How to get better visibility in the Channel by solving the issues that keep your channel partners from sharing their business opportunities with you. Distributors and Reps all have competing suppliers and complex customer relationships. From their perspective, they also have to be concerned about protecting the opportunities they are working on from other distributors or suppliers deciding they should be handled by direct salespeople or through their rep channel exclusively. 

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Therefore, they hold information and activities as confidential information and try to limit sharing it as much as possible with suppliers or reps.  Since as a supplier you would like to know as much as possible about the future business potential your channel partners can bring in so you can help and plan appropriately it would be beneficial to understand the barriers that exist with them that keeps them from being fully transparent while they work on developing your business.

There are many excuses you will hear about why suppliers are not able to get a clear picture of what their channel partners are doing to build their business.  We have all used one or more of them many times to protect our channel partners from management ire while getting time to find out the details so we can appear to have things under control. If you investigate why it is so hard to get distributors and reps to be open about their new business opportunities you will find out there are two major issues that you need to address to make them work seamlessly with you with full transparency. 

Protecting Themselves From Competitors

Channel partners have a long history of working with suppliers. Many of their experiences have been bad – suppliers giving a project to another distributor, taking the customer or opportunity direct cutting the distributor out of the business, giving their information to other sales teams, bringing in a rep to manage a program they don’t know anything about, etc. Suppliers have trained them to hold their cards close to their vest. You would too if you were them.

When part of the channel sales team is European or Asian, you come up against cultural issues that hinder open speculative information sharing. Saving face is a cultural phenomenon in Asia for example.

When you go to them to ask them to openly share all their customer information you come head to head with all this history and often they will tell you they will be open but in reality hold information back to protect their business. To overcome these issues, you need to have a business tracking system that aggressively addresses all these concerns.

  • Design Registrations need to be well documented, quickly decided, and communicated in a transparent way that is fair and reasonable.

  • Opportunity tracking needs to be supported and driven to provide rapid feedback and support when the partner needs help.

  • Do not poach a distributor’s business or if you do compensate them for finding it.

  • Have clear ground rules for channel partner business responsibilities that define how you will handle opportunities and registrations to protect their business information.

  • Set clear guidelines around key markets, and the requirements that have to be met to register and get approval for a piece of business.

  • Guidelines need to address partner vs. partner rules and direct vs. partner requirements.

  • Give margin benefits for registering and driving new business opportunities.

  • Set clear rules for expiring registrations and for extending the registration if the partner is actively working the business
  • Set protections to reward reps who are involved in channel partner business so they work collaboratively and not competitively.
  • Instead of penalizing partners, get partner participation by rewarding the performance you want to see so you keep them focused on winning the business instead of protecting themselves from internal threats.

Make the technology work to support the Partnership

Often there is not good integration between marketing, sales, and partner technology platforms that results in duplicated efforts to enter data and track progress. If you are forcing your partners to duplicate data entry from their internal system to your system you are placing an undue burden on getting active participation in your system to visualize what is going on.

  • Define lead generation programs and track where leads come from and what works to get good new business leads into the system.

  • Make sure you have a seamless system to upload partners business data into your system with batch files processes to avoid duplicated data entry problems.

  • Build QBR workflows that derive directly from the business data solution and feed situation information transparently back to the distributors in the same formats.

  • Tie the partner’s goals into your KPI measurement system so results are always compared to expectations.

  • Provides simple forecasting tools to bridge what has happened historically with what the potential future business opportunities are so you can get out of spreadsheet hell and have a forecast you can depend on.

  • Optimize profitability by capturing the cost and margin potential of every business decision you are making with linkage to financial cost information when doing pricing, quotes, and setting business investment priorities.

  • Have analytic tools to see what is happening, where the opportunities and problems are, and define activities to drive the team actions to optimize the business.

Key Insights that make it work-

Transparency

  • Make sure you clearly explain why registrations and leads are rejected.

  • Involve partners in any arbitration process.

  • Provide effective tools so partners can see what the status is of their requests.

  • Set hard limits for time to approval so your team gets decisions made and communicated quickly back to partners.

  • Share information between the parties when conflict arises so everyone can see who is actively engaged in the business opportunity.

  • If partners are equally involved set priority based on the time the registration was requested.

  • Maintain and make available a complete audit trail so everyone can see what has happened.

Communicate effectively and often

  • Promote best practices and reward adoption of them.

  • Keep the system record of a registration request up to date and visible.

  • Use the registration or opportunity record to communicate what needs to be done, what has been done and what the plan is to win.

Set up effective and efficient workflows

  • Define how the system is supposed to work from start to finish with well-defined workflows and responsibilities communicated and explained to partners.

  • Minimize where possible the need for partners to use systems other than their internal business management tools – transfer data into your system often and automatically.

  • Warn partners when they are approaching deadlines where they may lose registration or lead approvals and enforce expiration dates when partners are not effective.

  • Allow partners to provide input to deals and escalate when they are not getting what they need to win.

  • Respond to requests and resolve issues quickly and fairly to maintain support.

To build a high visibility Channel Partner program you have to do your part by making their support a benefit and not a problem. Set up workflows and processes so decisions get made quickly and very fairly. Communicate not only status but decision factors so it is obvious that you have made a fair and equitable approval decision. Set up systems that are not a burden for the partner to implement avoiding duplicate data entry and automated data transfer. Openly involve partners in the decision-making process and arbitrate issues quickly.

Set up an effective data-sharing system and use it not only to review and track what is happening to close the new business but also to drive support to get the information, pricing, quotes, and customer information to help them win. The better you can make the system work to support winning the business the more support you will get to gain visibility into what your Channel Partners are doing to build your business.

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