Why Is Channel Partner Training So Hard?

by: Luke Kreitner November 1, 2018

Maybe you’re a national or global company with distributors across the world, and you're struggling to unite all partners under your channel marketing initiatives. Or, a manufacturer that can’t seem to get on the same page, sales-wise, with your channel partners. Whatever your unique pain points, you’re reading this because you want to drive channel partner sales. To increase sales, you need to improve channel partner training. That's not always easy.

If you’re having trouble training up distributors, here might be some reasons why.

Why aren’t channel partners up to speed on your products and services?

Out of sight, out of mind: is that your partnership with distributors? If so, you’re not alone. A 2017 study from Brainshark found that only 35% of companies have effective coaching and development for channel salespeople. That means many B2B companies depend on distributors to make a sale, but a fraction of them are actually communicating with them. The problem is many manufacturers and vendor executives see the sales channel much like a first-time gardener sees a succulent – as self-sufficient.

The truth is that channel partners need “watering,” too, and more frequently than you’d think. Here’s three reasons why your channel partner training program, or lack thereof, isn’t helping channel partners increase their sales performance:

  • You aren’t giving them enough information. The devil’s in the details with channel partner training. Distributors need to have a clear picture of what end-customers want, how your product addresses their needs, and how to best present it to the market. All of that must stem from you, not your channel partner (find out why below).
  • You aren’t giving information frequently enough. Is training a once-a-year trip to your distributor’s office? If it is, you’re probably having yearly (read: infrequent) training blitzes that channel salespeople won’t remember by noon the next day. Training must be in bite-sized chunks that address new product information and insights in a timely, but easily-accessible way.
  • You’re not giving it the right way. Your channel partners aren’t waiting in their offices for your phone call or email. Often they are out on the road, in meetings miles from home. In-person training is okay, but having a mobile-ready online training module that can read on-the-go is best.

Your channel partner leads a busy business life.

They’re margin-based, have tons of other partners, and are incredibly busy juggling their own priorities. Sorry, your channel partners are just not that into you. At least, not in the way many manufacturers would like. While it’s likely that your channel partners have no reason to prioritize you or your company’s products over others, it’s your job to fight for your product. That’s why you have to clear the field for distributors, making it easy for them to understand your goals and access product information. Otherwise, you won’t stand out among their other channel partners.

Channel partners are prioritizing the customer’s needs, which are often strictly price-based.

If your channel partners aren’t automatically prioritizing your company’s goals and needs, whose then, are they prioritizing? Your end-customers. Here’s why:

If they are independent, small-business contractors… If they are larger business with several channel partners…
They may not have extensive sales experience, or are devoted to their sales process. They always pick the cheapest option, or ask about options until they find the cheapest one.
What this means for you: These channel partners will emphasize product value the way they want, not how you would like them to. What this means for you: These distributors are looking for a deal, and they’ll keep meeting with other manufacturers until they find it.

Channel partner training helps align your sales goals with the distributors selling your product, so that both parties find equal footing, ending the all-for-me theme that many partnerships have. Of course, business is business, and each partner will always look out for their wellbeing. But by training up your distributors you invest in their business, so that they can better invest in yours.

Just because channel salespeople aren’t under your roof, doesn’t mean they, too, can’t benefit from similar training and support that your in-house sales team enjoys. You have to devote resources to your channel partners’ training by hunkering down on your channel management strategy. Without frequent, mobile-ready training courses and clear communication, you risk losing revenue and marketshare simply because your channel partners won’t know how to pass on your product’s value to customers.