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Channel Matters Blog > July 2015 > How to Justify Training for Channel Sales

How to Justify Training for Channel Sales

by Rich Blakeman
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In my last post, I shared some strategies for how to sell sales training to the CFO. This week, let's tackle an even tougher challenge: justifying training for channel managers.

The head of sales at any level is usually responsible for all revenue reporting into their area of responsibility. “All revenue” means revenue from both their direct sales teams as well as that generated through indirect channel partners of all sorts. So, logically, anything that leads to increased sales should be relatively easy to justify, right? Many of you who have tried know that it's not always that straightforward.

Channel Sales Has Different Needs
One of the challenges is that the job of a direct sales professional and a channel sales professional are very different. Direct sales professionals sell directly to end customers, while channel sales managers influence the behavior of other sales forces (distributors, resellers, integrators, and others). The channel manager is a bit more like a sales manager except that their “sales force” does not directly report to them and can’t be told what to do. As I've said many times before, channel partners do things for their own reasons, not the channel manager’s reasons. In channel sales management, influence without authority is the name of the game.

When we're talking about training for channel sales managers, we're not talking about sales training per se. Yes, they need to be trained on the sales methodology, but they need so much more than that. For example, they need to be able to speak the financial language of the channel partner in order to influence their business decisions. This channel business acumen is a skill that can be trained, but it rarely comes naturally.

In my last post, I shared how a typical conversation between the VP of Sales and the CFO might go when discussing sales training. Now, let's see what happens when the same VP tries to justify channel manager training:

VP of Sales: "Separate from the training for the sales team, I’d like to talk to you about what I need to do specifically for the channel sales managers."

CFO: "OUR channel sales team? Why do we need to train them? Their entire sales force is in the channel. That's part of the cost transfer that keeps our channel cost model low."

VP of Sales: "You’re right – our channel cost model is low. But we don’t have direct control over how our partners sell, what their sales funnels or forecasts look like, or what their business plans are to drive more sales. We need to equip the team with up-to-date skills and tools to help drive more revenue and profit through our partners."

CFO: "I get what you’re after, but we just can't take on the additional expense. Why can’t you send the channel team through our direct sales training and then have them apply it in their job?"

Sound familiar? One budget. Competing priorities.

Doing the Math
Our research and that of others show that more and more revenue (as a percent of total sales) is being driven through channels every year. Yet more times than not, training those employees that serve customers directly is given the highest priority.

Take a close look at the equation in your own organization:

What percentage of revenue comes from which channel or route to market (including direct sales)?

Which of those sources of revenue are growing (as a percent of total revenue) versus shrinking?

If your organization is like many we work with, you'll probably find that channel sales as a percent of revenue is growing. However, we also need to ask a very fundamental question:

Is it growing as fast as it could be?

Solving the Equation
As with last week's post, the key to convincing the CFO is to use cold, hard facts. In this case, it's usually a three-step process:

1. Make sure the CFO sees the relative importance/potential of channel sales. This is usually fairly easy if channel sales revenues are growing in your organization. If they aren't (yet), looking to what your competitors are doing may help you present convincing evidence.

2. Help the CFO understand how different the role of the channel sales manager is. This can be a little more challenging, but CFOs are usually quite practical people. It can be done.

3. Link the behaviors/skills of the channel sales manager, e.g., channel business acumen, to the channel revenue stream.

From there, you can use some of the strategies I proposed last week such as starting out with a pilot program and focusing on behaviors before results.

What level and type of training do you provide the channel sales managers in your organization? Let us know by adding your comments below.

For more on the skills required to be a world-class channel manager, download the 2014 Channel Sales Competency Study Executive Summary.
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