By Tad Nickolich
One of the most valuable assets a reseller has to offer to a vendor is its geographic territory. Yet many resellers aren’t taking full advantage of that asset because they don’t ask the right questions when vetting vendors.
To understand how that happens, consider the example of hosted telecom services for the business market. The vendors that provide these services often don’t have direct sales teams, so they’re highly dependent on their partner networks to drive revenue. To maximize revenue, they often have multiple partners in the same geographic market.
Potential partners should ask vendors how they determine the ideal channel size for each market. A hosted telecom provider obviously would need more than one partner in, say, Chicago, to effectively serve that market, but how many are too many? Knowing how a vendor determines the right balance enables potential partners to decide whether there will be enough business for them or whether they’ll frequently be competing with the rest of the local channel.
Oversaturation also makes it difficult for the vendor to provide adequate training and other support to every partner in that market. Adequate support is critical for successfully selling complex products such as telecom services. For example, the partner’s reputation and revenue suffer if the telecom provider can’t step in to help troubleshoot a local outage.
To attract and retain partners, service providers or vendors often have programs designed to help their channels generate leads and in ways that require limited effort and investment by their partners. An example is allowing partners to submit lists of local businesses that the provider then will market to, thus eliminating the need for partners to spend time and money chasing and qualifying those leads.
These programs can be effective, which is why it’s important for partners to ask providers how they manage qualified leads. For example, how does the provider ensure that a warm lead always goes back to the partner who provided that list rather than to all of the partners serving that market? Ideally, the vendor should use tools such as those from HubSpot and Salesforce to track every lead so it always goes to the appropriate partner.
When a vendor has multiple partners in a market, the vendor should use a similar process to ensure that prospects are routed to the right one. Suppose a telecom service provider gets a call from a business that wants to add SIP trunks to its existing phone system. By asking which brand of phone system the business uses, the service provider can route that lead to the partner who’s a certified dealer for that brand.
Another example is a startup that wants a hosted PBX but needs additional services to get up and running. The telecom provider should route that lead to a local partner who can handle IT and cabling work, too.
Occasionally there’s no obvious way to draw the line. In those situations, vendors often will provide the lead to the dealer who’s been producing rather than the one who just signs up and then waits for the vendor to do all the work.
The ideal vendor also conducts its own campaigns to drive business to its channels. Examples include using Google AdWords, exhibiting at trade shows, inbound marketing, pay-per-click advertising, and other traditional and digital lead generation efforts that engage with the appropriate audiences directly.
Some vendors go a step further and create campaigns for specific geographic areas. One example is providing a white paper that businesses can use to understand a new state or municipal regulatory requirement. The white paper’s call to action then drives those businesses to local partners that can provide the solutions that enable compliance.
Finally, beware lead-gen programs that take a shotgun strategy because they typically shoot blanks. Case in point: Some telecom providers encourage partners to submit member lists from local organizations such as the chamber of commerce. Those lists don’t provide granular, actionable information, such as the types of phone system each business uses. As a result, a partner that specializes in, say, Avaya phone systems could wind up with a lead for a business that uses a different platform and has zero interest in switching. Chamber of commerce and similar lists also don’t identify which businesses are expanding or moving, so it’s impossible to determine which ones are prime candidates for upgrading their phone systems and thus deserve the most sales effort.
Partners also should consider whether they can successfully sell and support a product without an extensive or any physical presence in a particular market. Telecom and IT vendors, for example, have spent the past decade phasing out on-premises products in favor of cloud-based solutions. That virtual architecture means partners can sell those products in geographic markets that they previously couldn’t expand into because doing so would have required adding offices and staff in those markets.
But there’s a potential catch: Other partners could just as easily expand into those markets. That’s why resellers should ask vendors how they determine which and how many partners to authorize for each new market. For example, if it’s a relatively small market, does it become the exclusive territory for the first partner that requests the rights? The bottom line is that your territory is one of your greatest assets. Partner with a vendor that has a comprehensive strategy for enabling you to get the most out of that asset.
Tad Nikolich is senior vice president, business sales, for Voxox.
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