To Recruit or Not RecruitRecently, a client approached me for advice about launching their new product. The product was an automated version of an older, manual product. The new technology provided greater control, significant cost and time savings, and a log of useful information; but, otherwise, the physical end-result for the customer was similar with both products.
No one within the company had really thought about the channel implications of the new product. Most of the sales and marketing people simply assumed the existing channel would volunteer to carry the new product.
I agreed with my client that existing channel partners would indeed raise theirs hands to sell the new product. First, channel partners don’t want to seem ungrateful or pessimistic. Second, channel partners don’t want to create an opening for new, competing resellers.
However, the new product was much more complex than the prior version. It required more technical selling skills, some knowledge of software, and the ability to integrate the product into the customer’s existing infrastructure. Most of the existing channels lacked these skills. I suggested that the client might want to consider a more technically-capable channel. “But, our channel already sells to the target customer,” my client responded. “True,” I agreed, “but, not entirely.” Because of the new product’s higher price and significant speed/cost benefits, the purchase decision would likely get booted up to the Vice President level or even the executive suite. I suggested that the channel would need some consultative selling skills.
My client still worried that the existing channel would react negatively if they were excluded from the sales of the new product. Furthermore, he worried about the time, expense and risk of establishing a new channel. I reminded him of the time, expense and risk of failing through the existing, unprepared channel.
To resolve this dilemma, I suggested the following (a path that we have seen other clients follow with positive results): create a set of partner criteria and an associated application form. Any partner (existing or new) that wants to carry the new product would need to develop a business plan, agree to train their technical and sales people, employ a software programmer and demonstrate past consultative selling capabilities. A few of the existing partners could already meet these hurdles, and therefore jump-start the selling effort while my client undertook the longer process of recruiting additional, qualified partners. Existing partners that failed to meet the criteria could not protest that they were excluded; rather they could re-apply if and when they improved their capabilities.
Channel Problem Solved.