Whose Lead Is It Anyway?

How to Distribute Leads to Your Channel Without Losing Control of the Sale

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You invest a lot in generating leads. Not only in direct lead generation activity, but also in the development and amplification of your brand -- which ultimately should pay off in the form of sales.

If you market through third-party reps and distributors, there's an added layer of complexity and management to the lead generation picture. When you send leads out to your channel partners, you're taking a leap of faith.

What happens to those precious leads? Are they getting the attention they deserve? Are they being followed up on quickly and effectively? Do your distributors and independent reps know your products well enough to close the sale? Are they selling your products or something else in their line? Are you getting the information you need to enrich your data, ensure ongoing nurturing of your prospects and optimize your marketing spend?

If you're a channel marketer, lead distribution and follow up are at the core of your marketing and sales operation. These five steps will help ensure that your leads are well-cared for, and help you optimize your relationship with your channel partners.

Step 1: Ensure Alignment

Alignment is critical to a successful channel program. Are you and your partners on the same page when it comes to defining what constitutes a qualified lead and how you expect your channel partners to respond to the prospects you send them? If not, you should make this your first priority. Involve your channel partners in planning, and keep them in the loop as you develop and launch your marketing programs. You'll gain valuable insight into the challenges and opportunities in the field -- and you'll ensure that your distribution and sales partners are ready for the leads they're getting and understand your expectations.

Step 2: Qualify Your Leads

It's great to send a high volume of leads to your distributors and independent reps, but after they've contacted a few unqualified prospects, you'll quickly start to lose their attention. It's better to take the time to carefully filter leads before sending them over. Delivering more qualified leads will build your credibility with your partners, which will help your product lines get more of their attention. In addition to providing better leads, qualification allows you to capture valuable information that will help your partners move prospects forward and close more deals. It will also signal that you are aware of the quality and intentions of each prospect, which will help to set expectations.

Step 3: Empower Your Channel

In the B2B world, you can't trust that every salesperson your prospects encounter has the training and background necessary to move the sales dialogue forward. This is especially true for highly technical or big-ticket items. Product specifications and points of differentiation can be extremely complex and may vary widely across vertical markets. If you want to be sure that your leads are in good hands, you need to ensure that your channel partners have the tools and training they need to act as an extension of your team, representing your products with the knowledge and efficiency your prospects deserve.

That doesn't just mean brochures and showroom collateral (although you should be providing these). It means rich partner portals with training content that helps third-party sales teams benefit from the knowledge of your company's subject matter experts. It means tools such as ROI calculators and quote generators that make it easy to demonstrate the value of your solutions and close business.

Step 4: Close the Loop

After you've sent leads out to your channel, reach out to follow up. Was the sale made? If not, why? You should be calling both your channel partners and your prospects to gather feedback that can help you improve your lead generation and qualification process and determine how well your partners are handling your leads. Additionally, if distributors and independent reps know that you're going to be following up, they will make sure to stay focused on selling your products to your leads, rather than alternatives.

Step 5: Evaluate

Good channel marketers are always evaluating the effectiveness of their partners. But it's not just about sales volume. To understand how to optimize your channel, you should be analyzing your entire market and mapping the opportunity by territory. This type of analysis might lead you to adjust your distribution rules, ensuring an appropriate territory balance. Maybe one of your partners isn't following up on leads effectively because the opportunity in their territory is so small that it's simply not worth giving your products any attention. Perhaps another isn't following up quickly enough because they have more leads than they can handle. Only a thorough, ground-up analysis can provide the answers.

If you want to optimize sales among distributors and independent reps, implement an integrated channel management strategy that takes advantage of the full range of tools available to today's B2B marketer. You'll build successful channel partnerships that turn those valuable leads into ongoing revenue.

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