Sunday, October 1, 2017

Relationship, Relationship, & Relationship – It’s all in the “Channel”

Channel sales is an interesting topic.  Having been in “The Channel” in various sales & senior management roles for more than 23 years, I’ve seen a lot. 

The same trade shows years after year, some changing names, several times.  Same cities, same hotels.  How many times have you been to Caesar’s in Vegas?  Or the Venetian?  Remember Jay Leno performing at Comptel?  Magic Johnson speaking at Embarq?  (one of my favorites) How about all the logo changes you see on the polo shirts of our Channel peers?  

Seems like every year we’re saying:

 “Hey John, I didn’t know you left Company xxx?”.
“Dave, I’ve been with Company yyy now for 6 months.  Greatest place I’ve ever worked!  Here’s my new card”

All too familiar, right?

But one thing never changes in the “Channel”.  The simple fact that agent partners buy on relationships - not product, price, commission, or bonus.  (OK, maybe a few buy on commission & bonus).  That’s the main reason we work in the “Channel” vs working in “Direct Sales”.  Relationship is what wins business in the Channel.

My partners have customers they’ve worked with for more than 20 years.  A direct sales rep stands no chance of penetrating that customer because the partner has the relationship.  It’s just another example of people buying from people.  It takes a different kind of sales professional to understand how Channel sales works and then thrive at it. 

The days of convincing a partner to use your product simply because it’s a great product are mostly gone.  Too many companies these days have the same products.  Now if the partner (or often times, a friend or master agent of that partner) has known the Channel Manager for years, the odds of the partner listening to the new product pitch are greatly enhanced.  One thing I’ve learned over my 2+ decades working in the “Channel” is that I’ve made a lot of good friends all over the country at a lot of companies.  I do most of my business with the people I’ve had the longest relationships with.  I learned a long time ago from a gentleman I owe most of my success to, that the only way to be successful in the “Channel” and last your entire career, is to build a solid reputation as an honest & responsive sales resource for your partner.  I’ve done my best to follow that advice.

If someone calls, answer the phone.  If you miss their call, call them back.  Not “within 24 hours because that’s your company rule” but rather call them as soon as you’re free.  Maybe it’s on your commute home or before you run out to dinner.  If you see their email on Sunday, return it.  Trust me, it goes a long way in building the relationship.  Channel sales is 24 x 7 x 365.  Or as close to that as you can come.

I recently sat through a seminar with one of the nation’s largest Masters, reviewing some Q&A they had done with their partners.  You know what their #1 issue is in a Channel Manager?

             #1.       RESPONSIVENESS

Not price, not commission, not SPIFF but Responsiveness.  That says a lot about what a partner thinks is important and I agree.

And remember, you may not always have the ideal product for a customer, so if your product doesn’t fit and you know it, tell your partner.  If you’re my partner and you know my product isn’t the best fit, tell me.  I’d rather hear “No, doesn’t work on this one Dave.  We’ll try again on the next one” than spend cycles on something I’ll never sign

It’s all relationship in the Channel.  The more we all work on it and understand it, the more money we’ll all make.  And along with all the friends and the Vegas trips, money plays a little role in it too!

Happy Selling…