Selling via indirect channels means less direct contact with your end customer, but there are still plenty of ways to improve access to the customer insights necessary to compete effectively and win more business. Cultivating a channel partner management approach that fosters partner relationships will result in plenty of back-and-forth communication and feedback about customers.
Face-to-face contact with your end customer may be less and less common but your partners still have plenty of it, so if your relationships with partners have been in set-it-and-forget-it mode, it’s time to get to work. Here are three things you can do to get closer to your partners, thereby getting closer to customers.
1) Join Partners on Sales Calls
Zero in on your most effective partners and find out what their customers are saying. While partners generally prefer that vendors don’t contact their customers, most will be glad to bring you along on a few sales calls to show you what sales tactics work for your product – especially if you reciprocate.
One way to return the favor is by sharing expertise or training on unique product features that will be of particular value to the partner’s customers. This strengthens the customer relationship for both you and the partner and increases the opportunity for more sales.
2) Host Advisory Meetings
Establish an annual advisory council of your best partners (those with high sales and fast growth rates) and find out what they’re learning about customers. Learn how your partners’ needs are evolving and to take that knowledge back to work and develop your program to better serve them – and therefore the end customer. Collect detailed data and feedback on customer needs, perceptions and preferences – and also on how partner channel managers think you’re doing in terms of support, training and serving their customers.
Organize the meeting to strike a balance between the kind of casual atmosphere that fosters open communication and a focus on taking care of business, e.g., improving sales performance. Invite partners you think are most likely to offer objective, honest feedback.
3) Share Product and Industry Insights with Partners and Customers
Open the lines of communication further by sending your engineers and product managers out in the field to meet with partners. By putting your heads together on a regular basis, you can share valuable knowledge and help ensure both vendor and partner are providing the right support to customers. Vendors will get a clearer view of which products and features are of most value in the marketplace and what marketing and advertising customers respond best to. Partners will benefit from a sales force that’s more knowledgeable – and more effective.
The Value of Human Interaction
You may notice that each of these three items requires face-to-face interaction between vendor and partner. Be sure your channel managers and partner channel managers don’t fall into the trap of letting technology do the interacting. (Click