I have been working with sales channels for quite a while now and I find that there are simple approaches that make it easier to obtain good sales results. The first thing to do is ask what the best channel for your products is. I will in this instance talk about the industrial sector as it is where I have done most of my work. But this does not mean that we are only talking about B2B sales. Many of the industries I have dealt with have a many tiered approach to the channel. For example manufacturer, distributor, retailer then end user.
Knowing this, who do you communicate to? The simple answer is all of them. If you do not let all segments of this channel know and understand your product then it will fail. I will explain why. The key to a successful sales channel is ease of flow. You have to make every stage flow on the next stage with ease. This is done through good communications to every stage.
It is a simple case of the “Chinese whisper” game that we all learnt at school. Not so sure on the political correctness of that term these days, but I only remember it being called that. This is a case of every story changes from one person to another. This is human frailty of communication as we will all put our own spin on it so as to find the easiest way to communicate.
The way this works in channel management is:
The manufacturer must train and help promote the product to the distributor to give the best possible chance of promoting your product to the retailer. If he gets any of this message wrong then the message has changed.
The distributor will then train and promote the product to the retailer to give the retailer the best chance of promoting your product to the end consumer. If he gets this wrong then the message has changed.
The retailer will then educate and promote your product to the people who are going to finally put it in their homes or car and so on. Get this message wrong and you lose the sale.
So the retailer lost the sale and tells the distributor that they don’t want their product in their product line. The distributor tells you the manufacturer that they don’t want it because they can’t sell it to the retailer. The manufacturer now has no one to sell their product. How did it all go wrong?
The fundamental issue here is communication. Once you, the manufacturer, tell the next person in the process it is up to them to continue that message. Now it is important to note that there are three steps in this process that involves sales people. You, the distributor and retailer.
There is something important you need to know about sales people and that is this. Their living is dependent on one thing only. That thing is getting the sale. Wage, commission, self-esteem the lot, is all dependent on their end goal. They need to be focused on this or they will fail.
This is why I look at sales people in the following way. I can say this from many years of sales living myself. They are like water flowing down a hill. The water will find the easiest path to get to its goal. The Goal being the bottom. The water will cut through weak dirt, around rocks sometimes over things to get to the end. Now water is controlled by gravity, which builds momentum and forges its way through by the easiest path.
The sales person has a similar goal, not driven by gravity but in a not too dissimilar way, a need to survive. So like the momentum of water and gravity a salesperson needs knowledge and confidence. So many times have I seen a salesperson sell a product that he knew more about (confidence), over selling an alternative product, even if that alternative was the better item. Thus you need to make his job (flow) easier.
This is done also in a multi-tiered approach. Tell the right message to all stages of the channel. The distributor knows the right message, the salesperson has the right message but the end user should already know about your product. How easy is it for a sales person to get to his goal when the buyer says “I’ve heard about this particular product and what it can do, can we talk about this product”.
Thus it is not a simple case of manufacturing the product and saying I will let my sales channels do the work of selling for me. It is up to the manufacturer to have control on all the stages especially when it comes to communication. Have your message right so as you don’t create confusion, misunderstanding all of which destroys confidence. Good communication comes from understanding your end user and the reasons why they will need your product. Ask this question: What need does my product fulfil? The answer will define your communication message. The message from this will help the process flow through your channels which will increase sales.