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Channel Matters Blog > February 2013 > Challenges to serving customers through multiple routes

Challenges to serving customers through multiple routes

by David Perrett
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Recently, David Perrett had a chance to sit down with Sam Reese, the CEO of Miller Heiman, to talk about 2013, and the challenges that lie ahead for a company’s channel sales division in the coming year.  The following comments are excerpts from a tape recorded interview.

Where do you see the channel going in 2013?

You’re going to find that more companies are going to invest in channels because they see it as a way of growing very quickly, so you are going to see a lot of activity around it.  Unfortunately, you will not see a lot of success.  People often think that investing in the channel is a shortcut to success, and selling through channels will all of a sudden bring great success at a low cost of sales, but success won’t come unless they take a much more strategic approach.

Investing in channels takes all sorts of infrastructure and strategy to make sure you execute successfully.  It’s not as simple as hiring a few indirect people, and telling them to sell.  Companies schedule multiple channel sales initiatives, especially in remote markets, but these initiatives are going to have very little success unless they enable the channel using the right methodologies, tools and systems.

What are some of the biggest challenges businesses have to overcome in the coming year with respect to their channels, and what are vendors lacking in their plans?

What vendor’s lack in their plans is that they don’t give the channel sales and marketing teams enough support, and they do not do enough to connect them with the strategy and objectives of their company. Many companies are hoping that with little investment, they can turn their channel sales organizations into big dollar producers, but a lack of support coupled with an ill conceived strategy will not result in success.

Where does Channel Enablers come into the picture?

We, at Channel Enablers, come in and make you take a step back, and really make you think about the way you are going to engage with your channel more effectively, and how you equip your channel sales team to help partners run their business better.  Most companies don’t think that way.  Vendors think about their partners only as a way to help them. 

Channel Enablers believes success come from helping your channel partners, whether that’s showing them how to grow their business, improving the way they sell or helping them position ideas with customers. Miller Heiman goes to market through channels as well; we are experienced practitioners that have had a lot of success in working with indirect channels. The bottom line is that if you invest in your channel partners and help them perform, you are going to have much more joint success.

Many companies try to apply their experience in direct sales to building an effective indirect channel.  They think they can easily recruit and build an indirect channel, with limited investment, and then manage them just as one would a direct channel, and get all of the great results. This is an absolute recipe for failure.  Many of the processes and approaches that make companies successful in direct sales won’t work in the indirect channel; instead, these are independent partners you have to help.  That is what we do at Channel Enablers; we work with vendors to improve the way they recruit, influence, enable and manage partners to be more successful. 

What are some of the things that Channel Enablers does to help vendors be successful?

We help the company and the indirect channel really understand how to make the partnering relationship work. Channel Enablers also helps the vendor understand how to run their business better, so they can look at their own business, compare it with best practice, and discover new opportunities for growth.  We help them plan better, we help them improve their sales skills in front of clients, we help them communicate better with their partners, and we bring tools and intellectual property to enable these improvements to stick for the long term.

In your view, how does Impact Learning and Channel Enablers fit within the ecosystem of Miller Heiman, and provide a complete solution for companies?

Our vision is to be the key resource for sales leaders.

Sales leaders are now responsible for all routes to market, even if not all routes report to them directly. All sales functions have to be aligned so inside people are saying the same thing as outside people, channel partners are saying the same thing as the inside people, etc.  Customers get to access in a number of ways, and will choose the route that suits them best.  As a sales leader, you have to make sure there is a structured customer management process across all routes to market, so a common message is being shared with customers.

We provide a lot of great intellectual property that span all these channels, but what Miller Heiman is really striving towards is centers of excellence.  Channel Enablers is that center of excellence for channels and alliances; at CE we know more about the channel than anybody.  Impact Learning Systems knows more about inside sales than anybody. Collectively, Miller Heiman knows more than anyone about what it takes to manage customers effectively via any channel.  Sales leaders need all of these components to run effectively.  If we are going to be the key resource to sales leaders, we need to understand all of these components.

What technologies do you see in the future that will be helpful to sales organizations?

I think one of the main reasons things are coming together is due to technology.  Just imagine 10 years ago one salesperson would call up an organization and they wouldn’t have visibility into discussions taking place in another part of the organization. Now, if you have a good CRM system, whether you’re talking about partner sales, inside sales, or outside sales, there is a customer record that everyone sees. The sales teams need to be aligned to manage the customer.

The next level of technology that I think is going to be important in this world of selling and indirect selling is analytics.  More specifically, analytics helps organizations better understand their clients using data taken from their CRM.  Analytics will be the next capability that vendors are going to need to provide to their partners to help the partner better understand and serve the end-user customer. We’ll see much closer integration between vendors and partners, as customer data flows up to vendors through the channel and back down to partners in the form of useful information.

So you are talking about the advent of big data and how to mine that for your customer’s benefit?

If you are going to be the sales leader, you better get some competencies around big data.

How does big data tie into sales and marketing going forward?

Marketing and sales are colliding right now under what I call opportunity creation.  In the world of selling or managing customers, there are three components. You need to create opportunities, manage opportunities to closure, and then manage the relationships. In the opportunity creation piece, sales and marketing are not always participating and communicating well together. That’s coming together now; marketing has the tools to identify where to find new customers and what these customers want. Marketing can provide more relevant information to sales, and that will result in more sales, better sales, and better customers. 

But, what I would say is that there are some big cultural clashes where marketing and sales are not working towards the same goals and are actually working against each other.  I have recently seen a few companies try to advance the idea that marketing needs to take over the sales function, and a few consulting firms are supporting this as the solution to managing this complex relationship. But what really needs to happen is to bring sales and marketing into alignment.

Marketing is driving the analytics.  At Salesforce’s annual conference, Dreamforce, their CEO said over the next five years there will be more money spent on IT for marketing than any other area of IT. Marketing is really trying to farm this data and figure it out.  It is really going to be a win for the sale’s organization.  The only thing slowing this progress down right now is this cultural clash of who is going to be the one to lead it and take credit for it.

What role do you see Miller Heiman, Channel Enablers, and Impact Learning Systems playing? 

What we are going to do is understand that data and we are going to help make sure that companies get better efficacies out of the leads and customers they do generate.

Last modified on 6/30/2013 10:11:23 PM
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