Sales Partners and Influencers – Your external sales and support team

Our Summer Journey

In the last three installments of the Baker Marketing “Marketing Summer School” we have covered an overview of the strategic marketing function and in particular we have summarised a step-by-step approach to planning and decision making regarding the two most important marketing decisions for your brand and business, namely,

  • Your Primary and Secondary Target Markets
  • Your Desired Brand Positioning

Sales Partners and Sales Influencers – The opportunity

This week I want to help you capitalise on opportunities for sales growth and profits from:

  • Optimising your Market Channel strategies and decisions
  • Maximising your relationships with Sales Partners and Sales Influencers

Sales Partner and Sales Influencer Strategies in a Nutshell

There are companies, associations, not-for-profit organisations and Government Departments who are talking to your primary and secondary target markets on a regular if not daily basis.

You may be missing opportunities for them to:

1. Directly on-sell your products and services to your target customers

2. Refer and/or recommend your target customers directly to you

Your Sales Partner and Sales Influencer strategies are about taking a planned and structured approach to maximising these opportunities.

Aligning your Marketing Strategy

Now that you have made decisions in the above two areas there is the opportunity to review other strategic marketing planning decisions and align your whole business with your key marketing strategies.

“Align all aspects of your business with your primary target markets and desired brand positioning”

Market Channel Strategies and Route to Market

An important area to align with your overall marketing strategy is your Market Channel Strategy.

By Market Channels I refer to the route to market that is most effective for your brand or business.

Consumer Products and Services

If you sell consumer products, for example, the decision to sell your gourmet Olive Oil product via supermarkets instead of smaller independent retailers is a Market Channel decision. Deciding the most appropriate sales or market channel by which to reach your end user is a very important decision.

Similarly, as a consumer marketer on your journey towards supermarkets or independent retailers, you will make decisions regarding your distributor or broker relationships versus targeting these retailers directly.

Business-to-Business Products and Services

As a business-to-business (B2B) provider, for example an equipment supplier, you will also make similar decisions although the market channels may not be as clearly defined as they are in the world of consumer marketing.

Sales Partners and Influencers

Sales Partners and Influencers are simply the names that I assign two important groups of players within your marketplace.

These two groups often have the ability to help your brand or products reach your target customers much more quickly and efficiently.

They have the potential to play a similar role in helping grow sales but there are some very important differences.

Sales Partners

Sales Partners are the organisations (e.g. companies, associations etc.) that assist to on-sell your brand or products/services as part of carrying out their normal business.

They include the sales and promotion of your brand, product/service or business as part of their formal selling activity.

They make profit from on-selling your brand.

What do Sales Partners look like?

Examples of Sales Partners include:

  • Distributors
  • Wholesalers
  • Brokers
  • Importers
  • Retailers
  • Sales Agents
  • And variations of the above

Sales Influencers

Sales Influencers also have the potential to dramatically assist in increasing your sales growth.

An important distinction is that Sales Influencers generally do not extract profit from the relationship.

Sales Influencers typically recommend your brand, products/services and business to their customers as part of their service or in value-adding to their customers.

Sales Influencers are organisations (e.g. companies, associations, Government Departments, Not-for-profit groups etc.) that make referrals and ‘influence’ the decision making behaviour of your target customers before they make a purchase decision.

What do Sales Influencers look like?

Examples of Sales Influencers include:

  • A marketing consultant recommending an IP Attorney
  • A corporate lawyer recommending a divorce lawyer
  • An accountant recommending a systems consultant
  • A business enterprise centre (BEC) recommending a marketing consultant
  • An interior designer recommending a tile retailer or brand of cabinet maker
  • A real-estate agent recommending a conveyancer or commercial cleaning company
  • A hotel recommending a restaurant or local tourist attraction
  • And variations of the above as they apply to your product or service category

Sales Influencers do it for love

All of the above Sales Influencer organisations have the opportunity to enhance the service they provide to their own customers by making good recommendations.

In most cases their loyalty is based on confidence in the products and service providers that they recommend in addition to the relationships and knowledge that they have of businesses and brands that they recommend.

Of course, as markets mature and grow Sales Influencer relationships will often develop into formal and informal Sales Partner relationships where the ‘Influencer’ capitalises on the competitiveness of the category and the opportunity to extract profit from their recommendations.

How to define your Channel Partner Strategies

I have summarised the key steps that I find to be most important in preparing to take advantage of your sales partner and influencer opportunities, namely:

  1. Research
  2. Prioritising market channel opportunities
  3. Locating and recruiting sales partners and influencers
  4. Managing and motivating channel partners
  5. Protecting channel partners

Market Channels 101

Like previous important marketing strategies and decisions, there is a lot involved here. If we all had time I could write a short book on the topic of defining the most profitable market channels for your business.

Instead, the approach that I have outlined below maps out some of the key steps which I think will provide a guide regarding you best next steps.

Key Steps to Defining your Channel Partner Strategies

Step 1 – Research

Research is all about understanding the key players in your market place.

Knowing the players in your marketplace is an important step in defining your Sales Partner and Influencer strategies.

In any given marketplace their can by several groups of players or groups of customers including:

  • Consumers (i.e. End Users) – the consumers who are the ultimate purchasers of your products and services (you are often targeting these groups directly)
  • Business Customers (i.e. End Users) – the Business Customers who are the ultimate purchasers of your products and services (you are often targeting these groups directly)
  • Consumer Influencers and Gatekeepers (i.e. Other End Users who influence your Target Customers) sometimes referred to ‘word-of-mouth’ (these groups are not always easy to target directly as they are often satisfied/dissatisfied customers or other hard to reach groups)
  • Sales Partners (i.e. Organisations that on-sell your products/services as part of their routine business) they will formally sell and promote your business and extract profit from the transaction (e.g. Distributors, retailers, agents etc.)
  • Sales Influencers (i.e. Organisations that make recommendations regarding your product/services as part of their routine business) they will formally or informally recommend your product/service to your target customer groups (e.g. organisations that your target customers visit as part of their decision making journey and before their final purchase decision)

 

A note on missed opportunities:

I have noticed that business owners and managers often miss opportunities to optimise the contribution to sales and profits that the last two market players can deliver. Strategies and decisions associated with Sales Partners and Sales Influencers are often knee-jerk and poorly thought through.

Step 2 – Prioritising market channel opportunities

You can also think of this as defining the most profitable route to market for your brand.

Step 2 involves reviewing the different players that you have identified in your marketplace and analysing their potential to contribute to your sales growth and profits.

I recommend that you use a similar process of analysis that I outlined in the Marketing Summer School Part 2 where we prioritised your primary and secondary target markets using three main criteria, namely:

  • Total potential for profit (i.e. what is the total potential of a channel partner/influencer versus how much profit are you currently generating from it)
  • Total potential for conversion (i.e. how easy or difficult will it be for you convert prospective channel partner/influencer to profitable relationships when targeting a particular channel partner/influencer)
  • Total potential for long-term loyalty (i.e. what is the potential for a long-term income stream directly from referrals associated with the channel partner/influencer)

Your overall assessment of the above three criteria then forms your final ranking of your channel partner/influencers.

Step 3 – Locating and recruiting sales partners and influencers

This step is all about finding the right sales partner or sales influencer.

I have noticed that even after carefully defining the most appropriate channel partners, many business operators will ‘fall’ into relationships without doing much research, due diligence or evaluation of options.

Many sales partner and influencer relationships fail simply because they were not a good match to begin with.

Experience with our clients highlights the need to take a structured approach to identifying and recruiting the best-fit sales partner or influencer for your business. I recommend the following recruitment activities:

  • Develop a database of potential channel partners so that you can consider all alternatives
  • Prepare your supporting materials so that you can make a powerful and compelling presentation
  • Review, screen and evaluate prospective channel partners in a similar way that you would when interviewing for a business development executive (remembering of course that this is also a sales presentation on your behalf as well)
  • Deliver a powerful and compelling sales presentation to prospective channel partners
  • Define the agreement, trading terms and key performance indicators

Step 4 – Managing and motivating channel partners

In other words, how to keep channel partners once established.

A common question that I get asked is:

“How do I keep distributors (A.K.A. Sales Partners/Influencers) when I do find them?”

When I dig deeper I find that business operators often do very little to manage or motivate their channel partners. Instead there is this belief that when you find a good distributor or influencer that is where the work ends; you can sit back and relax. If anything, the opposite is true. Finding a good channel partner is where your investment in the relationship begins.

How do you keep them motivated?

Again, I think there is the opportunity to take a planned and structured approach to optimising these relationships. Here are some suggestions:

  • Plan and implement tailored promotions
  • Ensure regular contact via phone, email, Skype, video conferencing and market visits
  • Develop sales support materials
  • Utilise media release activity where possible
  • Keep channel partners informed/updated via newsletters, intranet posts and social media
  • Responded rapidly to any issues concerning quality, service, regulatory or competition etc.
  • Visit your channel partners on a regular basis and spend time in their marketplace if possible

Step 5 – Protecting channel partners

How do you avoid making decisions that damage your relationships over time?

I often see business operators inadvertently implement activities that have a negative effect on their sales partners/influencers business and/or their relationship with that sales partner/influencer.

Pain cannot always be avoided, unfortunately.

Decisions and activities that impact negatively on your channel partners cannot always be completely avoided. However, it is important to align your market channel strategies and decisions with your overall strategies (i.e. your target market and brand positioning strategies). In doing this you have a better chance of avoiding channel partner relationships that are destined for failure in the first place.

When you have established a channel partner relationship it is important to constantly be mindful of the implications of decisions and activities that you implement.

This can be done in a similar way that you would double-check decisions against the needs and wants of your primary and secondary target markets.

You then double-check implications of decisions/changes against the needs/wants of your most important channel partners.

Sales Partner Influencer Strategies in summary

As mentioned at the onset, your Sales Partner and Sales Influencer strategies are about taking a planned and structured approach to making the right decisions and maximising relationships.

The key opportunity is to generate sales growth and profits from increases in Sales Partners/Influencers directly on-selling your products and services or to referring and/or recommending your target customers directly to you.

 

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