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Channel Matters Blog > March 2014 > Achieving Funnel Visibility in a Multi-Channel Model

Achieving Funnel Visibility in a Multi-Channel Model

by Geoff Wright
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Achieving funnel visibility with a direct sales force is hard enough. It becomes exponentially more difficult when selling through a partner channel that uses different sales methodologies, systems and processes. So how do successful organizations do it? It starts with trust.

In a multi-channel sales model, funnel visibility is not as easy as pulling a report from your CRM system. Partners are often hesitant to let vendors know about the opportunities they generate. Even when the opportunity is generated through your marketing efforts and sent to the channel partner for follow up, there is no guarantee that you’ll be kept informed on where it is in the sales process. The channel partner’s perception of which stage the opportunity is at may be vastly different from your sales methodology, or they may simply neglect to keep you in the loop.
Burned Before
Vendors often find it strange that a channel partner might be reluctant to tell them about an opportunity the partner uncovered or keep them apprised of the opportunity’s progress. Unfortunately, many of these vendors have learned the hard way that they have very little to gain and much to lose by sharing the information. They’ve had opportunities taken over by direct sales, turned into Named Accounts, transferred to other partners, or called directly by over-eager vendors offering discounts and other incentives that erode the partner’s margins. If it hasn’t happened to them, they’ve heard the stories.
Of course, at other times, it’s not so much mistrust that blocks the lines of communication as it is a lack of incentive. Unless the channel partner sees a clear reason to update the vendor on opportunities, the task will continue to remain at the bottom of the channel partner’s long list of priorities.
6 Tips for Funnel Visibility
Here are 6 tips for improving visibility into the sales funnel in a multi-channel organization. You’ll notice that many of these tips are designed to help you establish your partners’ trust in your organization.
#1 Make it easy to register opportunities. Give partners an easy, preferably online, way to register opportunities. While it might be tempting to have them fill out dozens of fields, keep in mind that the more you ask for, the less likely they will be to complete the form or start the process all over again the next time they uncover a new opportunity.  When we conduct partner program reviews for our clients, the vendor’s deal registration system is always one of the top things partners want to discuss.  A system that is easy to use for the partner is a necessity not a nice to have.
#2 Establish what constitutes an opportunity. While you don’t want to ask for too much information, you will need to establish a minimal level of qualification in order for a lead to be considered an opportunity. Many organizations use a set of criteria similar to that which they use to define a Marketing Qualified Lead. An added benefit of providing sales training on your solutions to your partner’s sales staff if that you often get partners who learn to speak the same sales language and manage leads and opportunities in the same way.
#3 Define ownership. Once an opportunity has been registered, ownership sets the boundaries. For example, if a channel partner owns a lead, the vendor may agree that they will not communicate directly with the prospect, allowing the channel partner to orchestrate the opportunity’s progress down the sales funnel. At a minimum, most channel partners expect that once they own an opportunity the vendor will not get another partner or a direct salesperson involved without their consent. Regardless of how you define it, having a clear understanding of what ownership of an opportunity means allows the channel partner to understand the rules of the game.
#4 Have clear Rules of Engagement. We’ve covered quite a bit about Rules of Engagement (ROE) over the last few months, but the importance of this document can’t be overstated. The ROE define how different sales scenarios will be handled, e.g., two partners register the same opportunity or a partner registers an opportunity that is a subsidiary of a Named Account. For more on creating your ROE, refer to our Resource Center and read Channel Performance Tip: Are Your Rules of Engagement Ready for Prime Time?
#5 When in doubt, stay out. Conflicts between channel partners are inevitable. While it’s tempting to play mediator, outside of adhering to your ROE, your best course of action is often to stay out of the middle of any such conflicts.  
#6 Add value. So far, most of these tips address how to get partners to register new opportunities, but what about keeping you in the loop on progress? After all, that’s what’s needed for true funnel visibility.
Getting partners to update you on opportunity progress goes back to good, old-fashioned sales coaching. You need to have a regular cadence of funnel reviews with partners, giving you the opportunity to provide insights and information that will help them close the deal. When a partner sees value in funnel reviews, they become more than simply an administrative activity. 
Vendors often tell us that they want to make sure their partners feel like they are an extension of their in-house sales team. The best vendors foster this feeling by training their partners’ salespeople to the same level as their own and at the same time.  At this point, I’m tempted to bring up the topic of whether the partner should pay for the training, but perhaps that is a whole article by itself.
Have comments or additional ideas for achieving funnel visibility, let us know. I would particularly like to hear you comments and experiences regarding training your partner’s salespeople.  This is an ever-expanding part of our business, and I am interested in your best practices. You can add your comments or reach out to me at

Last modified on 3/18/2014 4:48:03 PM
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