Sunday, February 23, 2014

What Makes a Good Vendor?

Having worked in Channel Sales for 20+ years, I have had many varied experiences with my Channel Partners.  I have seen people produce many, many thousands of dollars in sales, consistently year after year and make tons of money with my programs.  I have also seen the opposite end of the scale, Channel Partners who sign a marketing agreement and either never produce a single sale, or close but a few sales over the years.

So what is it in a Channel Sales group that drives an “Independent Sales Agent” to use one supplier over another?  I have my ideas which I try to run with faithfully with my team of Agents, but I’m really curious what you think?

The most important item I have found over the years, required to even get an Agent on board, is a good, meaningful Product.  Without a marketable product, there’s no reason to sign an agency agreement in the first place.  So let’s assume for this discussion we have a great product…….
A good Channel Team will drive more sales

After product, IMO, Responsiveness is the next most important reason to choose one supplier over another.  If an Agent sends in a quote request, and has it returned within the same day, they have a  GREAT Supplier to work with.  As the time to return a quote extends itself, it exponentially reduces the opportunity to close a sale.  I’ve heard of sales agents waiting days to get sales quotes, only to be told when they do present it to the customer, the prospect has already selected another vendor and has an install date scheduled……..ouch!

(As this is my #1 important trait, for the record, my team at Granite Telecom turns simple, non-complex quotes around in 24 hours or less)

Relationship is a vital cog in any partnership.  I try to be as involved in my agents sales efforts as possible and do my best to contact them at a minimum, once every 3 weeks by phone or email, with in person visits every 6 months.  Covering the entire United States and Canada, visiting even this often is a challenge.  For more regional reps, a monthly stop by would be great to cultivate the relationship with your Channel Partner.

Customer Experience or Service runs a close 4th.  If your company can provide a top notch customer experience to the sales agent’s customers, you’ll have a better retention rate, meaning long term residuals, which is the name of the game in agency sales.

I have loads of other components I think fit in somewhere, just not sure where to list them?  There’s “financial stability of your company”, “price”, “sales ability”, “promotions”, “SPIF’s”, “commissions”, “flexibility” and many more……

I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts on how these components line up when you’re choosing a supplier…..maybe all of my fellow Channel Managers can learn a thing or two from our sales agents?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

How Long Should You Wait on Hold?

How Long Should You Wait on Hold?

I hear the comments every day…..”You won’t believe what happened to me yesterday!”   …. “I waited almost 40 minutes to get through” ….”You’d think they’d hire more people to answer the phones”….” I can’t believe I waited that long only to get transferred”…”That’s the last time. I’m moving my business”.....… and so on.

Hold times can last up to 13 minutes
Granted, working in the communications industry, I might be exposed to more of the complaints than the average worker but it is certainly a sore spot when someone has a poor experience with a company’s customer service organization.

We’ve all made that dreaded call during our lunch hour to try and ask a question about something, maybe your cell phone, your cable bill, insurance bill, or even in the worst cases, the calls to file for unemployment benefits or Cobra insurance coverage.  I personally have had loads of these experiences, with some hold times exceeding an hour.  And that is FRUSTRATING.

Take a look at a couple of these examples of hold times from CBC News…..

      1.   Continental Airlines, 13 minutes
2. Air Canada, 10 minutes
3. IRS (Personal), 9 minutes
4. Amtrak, 9 minutes
5. AT&T Customer Service (General), 8 minutes
6. Delta Air Lines, 7 minutes
7. Southwest Airlines, 7 minutes
8. JetBlue Airways, 6 minutes
9. ACE Hardware, 6 minutes
10. AARP Healthcare, 5 minutes

Shocking, huh?  Not really.  I actually would argue that the time to get a resolution is actually longer.  How many times do you get transferred and put back into the queue?  Something to think about?

We each have tolerances in our business in order to balance operating costs with customer satisfaction.  The discussion here is what level of hold time are you willing to accept before you start losing customers?  And as hold time goes up, you WILL LOSE customers.  That’s a fact.

I have seen many statistics pop up over the years to measure hold time. “ATA” or “Average Time of Answer”, “AHT” or “Average Hold Time”, “TIQ” or “Time in Queue” are just a few that come to mind.  I actually use this statistic as a major selling point.  My feeling is providing a service with little or no hold time presents a professional solution and portrays a service orientated company.  If the operations of a firm are designed around short hold times, it means the company cares about its customers and will go to any means necessary to deliver a first class customer experience.  This is the type of company where I want my business to go.

Where do you put your business and why?  Do you think hold time affects customer retention rates?  Let’s find out what we all think…….

…….And just for the record, my company, Granite Telecommunications, answers all  customer service calls with a live person on average in less than 8 seconds 24x7x365……..

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Technology Reflection 2013

As 2013 comes to an end, we all have a couple of slow weeks to close that last big sale before the Holidays, wrap up our loose ends in the office, and plan for a great start to 2014.  By reflecting on what went well this past year, and reviewing those challenges that didn’t quite go the way we hoped, achieving a quick jump out of the gate for next year is possible.

One thing we have seen over the past couple of years is a quantum leap in new technology.  Cell phones are changing by the day, from the iPhone5 to the Galaxy 4, the iPad has developed into the 2nd generation iPad Mini and iPad Air, and wireless and cloud IT services have skyrocketed.  

Technology Adoption Graph
So how do we decide on our business plan to incorporate the changing technologies?  Do we jump right in with the newest equipment, or do we sit back and wait for the kinks to get worked out?  That’s a great question. If you’ve been in sales or marketing, I’m sure you seen some variation of the graph to the right.  Some people are “Innovators”, some are “Early Adopters”, some are in the “Majority” and still others are “Laggards” when it comes to adopting new ideas and products.

A small percentage of the population falls into the early and late stages of technology, but 68% of the market falls into the “Majority” phase.  This is the market that successful businesses typically target.  While some companies are “Innovators” (think Apple), many of the Fortune 100 companies adopt their business plans to focus on winning the “Early Adopter” market. 

So how does this affect your business?  Working in a Channel Sales management role, I often see my Partner’s dealing with changes in their product sets from their vendors.  Many providers simply eliminate older technology and change their compensation plan to drive Agents to their newer technologies.  After all, a good sales person will take about 5 minutes to break down a new comp plan and sell what makes them the most money.  I know I do…......but does the sales person make more money selling new, unproven technology?

If I had a $1 for every time someone told me the following statement, I’d be a very wealthy person and would probably be retired :

“ I don’t sell your company’s type of services anymore.  My customers don’t have a need for that any longer”.  

Wow!……..that would be a powerful statement if it were actually true.

Selling the new technology is certainly flashy and gives the appearance to your prospects that your company is on the “Leading Edge”.  The problem is, focusing on the new technology being pushed by your provider can effectively limit your prospect bucket.  As 68% of businesses don’t adopt new technology right away, according to the “Adoption Graph”, you’ve immediately reduced your market to 32% by thinking this way.  In order to avoid this issue, I recommend to my Partners to consider switching to another vendor for their current product set, while integrating the new technology via their existing vendor who is targeting the “Early Adopters”.  By incorporating this process into a business plan, you’ve effectively maintained your prospect bucket at nearly 100%, meaning almost every company you talk to can buy something from you.

By offering the newest and greatest products through one vendor and older, more proven technology through a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th vendor, you have a more complete product line and can meet a variety of customer challenges.  This will ultimately lead to more sales.  I can’ think of the last time I visited a car dealer who sold only one model, nor does Walmart carry only one brand of TV’s.  Why would you limit your agency’s portfolio by eliminating a product set used by 68% of businesses.

During these last couple weeks of 2013, take the time to reflect on your product portfolio and determine if it makes sense to try and hit all sections of the “Adoption Graph”.  You may see it helps make 2014 a better year!