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Bruce Wirt is the Vice President of Channel Sales at Telesystem. He often contributes to ChannelVision Magazine, which includes the below article from their January – February 2018 issue.
Most of us leave money on the table every day, and this industry causes its own problems by driving margins lower and lower on products and services that are not in the supplier’s wheelhouse.
In a 2017 survey conducted by The Alliance Partners, the majority of agents felt like suppliers focus too much on the “why” instead of the “how.” Supplier presentations inevitably start with, “sell us because we have the best network, the best customer service, and we can do everything you need.” This is generally followed by a 45- to 60-minute product dump that less than 20 percent of the audience is tuned in for.
Provider X comes out with a new product or service, and then provider Y is there a week later with the same thing at a 10 percent price reduction. It’s been that way since 1996. Agents are taught to open the customer’s door and immediately jump into a conversation about saving that customer money. Right now, there is a massive push to convert legacy MPLS networks to SD-WAN technology, and many agents don’t know “why” or “how” other than “it’s cheaper and comes with redundancy.”
For that reason, the agent channel has historically been stuck in the small to mid-market transactional business, where partners can bring outside cost saving solutions to understaffed IT personnel. Agents open doors and close deals based on budget alone. But fairly often, the right questions don’t get asked and the customer buys an apple to save money when they needed an orange to run their business. Or, the agent will sell the cost-saving products and services but miss out on huge revenue possibilities by not probing into challenges that the customer is facing beyond the low hanging fruit.
As a channel chief for more than 10 years, I’ve heard countless supplier executives and engineers blame the lack of probing on the channel. Many organizations even protect enterprise accounts and shut the channel out because they don’t trust that the sales process will uncover all of the details needed. But if we as suppliers step back and look in the mirror, we may find that there is vast potential to be unlocked in the agent channel.
Telecom suppliers are guilty of overtraining their direct sales teams on the sales process and expecting the agent channel to figure it out on their own. Then, suppliers hold agents accountable for meeting expectations on pitching a product that was never properly relayed. Let’s look at three very simple ways to improve the success of your channel in 2018:
Focus on the agent and not how great you are: Refine your presentation decks to show agents what is in it for them – not how big, great and wonderful your organization is. Focus on how whatever you are presenting will affect them, and make that the central point of the presentation. If your product will open doors for them to sell other products, then show how that is done, and focus on examples of where it worked. If your product will make the agent a millionaire, show them the steps to take to make that happen. You will connect with many more partners by aligning on the drivers that fuel their business.
Case studies over collateral: Present your information by showing partners real world examples of how you sell your service. Go through the steps that were taken to make the sale instead of the wonderful technology behind the service that you are selling. Unless you have a product or service that is truly unique (and good luck finding that), your technology can always be matched and made cheaper. It is the way that you educate your customers on that technology and “how” it will impact their business that makes the biggest difference in selling.
Stop throwing quotes at the wall to see what sticks: If you are never competitive on dedicated internet, stop taking hundreds of requests with the hope of selling 1 or 2 percent of the quotes that you send out. Focus on a product or service that you truly shine at, and spend time and effort educating partners on how you win. If you lose 99 out of 100 times in a commodity application, you have far less of a chance that the agent channel will actually think of you positively for the technology that you are most effective at selling. Furthermore, suppliers waste precious human capital by spending countless hours on quotes that they simply will not win.
You want your agents to get in the customer’s door with a service that they are most comfortable with, then think about all of the tricks in their bag once they secure trusted advisor status. As a niche supplier, you will win many more times by letting the partner sell a commodity internet circuit and then bringing you in afterward to layer in your solution than to try and be all things to all people. In the end, you’ll lose the commodity game that you aren’t well positioned in and never get the chance to discuss the services that make you stand out.
As an agent, don’t stop once you get your ink on the easy stuff. Once the commodity sale is won, you can now go back in and set a meeting to discuss all of the items that you have in your bag. Focus on solutions to problems relating in soft cost savings, not hard dollar savings. Many times you will discover that the customer has budget to spend more money on services that will enhance their own network stability, and you won’t get to that conversation if you don’t go back and ask for it.
Simon Sinek tells us to “Start with Why” in our selling conversations, but to get to that point, we need to work together on both sides of the channel to understand the how. Improving that dialog in 2018 may just yield a few more President’s Club trips in your collective future. Happy selling!