Just about every channel organization today is obsessed with channel sales enablement. The funny thing is channel organizations have been enabling sales to one degree or another for decades.
What’s different now is that channel managers are being held accountable for making sure the channel sales enablement tools and processes they put in place are effective.
Channel managers are under more pressure than ever to make it simpler for partners to discover, in real time, the most relevant sales collateral available across any phase of the sales cycle and provide real-time visibility into actual product availability.
Channel managers and solution provider partners are all too acutely aware that the sales funnel is collapsing. No one knows for sure when or how a customer may choose to engage. It’s not uncommon for solution providers to receive a request for a quote from a customer that is already well down the path to purchasing a product or service. The customer is long past the awareness or consideration phase. They are two steps away from making a purchase decision.
Customers today have access to so much material online that many of them are pre-disposed towards one offering or another before they ever reach out to a solution provider. That means the solution provider either needs to able to provide access to materials that either support that pre-disposition or, more challengingly, motivate the customer to consider another option. Solution providers less and less have the luxury of nurturing deals over weeks and months.
What partners need now is real-time access to pricing, promotions, proposals, incentives, and availability; all of which greatly influence the recommendation they might choose to make. That information not only helps them decide on whether it’s worth their time to bid on a specific project, it also allows them to dynamically engage in a conversation without ever having to utter the most dreaded phrase in all of sales: “Let me get back to you.”
Most salespeople know that by the time both parties find the time to re-engage, the opportunity will have passed. Momentum is the key to sales success. Deals die because most customers are primarily interested in getting something accomplished, which then allows the organization to move to the next phase of its ultimate mission. Nobody wants to be viewed as the person holding up a project waiting for additional information from a salesperson. The path of least resistance is always going to be to make a decision sooner than later based on whatever information happens to be at hand.
Customers are also not going to wait. A solution provider’s credibility with a customer is intimately connected to their ability to accurately tell them when a product can be delivered. If a vendor makes a liar out of a solution provider, they are not likely to get a second chance.
The most valuable asset any solution provider has is its sales engineers. Salespeople can usually get a meeting. But it takes a sales engineer to close a deal. The easier it is for a sales engineer to pull up data that addresses a customer issue, the more likely it becomes they will recommend that solution. No one wants to be seen flipping through massive amounts of collateral hidden on a vendor web site. A sales engineer above all else needs to project confidence. That doesn’t happen if they can’t succinctly answer a customer question in a way that is backed up by data.
Most critically, the solution provider also needs to know up front how much room they have when it comes to negotiating pricing. The days when customers would wait for a vendor to get back to them on a “special price” are over. Customers will just look online to see what the lowest price is. A solution provider needs to know they can match that price, or when required, beat it.
Channel sales enablement isn’t an art anymore. It’s hard science that needs to be infused by analytics and an ability to process purchase orders in real time that accurately reflect product availability. Anything less than that is now officially a non-starter in the channel.