You can’t rely on the channel to grow sales in new markets

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By Jeff Campbell

I had an interesting call with a long time colleague and friend today. He is a well known and respected leader in his field. His expertise and notoriety has been developed over years of innovating and perfecting processes that are measurable, repeatable and produce consistently high-quality results. This guy is and has to be a great salesperson in order to sell his ideas and grow his business. Currently he is managing a software business, developing and offering software that provides automation and process management in his area of discipline.

He explained that, while his company has marquee customers internationally, the majority of its business is confined to one region. Expansion to new territories is critical, he explained, for strategic reasons; expanding global implementations will mitigate risk of competition coming into the region from elsewhere and increase value for stakeholders.

He had called me to discuss channel development. His executive team and advisors had concluded this was the way to grow international sales and he called me because he knows of my track record and experience in developing channels and managing indirect sales. After a brief overview of his business I thought I should ask a few questions.

My first line of questioning was around market opportunity and ecosystem.

Although this company had not made sales outside of its home territory in over a year, it was clear by the amount of competition and involvement of major integrators that there is robust market around the world with many high-quality potential distribution partners. I probed for barriers, but found that language, product distribution, implementation, customer service and culture are not issues. The market is shaped by a highly specialized discipline that, for the most part, transcends vertical industries, language and culture. The product is very effectively distributed, implemented and supported via the web. So the issue is not one of distribution or customer intimacy.

My next line of questioning was around sales and marketing.

It was great to hear that my friend’s company is employing some leading edge practices in the marketing and sale of the solution. It is heavily invested and quite disciplined in content creation, measurement and analytics. A dedicated resource creates content and actively posts and manages the content marketing process via Hubspot and a cloud content distribution system. A weekly webinar hosted by my friend offers valuable insights that contribute to generating a healthy flow of marketing qualified leads.

For sales, he told me there are three senior and accomplished sales people, all based in the HQ office in the home territory. They are using a sales force automation system (Maximizer) and they are tight with the marketers in that they have direct insight into activity on the portals, landing pages and webinars. They use GoToMeeting for online meetings and use phone and email extensively. There’s a rich library of materials and content at their disposal that is managed for them and available through the cloud distribution system. The salespeople are producing. Nonetheless, all of the sales in over a year have been in the home territory.

I’m starting to conclude that they have the elements needed to be effective in selling internationally, yet they are not.

Then I uncovered two critical issues:

Marketing is passing marketing qualified leads to sales

I define marketing qualified leads as individuals who have offered details about themselves as part of an inquiry. These are clearly people who have shown interest in the solution and given up something (their deets) to get something (content download, attendance on a webinar, etc.). Sadly, this is not an isolated case. This is prevalent across many industries and it is problematic. In a recent CSO Insights Survey it was learned that 79 per cent of such leads die when they get to sales.

This really bothers me, for two reasons. First is the time spent by the sales team to reach these people so they can qualify them against budget, authority, need and timing in order to qualify them as a sales lead before they take them through the opportunity management process. The second is even more vexing. Most of those leads will never be contacted by sales as salespeople will prioritize their own leads over those generated by marketing almost every time. I suspect this is one of the main reasons why my friend is not making sales outside of the home territory.

Sales process, effectiveness and buyer behaviour is not being measured

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Again this is not an isolated case. This shop, like many others, has invested in marketing automation tools and is gaining actionable insight from content analytics in the lead-generation process. These concepts and measurements, when extended into the selling channels, enables sales and marketing managers to uncover the critical issues affecting both positive and undesirable outcomes. This knowledge then informs the right decisions for adjustments in process and most importantly, for effectively coaching salespeople to perform at peak.

Oh, and there was one other key piece of information exposed. They had tried hiring reps in remote locations in the past and failed terribly. I didn’t have to ask why.

The bottom line

My friend’s desire to expand into more and distant territories is based on sound business reasons. His conclusion to use channel partners to achieve this will not work. In the absence of any other change, It will suffer the very same result as the hiring of the remote reps.

I advised that he would be much better served to do two things:

1) Address the lead qualification issue. I introduced the concept of a lead development rep and suggested this be integrated into the marketing team. Alternatively, there are some very cost-effective outsource alternatives. An outfit like Plan27 has proven capability and a repeatable process that takes contacts (lists) and marketing qualified leads and delivers sales-ready leads. It does this for less than the cost of a headcount and consistently meets or exceeds its service level agreements.

2) Give the sales people lots of love, starting immediately with a tool that actually helps them.

While Maximizer (a sales force automation and CRM tool) does what it does well (a database of information and reports for managers), many of the issues that are limiting how my friend’s salespeople reach customers far afield could be solved with a tool that aids them in managing more opportunities and nailing the correct message every time. With the type of tool I am envisioning, the reps would have one dashboard where they can access the marketing content, tailor it for an individual and deliver it in any of three ways: They should be able to use it when presenting to a customer in person, it should have co-browser and white-boarding capability for online presentations, and it must enable delivery of the materials via email, social and other online methods.

In all three cases, if the sales activity data is being automatically collected and the customer engagement with the sales material is being measured (just like they do in marketing) my friend’s sales team could gain substantial efficiencies while also increasing sales effectiveness. This one tool would directly or indirectly solve the majority of the problems he is experiencing.

By having all of this packaged together into one tool, salespeople could very effectively reach globally and sell like they are local. This measurement of sales activity arms the sales leader with actionable data that can be used to drive the correct behaviours, like following through on all leads, regardless of location. Customer engagement measurement in the selling channel helps to adjust messaging and provides meaningful data to help sales prepare for the next call. Marketing material management means that reps are not searching for things and that they are always using the latest updated materials.

When I told my friend that I know of a sales automation tool like this that also provides real-time alerts to his salespeople when customers are viewing the materials, he had a “eureka” moment. He immediately understood the value of this to the average salesperson and said “this is a game changer.” His salespeople could then engage their prospects and customers at the perfect time, the time that the customer considers most convenient. This would shorten sales cycles and increase win rates because we would no longer be “imposing” ourselves on the customer but we would be right there for them when they chose to study the content.

I truly hope my friend follows this advice. I will be following up and sharing any further insights.

Image: Logic Bay

With more than 30 years spent in companies large and small — from the Microsofts and EDS Systemhouses of the world to fast-growth startups — Jeff has a thoroughly rounded perspective on exactly what it takes to bring technology to market. He offers business development advice for RemoteRep® from Coretex Group Inc, a novel e-based system that connects marketing with sales and provides real time feedback and response mechanisms.

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