Indirect sales channels have helped turn small start-ups into global players.
Author: Marc Baumgartner, May 2019
According to the World Trade Organization, 75 per cent of global trade flows through indirect sales channels, meaning that most companies prefer to use third parties to sell their products rather than employ sales staff directly.
Citibank, for example, says 90 per cent of its customers in China sign up and activate their cards through social-media platform WeChat. Similarly, Mulesoft, an API platform, grew quickly thanks to its strategic partnership with Salesforce (so quickly in fact that Salesforce then bought them).
So how can small companies hoping to make it big make the best use of indirect sales channels?
The assumption all too often is that once a company has signed up a sales partner they can stop thinking about it and concentrate on product. They have handed over the responsibility for sales in return for a fee and that’s where their involvement ends. This couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, an indirect channel can take on the heavy lifting, but it still needs support. It’s a partnership – and partnerships require two-way commitment.
First, make sure that the partner you choose is the right one. Does it understand your sector and where your product or service fits in? Are there any conflicts of interest – does it have another client with a similar offer?
Once chosen, the sales partner should be treated like a client. Have a commercial team – or for small companies, a team member – to support the relationship: a point of contact that can keep the outside partner informed of goals and changing strategies and expectations.
Similarly, design an appropriate incentive scheme for the third party or parties selling your product. This might include special incentives for the first few deals or a scaling bonus scheme. Whatever is in place, support it with plenty of high-quality sales collateral. This might be brochures, case studies, messaging on value, joint events and/or demos – and make sure these are refined and honed with time and experience. Sales specialists have lots of different products and services to sell; the key is to make it easy and rewarding for them to sell yours.
You also need to ensure you have a clear idea of who your top five prospects are. This means resources can be focused on them and not wasted on a scattergun approach. It might be best to focus on prospects in one country or one sector. For example, a fintech with fraud-mitigation software might want to focus on private banks. A good place for it to start selling could be Switzerland, the home of wealth management.
The sales campaign itself should have a clear value to both the prospective client and the third party, and sales activation programmes are a good way to deliver this. It means targeting individuals with tailored pitches showing the precise value to their company, rather than a blanket campaign more akin to advertising.
Ideally, the first win should be a big one. And that win, indeed all wins, should be broadcast across all sales teams – direct and indirect – to create marketing value. This part is about making success an input in the sales process and centres on ensuring teams know that it’s worth their while to invest in your prospects. After all, it can take six months or more to close a deal and they need to be committed for the duration. Nothing breeds commitment like success.
Success should also be broadcast beyond the sales channels to the sector as a whole. Blogs and press releases are essential. In the same vein, don’t overlook branding and advertising.
It’s also vital to cultivate relationships with all your consumers, whether they are sold to directly or indirectly. This is the best way to collect feedback about what they might still need from you – and therefore allow you to sell more.
When well cultivated, indirect sales channels can offer small companies an excellent route to growth. The key is cultivation. Ultimately, this means using the right tools and thinking carefully about the how and when – or in marketing speak, it demands strategic thinking and positioning.