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Three Ways to Challenge in Indirect Sales

Chess Men ChallengeAs discussed in an earlier post, it’s clear that selling through indirect channels is not getting any easier, especially in light of today’s empowered customers who wait to contact suppliers later in the buying process than ever before, and leave little to compete on besides price. Now, we’ve known for quite some time that the best reps overcome these obstacles in direct B2B sales by providing tailored commercial insights that reframe customer thinking and teach (or re-teach) today’s informed buyers.

CEB Sales members ask us frequently whether this challenger model can be applied to indirect B2B sales. They then ask, “If so, how should we adjust our channel strategy to pursue challenger selling with customers?” While it is not the easiest endeavor, our response is always that, yes, challenger selling works well in indirect selling as there are tremendous opportunities for reframing how end customers value your solution(s) and how channel partners value you as a supplier.

That said, it should not be surprising that the key to challenging in an indirect setting (not unlike in direct sales) is a company’s ability to develop commercial insight. But with challenger messaging in hand, companies can use these insights to:

  1. Challenge channel partners to think differently about you as a supplier: To effectively challenge channel partners, companies’ must first equip their channel managers with messaging that will reframe how distributors think about their business, and ultimately change how they assign value to your products and the unique ways you can support their business as a supplier (e.g., the supply chain or logistical expertise that you are uniquely able to share with channel partners). Obviously this will matter more when working with non-captive channel partners, but we have observed instances where suppliers have reframed captive partner thinking to value their relationship that much more.
  1. Arm channel partners to challenge end customers: It is imperative that suppliers arm channel partners with effective commercial insights that will lead end customers to think differently about their business and ultimately assign greater value to the supplier’s unique capabilities. While this applies more readily in captive channel partner situations (where the partner exclusively markets and sells a supplier’s products), there is often greater commercial leverage in applying this approach in non-captive settings. In these situations, arming a channel partner’s sales force with commercial insights will help boost overall rep confidence in pitching the supplier’s solution (not to mention their overall sales effectiveness), which can significantly help redirect market share amongst that partner’s customer base in the supplier’s favor. If this is the case, it is important for the supplier’s channel managers to directly challenge the channel partner’s sales team to begin using the commercial insights, and reinforce their delivery through coaching.
  1. Challenge the end customer directly: While very important, delivering commercial insights to the end customer will most often be Marketing’s responsibility as they are better positioned to convey the insights via content marketing and other means that will help create pull through for your distributors’ reps.

With these applications in mind, companies should be aware that the most significant challenge suppliers face when challenging through indirect partners is losing control over the commercial insight, more specifically, how it’s delivered. Admittedly it can be difficult, especially when selling through non-captive partners, to ensure high quality commercial teaching is occurring. To combat this, we’ve seen organizations create certification programs for their partners’ sales reps, and in some cases, companies are going as far as having their channel managers engage distributor reps on a rep-by-rep basis for coaching.

CEB Sales Members, to learn more about Challenging in indirect sales and how some of the most progressive sales organizations are aligning their strategic priorities to those of their channel partners, make sure to access our Indirect Sales Topic Center.

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