01/30/2014 01:33 pm ET Updated Apr 01, 2014

Sales Channels: How To Achieve Success With Independent Sales Reps

As a business grows, you have different ways to expand. You could hire all of your own sales representatives, or you could use a sales channel. Let's say that you have already reached that point and decided that your best growth strategy is to work through a sales channel. You might work with independent reps, manufacturer's reps, or partners. Call them what you like, channels present great opportunity and similarly, many challenges. In the past week, I worked with several different companies on their channel strategy. Here are some pitfalls to avoid that can help you attain optimum value from your channel.

Know How They Make Money:

You know how you make money, but how does your channel partner make money? Do they simply make a percentage of the sale? Do they sell additional services? Let's say your product sells for $30,000, and your partner earns 30 percent. This means that they earn $9,000 gross on each sale. However, they might perform additional services or sell add-on products to the client that totals another $20,000. So, each time the channel partner sells your product, they know they'll make $9,000 from you, and another $20,000 based on what they deliver.

The next quarter, you come out with a new version of your product that customers just love. In fact, it reduces the complexity of implementation significantly. You still sell it for $30,000. But, it only needs $5,000 of services. Instead of excitement, your channel partner is thinking "Darn!  Now I make half as much for the same sale." What is good news for the customer might not be as well received for your channel partner.  Consider how they make money from your product. The first thing you should discuss with a potential channel partner is how others are making money based on your offerings.

The Channel: An Extension of Your Sales Force:

One of the first mistakes I see is when companies share limited information with their channel partners. If you can't trust them, then they should not be in your channel. Once you make the decision to use that channel, treat them as an extension of your sales force. Keep in mind that unlike your internal sales force, your channel has other things on their plate. If they struggle to get information from you, they might recommend the competitor's solution because it is "easier." Be sure that you communicate with your channel partners as often as you would your internal team. Speak WITH them, not AT them. Here are some good questions to ask:

- Ask questions about what projects are going well, and where you could help them be more successful.

- Ask about what other vendors do that helps the partner sell more effectively.

- Ask about what they like and what they wish they could change about other vendors.

More HOW, Less WHAT:

When speaking with CEOs of companies that use channel partners, they confirm that the most effective partners are not necessarily masters of each feature. Rather, they are subject matter experts in specific fields, and they have a mastery of the sales process for that type of solution.

If your sales training or enablement is all about your features and benefits, you are not arming the channel with the right tools. Instead, focus on WHY people would purchase your products and services over alternatives.

- Help them understand what types of situations would be a good fit for your solutions, and what have you found to be the catalysts for fast sales.

- Engage them to define the best entry points into an account that would lead to a quick success.

- Identify which opportunities are a good fit, and which ones are not worth the pursuit.


Your channel partners have many things competing for their attention. If you help them discover how to make the most effective use of their time and put more money in their pocket working with you, then you'll have their attention. Treat them like a member of the family, and work together for mutual success. When you master this formula, your channel can deliver extraordinary value to grow your business.

It's Your Turn:

What channel experiences have you faced (good or bad)?  How could you change your program for the better?