The Channel

Fine-Tuning Your Channels for Success

By TMCnet Special Guest
Rick McFarland, Founder and CEO, Voice4net
  |  December 11, 2012

As someone who’s been in the telecom business for a long time, I’ve seen trends in hardware, software and applications ebb and flow like the tides. I’ve studied endless reports and white papers where pundits predict, analysts test and engineers introduce industry breakthroughs that all offer game-changing possibilities.

Everyone hunts for the next new thing that will put them ahead of the pack. But there’s one stubborn constant that remains the universal equalizer: No technology product sells itself, except perhaps the lightning-in-a-bottle anomaly of the Apple iPhone (News - Alert). For products to achieve meaningful success, they must create real meaning for the customer.

They must be presented and positioned in terms they understand – in easily relatable and applicable models that result in tangible advantages.

Beyond Sales 101

It sounds like Sales 101, I know, but don’t write me off so fast. The truth is we operate in an industry far too dazzled by the sparkle of new technologies. We revel in the sizzle of scientific stuff, in the tectonic shifts new technologies create, and we expect our customers to recognize potential that to us seems so self-evident.

When they don’t, we’re left not only frustrated. We end up under quota.

It’s easy to blame the customer for lagging behind the speed of change, but if you’re a technology provider, like I am, you know there is a buffer between you and the customer that also needs a jolt of inspiration: your channel partners. Are they positioning your products to customers through a business operational standpoint, or are they still thinking parts and part numbers, lines and licenses, connections and configurations?

Without question, these technicians are skilled at applying products to specific problems, but do they have the vision and vocabulary to articulate macro business solutions – to frame your technology in the context of how to perceive and pursue opportunity? This goes beyond Sales 101; this is graduate-level Business Process.

 When we don’t see the numbers or feel market demand, we hold our channel partners responsible. Where are there loyalties? How hard are they working? Is my brand top of mind? These valid questions often apply, but I believe deeper self-reflection more effectively extracts the root concern: that we, as manufacturers, are failing to compose the messages that resonate with customers.

What more can we do to help partners convert their leads into comprehensive deals?

From Product to Performance Training

We need to move beyond product-specific training to institute sales performance programs, strategies transforming customer encounters from technical monologues into needs-based dialogues. You can whine and pine and wait for your partners to implement such programs themselves, or you can take a much more proactive role in co-developing these initiatives together.

Begin by investing in marketing tools that speak to business process and not just to product, that rise above technical sizzle and fluff to shout out business automation. Sweeten the pot with meaningful channel incentives that are tied to aggressive but realistic thresholds. Explore forming Navy-SEAL-like tactical vendor/partner teams that trust in each other enough to target larger opportunities together. Arm them to the hilt with value propositions that address true customer challenges, like how to evolve legacy equipment to extend capability and competitiveness.

As vendors who hold a vested interest in how our channels perform, we need to change the conversation from cool-factor whatnots and new-fangled widgets to demonstrating how these innovations improve the daily life of the business – making employees more productive, stretching ROI, and nudging the revenue needle.

Let’s resist the technocratic urge to fuss over cosmetic functions and barely needed beauty features and begin collaborating with our channels in offering customers substantive answers. Because there’s nothing more beautiful in business than building a solution that yields returns. But that impetus begins with us, then spreads out to the channel.

The Biology of the Bottom Line

Vendors should consider launching bold new members-only partner programs that completely redefine the vendor/channel/customer dynamic. They should institute permission-based access to a variety of dealer-targeted tools, such as high-performance solutions training, enhanced customer-facing materials, third-party sales education, scaled incentives as well as opportunities for exclusives. These tools combined constitute a whole new approach to sales.

And innovative partner relationship management programs such as these will greatly interest dealers, because when they begin to perceive their vendors as trusted advisors, together they’ll all achieve greater results.

Joint planning, development, and execution in this model begins at the start of the sales cycle, initiating whole new conversations that gain and sustain better traction. From my perspective, partners should no longer approach customers with advanced communications technologies; they must replace such monolithic data-centric lingo with language the C-Suite understands, like agents booking more business; resources scheduled at the right time and for the right purpose; shorter service calls with swifter resolutions; and business intelligence and role-based autonomy for improving the customer experience.

Channel partners must look beyond infrastructure and instead focus on the larger business ecosystem, where if one area is failing to perform, the holistic environment suffers.

When you frame your solutions into a business process context that executives can comprehend, directors tend to listen, close ratios rise, and deals get signed. But don’t expect your channel partners to achieve this cultural shift on their own. Like the customer ecosystems you are charged to improve, you must live and breathe this change together, tuned into each other’s strengths and needs, and working to succeed as one.

Edited by Braden Becker