Kicking off Channel Partners’ conference portion, yesterday’s three-hour, two-track TAG Certification was a hit for partners, vendors and master agents alike. Facilitators from BellSouth Corp. presented a non-vendor-specific set of sales and marketing modules geared to give almost 200 attendees valuable, business-building information.
"Whether you’re a partner looking for the best program or if you have a program and are looking for the best partner, these processes work," said Lark Greene, a facilitator and chief business development manager for the BellSouth Distribution Channel.
Track I focused on marketing for success, deepening attendees’ knowledge of the small business market opportunity. The interactive session used wireless keypads to measure attendee opinions, allowing the speakers to tailor presentations to attendee needs.
John Irwin, BellSouth’s vice president of small business marketing, discussed the agent/small business relationship, pointing out, "The agent proposition is maintaining a relationship with the customer and proactively reduce their costs." He further noted that understanding and segmenting customers is crucial to the relationship.
He emphasized that proper bundling plays a major role in customers’ responses to business offers, allowing partners to manage churn, perhaps reducing it by 50 percent. In a package environment, sellers must pick services that logically complement each other, such as local and long-distance, or landline and cellular.
A look at advertising to small businesses rounded out the session. Marci Raible, senior director of advertising at the ILEC, explained how to identify the audience, determine the media to reach it, develop the message and measure effectiveness. She shared five television commercials from companies targeting the small business market, including UPS, American Express and Bank of America. Raible then asked the audience to evaluate their effectiveness.
Track II, "Building Effective Channel Partnerships," gave a soup-to-nuts roadmap for growing one’s business with an eye to the 80/20 rule, which says 20 percent of partners are responsible for 80 percent of sales.
Focusing energy on fewer, more productive partners to build revenue faster was the central concept for the three-hour session.
Greene and Robert Graham, sales manager for the BellSouth Distribution Channel, used a variety of general templates, skits and interactive question-and-answer periods to illustrate a 12-step process for building a downstream with the right partners. BellSouth implemented the program in 2002 and saw a 67.5 percent increase in revenue with 51.1 percent fewer partners.
"There are 12 steps in any kind of recovery," says Greene. "We were recovering from years of over-recruiting."
The steps are consolidated into three formalized processes: data gathering, business planning and "on-boarding" partners once a contract has been signed.
Data gathering consists of asking the right questions of prospective partners, developing criteria for the partnership (knowing what you are looking for) and creating a marketing plan to accurately assess goals, visions and commitments for the relationship, and taking a second look at the end of it all. Business planning involves developing a business, financial and joint action plan that each detail where partner and provider want to be in 90 days. On-boarding means reviewing plans after the contract is signed, developing a welcome package for partners, assigning operations and sales resources, and developing an evaluation checklist. Together, the parts make for a formalized, customized picture of what the partnership means in marketing, financial and operational terms for both sides.
"At the end you should know if you’re fishing or cutting bait with the partner," says Graham.