Teach Your Channel Partners Well
Companies that sell direct have it easy. They have control over hiring their salespeople, control over marketing messages, and control over service and support. There's only one entity to blame if the buyer's unhappy, and that's the seller.
When you mix in an indirect channel, however, things get a little more difficult. Now a third party has an impact on the buyer's satisfaction as well.
That's a critical consideration when you're building out your channel. You look to the channel when you want to scale your ability to reach customers, but building a channel is not all about scale. It needs to be about quality as well -- quality at the time of on-boarding and ongoing maintenance of that quality.
Look at things from the customer's point of view: He looks at your channel partner and you as parts of a single unit. Even in a situation where a value-added reseller is including you as part of a bigger solution, you are still viewed as a participant in the deal. If the reseller fails to do his job or makes life harder for the buyer than it needs to be, your brand takes a hit as well.
That's why the sheer number of resellers in your channel program can be a good news/bad news metric. Yes, you may have many more feet on the street trying to reach your customers, but you also have to figure out how to make sure those feet are attached to brains that know what they're doing. Otherwise, you've just turned loose an army of potential incompetents on your unsuspecting customers.
Develop a Syllabus
How do you avoid this potentially awful CRM situation? The answer is training -- and not just the provision of training to partners, but a system of scoring, tracking and accreditation. You need to develop a syllabus for your channel (which will likely track neatly to the training you give your own direct sales staff) and find the best way to deliver that training, but you also need visibility into whether partners are using that training, how well they understand it and how complete their knowledge is.
Training and accreditation is often seen as something targeted at individual employees within a partner organization -- and it can be. If your method of tracking this is complete enough, though, you can also provide accreditation for organizations based on the breadth of specialized knowledge their employees have demonstrated. For instance, you may decide that it's important that 20 percent of a partner's representatives have taken a specialized course. Similarly, you may decide that it's critical that a series of different specialized courses must be taken by at least one representative for their company to gain accreditation.
Tracking this may be tough within CRM, but there are other applications that allow you to manage channel issues like this that integrate with CRM.
Make It Stick
The next step is to keep it up. It becomes all too easy to forget the channel or to give it a lower priority and allow partner training to lag behind training for direct sales. This is a bad practice because you're not only sowing the seeds of potential buyer discontent with your channel but you're also setting up a conflict with your channel. While this mistake often happens because of absent-mindedness or neglect, partners may interpret it as a tactic to give direct sales an advantage. If you build a channel to scale up your reach, angering the channel works against your objective.
How do you avoid neglect? Make it a point to review your channel training efforts quarterly. How has your product changed, and how has that changed what channel partners need to know? Are there questions your direct sales team is asking about, or is there something the channel is asking for that you're not providing? Without a regularly scheduled review, it's easy to fail to ask those questions. It's also easy to forget regular updates when personnel managing the channel change. Get the process in place and make it stick.
In a B2C environment, the clerk at the end of the sale can have a disproportionate impact on the buyer's experience. In a channel environment, the channel partner is like that clerk -- but the impact the partner can make is potentially far greater. It makes sense to equip partners with the knowledge to make that impact a positive one.