Sales playbooks

Raymond Hill - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Companies that sell through distributors or independent reps understand the challenge of keeping their sales channel updated on the latest product value proposition, competitor positioning and overall product features and benefits.

And to their credit, these distributors and reps have a lot to keep track of considering they are usually selling a dozen other companies’ products with hundreds of different models. In addition, most sales teams also turn over several times in the span of a couple years, so onboarding new distributor sales people is critical for the success of selling their products.

Over the years, manufacturers have put the time and money into online marketing and sales portals and detailed electronic catalogs, but those tools only provide a reference for technical information and do not give the distributor salespeople the product sales information they need, when they need it.

Manufacturers have to make it simpler for distributors and reps. They’ve got to position the right message with the right marketing and sales materials at the ideal time when distributors need it – when they are speaking with potential clients.

Manufacturers must incorporate their product value proposition and sales talk track into their lead distribution and management process. That way, distributors can present potential clients with the most updated and accurate explanation of their products.

Three Critical Steps to Improving Distributor Engagement and Product Education
So, how do you deliver a distributor training and education program that drives real revenue and actually strengthens relationships over time?

1) Understand distributor needs
Developing extensive product catalogs, data sheets, marketing collateral and technical specification documents is a great exercise. But, understanding how reps and distributors will use this information to sell is critical to the success of the sales process. The questions to ask are: How are they using this information? And, even more importantly, when do they need this information in the sales process?

In our experience working with thousands of distributors, we find that they need the sales information and a reminder of the value proposition at the point of engagement with the potential client.

Organizing content behind a company intranet or distributor web portal may indeed be the place where all of this content is located, but is it easy to navigate, does it search easily, or is it mobile-device friendly? All of these questions need to be addressed in an open discussion with distributors about what the supplier can supply to them to help them sell more product and expand customer relationships. Getting a shared understanding of needs and gaps creates a roadmap of priorities for training and education efforts.

The supplier is in a unique position to understand what works best to sell their products across their distributor network and by aggregating this knowledge and sharing it with all distributors will increase overall network performance and revenue results.

2) Deliver both content and sales leads in existing distributor workflow
In addition to supplying the marketing and sales content to enable the distributor’s sales process, many manufacturers actively create and deliver sales leads to their distributors. Often, this hand off is blind, creating a black hole with limited to no visibility about what was done, if anything, to follow up.

All distributors have an existing way they work, how they field customer questions, how they route and follow up on leads, and how they take and fulfill orders.

Suppliers should map their training and education plan to that workflow by making use of email alerts with actionable information, links to web applications that are easy-to-use and mobile friendly, and functionality that anticipates the next step in the process, including presenting the best content the distributor needs to use.

This is type of approach is referred to as “context-based learning” and is summarized by Catherine Hansman, assistant professor and program director of graduate studies in Adult Learning and Development at Cleveland State University, as “. . . learning in context is paying attention to the interaction and intersection among people, tools, and context within a learning situation.”

Best-in-class companies deliver information in context to their distributors including both sales leads and the best content to use for outreach or follow-up in the same online experience. Creating a “sales playbook” that maps the best content for the customer type or product need to the actual deal stage makes a training and education program come to life in the sales pipeline. Distributors get what they need when they need it rather than taking the time to go to a training class in person or struggling with a difficult to use partner portal that is not aligned to the prospect, their interests and the distributor’s sales process.

Manufacturers get an easy-to-update-and-deliver way to put their content in the hands of their distributors, along with their sales leads, ensuring timely follow up, message consistency, and virtually sitting next to them during the sales call.

3) Create a continuous feedback loop focused on content effectiveness, lead quality, and evolving needs
Rather than a “fire and forget” mindset related to both sale and marketing content as well as shared leads, suppliers should focus on a continuous feedback loop that provides insights on what content is most effective and what is actually happening with sales leads passed to distributors.

A properly deployed sales playbook starts with mapping the best content to the right product, customer type and deal stage. Over time, this playbook is optimized by the feedback provided, as deals move through the sales pipeline and become new customers. Using a single platform to manage this process creates an easy way to provide timely content as well as capture meaningful performance statistics that can inform the process going forward.

Successful distributor-based companies invest significant resources in the training and education of their distributors and manufacturer reps. All too often, traditional education programs fail to deliver on their promise, as information is forgotten and resources misplaced. Taking an integrated approach to delivering both sales leads and the content needed to engage and move them through the sales process equips distributors with sales playbooks that benefit continually from the feedback provided by the distributor.