Monday, November 25, 2013

Using Direct Sales Management systems for the Channel

Let’s face it, has done a superb job of making CRM a SAAS product. It has also done an even better job of marketing itself. Many believe that Salesforce (and others like them) “does everything” – and that includes “channel management”. They certainly have processes that cater for Partners – but are they really "Channel Sales Automation Systems"?

There is an evolving classic approach to how you handle Direct and Indirect Sales processes. This is not every company but it certainly applies to the huge majority of companies that use the channel seriously. The diagram below shows the main elements of this approach.

The workflow is basically the same as it has always been; leads go in one end and come out the other end as orders… we hope.  The tools we are using though, are evolving. On the left, you see “Marketing Automation Tools” and Partner Resource (or Relationship) Management systems. They perform some great values in terms of trapping interest from your website and other marketing initiatives and creating leads (as well as brand control, etc). For Direct Sales they feed into a proper tracking system like Salesforce – and control = success. However the Indirect picture is still messy. Leads are fed into spreadsheets or made available through portals. If you are lucky, the “Vendor” will let you register your deals through another portal into the corporate CRM system, but, of course, that’s as close as the reseller is allowed to get. The actual tracking is done on the corporate CRM by an assigned Direct rep or by the Channel sales team (who usually maintains a spreadsheet). The Vendor lives in a world of spreadsheets, email, and constantly dialing for updates.

Hopefully at the end there will be an order placed somewhere that tracks back to that original lead – that usually cost a lot of money to generate. The truth is that deals are often lost through poor sales processes, that effective sales management and tracking could have helped with – this stuff really does work. Even worse, the partner can just as easily switch-sell to another Vendor and you have no real way of controlling that. Perhaps even worse than that, you might have really great partners who are doing everything by the book, and you have no real way of recognizing that. You should be building around those great partners; they are the ones you should be nurturing, giving leads to; they are the ones that make you a professional business.

The truth is that we are still not fully evolved. The thing that is good about Salesforce is that it is “multi-tenant” and for almost all things that is good. It means that your system behaves like it is in your datacenter – locked down and restricted – but instantly available; maintenance free. Unfortunately, it still operates in that way for Partners; by definition they are not allowed access to corporate systems – even though they share a common business process. Your relationship with your Indirect Sales team is more like a network process – a collaboration process that transcends firewalls. Systems for the channel ARE unique, but the good thing is that the workflow is almost identical.  We can fix this.

In the next article in the series we will talk about how these clues have inspired a real Channel Sales Automation system, that helps users of systems such as Salesforce evolve that next critical step by using the Channel’s own Sales Automation system.