What Sales Tools REALLY Get Used by Channel Partners?

June 06, 2012 | Joby Blume
What Sales Tools REALLY Get Used by Channel Partners?

Joby Blume, Managing Consultant, BrightCarbon, helps sales and marketing teams work together to create effective visual sales tools.  BrightCarbon is a UK-based partner of Brainshark. To learn more, join Joby in an upcoming webinar, Creating Powerful Sales Tools that Get Used by Partners on 12 June at 1 p.m. BST.   Register here.

Product marketers tend to create sales tools around their products. But channel partners focus on solutions, not the products themselves. In fact, in a review of our work with a major IT equipment manufacturer in supporting their partners to win important deals, less than 20% of sales material used to pitch was about products at all. Partners focus on solutions and their own role in delivery.

This isn’t surprising. Typically, your partners must answer two important customer questions to win a sales deal:

  • Why change?
  • Why with us?

Why Change?

Early on in the sales cycle, partners are typically involved in persuading customers to buy. Reasons to buy might include the need for better control and visibility, to reduce costs, to save time, to make staff more productive, for better compliance, or even to support environmental goals. By helping to shape the customer’s understanding of their objectives, a partner often becomes perceived as the trusted advisor and best provider to meet those objectives.

As such, vendors’ products are important to the solution because they help to deliver upon the customer’s needs. However, when talking about products, partners tend to talk less about the features contained in some spec sheet than some vendors might assume, and instead focus on the high-level benefits the products help them deliver as part of the broader solution.

To deliver sales tools to partners in a format they might use, vendors need to elevate their messaging. They need to talk in terms of the challenges their equipment is well-equipped to solve, with product examples that can be inserted as required to support this higher-level positioning.

Why with Us?

The product – and vendor – being proposed is only a fraction of the conversation partners have with their customers. In fact, the majority of the sales messaging used by the channel partners I have worked with revolved around their service, not their technology.

Persuasive ”why me” arguments used by partners in sales pitches are typically around things like quality of technical support, local presence, being easy to work with, proposed service levels, the prospect’s VIP status, planning requirements, and the overall savings that were being offered.

While the quality of the proposed technical solution is almost always discussed, many channel partners feel that competing products are also good enough to do the job. As a result, many channel partners feel that their contribution is key to the deal – particularly as they often compete with other partners of the same vendor.

This means that vendors wanting to support their partners in the sales process need to think more broadly about what help is required, and what sales tools partners might actually use.

Conclusions

Vendors need to recognize that a large part of the sales conversation is about the value the partner brings to the prospect. Because what partners say is often not unique and they position themselves in similar ways to each other, vendors have the opportunity to support partners even when they talk about services and support (not technology).

Unfortunately, the quality of sales content provided to partners is often poor − too much text, too product-focused, and too dull. In addition, many vendors “throw” marketing collateral over the fence to partners without really understanding what gets used and what gets ignored. Even a small amount of effort in creating visual sales tools can help vendors stand out and gain mindshare.

Product messaging should be put into a benefit-driven framework that allows partners to talk about meeting customer challenges. Talk in terms of themes and benefits, not individual product features. What’s your “green” story or your “unleashing productivity” story? These get told more often than a “Product X” story.

Partners also want tools that can be customised when they have time, or used without any effort or training when time (or understanding) is short. Many vendors typically offer neither of these, yet those who support both requirements gain mindshare and help partners sell successfully.

Finally, make sure to put a mechanism in place to understand what partners want, and to solicit feedback on sales materials before they are finalized.

Please comment and share your experiences with effective sales tools that partners will use.

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