data to provide better, more personalized experiences that help their channel partners succeed will be the ones who thrive in the modern distribution channel. (Also, make sure to keep your data secure!).
- Strive to provide a seamless UX that includes digitalized and automated platforms. Providing a seamless user experience with fast, responsive service will be key to building brand preference among channel partners. Optimizing your ecommerce platform, and providing other digital platforms with a high degree of automation and engagement, can drastically improve your responsiveness and lower your cost-to-serve.
- Make it easier for channel partners to sell your products. It is up to vendors to educate their channel partners and equip them with the knowledge they need to sell your products. Keeping channel partners up-to-speed on your products, promotions, and differentiators, through consistently effective communication and marketing, will help you become a preferred supplier.
- SaaS and IoT have made channel partner relationships MORE important, not less. Even with the rise of digitalization and automation, the ongoing nature of most B2B sales means that channel partners are more reliant on vendors for support, expertise, training, troubleshooting, and customization. Emotional factors like trust and loyalty are every bit as important as more quantifiable features like price, functionality, and deliverables.
- When selling to other businesses, you have to tailor your value proposition to a committee of stakeholders across different departments. Like Joseph Lombardo pointed out, it’s no longer enough to just convince a CIO of the value of software or technology. Instead, you have to appeal to department heads and other stakeholders across sales, marketing, procurement, and finance. A CMO will have a very different set of priorities when making a purchasing decision than a CIO, and vice versa.
- Invest in your channel partners and provide meaningful engagement. B2B sales in a two-way street. Make sure brand interactions are rewarding for your channel partners, and that they know you are invested in their success.
If you’re interested in learning more about how a channel partner incentive program can help drive these outcomes, keep an eye on our blog.
Til next time,