A 'line card' will castrate your sales channel

Ed Marsh | Feb 27, 2014

An innocuous sounding name for the device

We all dance around topics.  Things that are particularly unpleasant, barbaric or personal often have euphemisms applied and are described in innocuous terms.

"Callicrate loops" is a great one.  Unless you're the product of a farm this may not ring a bell for you.  Have a budding bull but want a steer?  Some anatomical adjustments are in order.  And wouldn't you know it, there's a special rubber band made just for that - and a handy applicator.  Wait a couple weeks and you're all done - unless you've got some Rocky Mountain Oyster fans in the crowd, then maybe you'd prefer the surgical alternative.  But we digress.

There's a similar treatment for sales forces.  And just as with cattle there's an innocuous-sounding name for the device that will rob your sales effort of any virility.

It's called a "line card."  If you're not in an industry where these are common, briefly it's a sales handout traditionally used by B2B industrial sales reps.  The idea is to provide a digest of all the product lines someone sells in hopes that one might resonate with a buyer and trigger a conversation.  (Some condescendingly maintain that line cards build credibility.)

A twofer of sales crippling approaches

There are two critical sales shortcomings inherent in use of a line card.  Either is enough to render a sales force ineffective - together they're disastrous.

First, is the implication to sales process.  In short there is none!  It's a version of spray and pray; a completely passive approach to sales; basically vomiting a bunch of stuff up on someone's desk and hoping that something sparks a conversation.

Second, it's implicitly product (or in a more sophisticated version perhaps brand) focused.  There's nothing that really speaks to business problems and value which a company solves, nor any particular insight or expertise that they bring to customer challenges.  Instead they bring a list....of products.

Wow!  And guess what, there's an even bigger more up to date list of products out there now - it's called the internet.

A line card is really the antithesis of proactive, engaged, value creating sales.

The bottom line?  Sales management which condones line cards is negligent.  And salespeople who use them are clerks.

But that's only your problem if you decide to make it

If you're reading a blog about business development through global expansion and superb digital marketing then it's safe to assume that your sales force doesn't wander around handing out line cards.  You have recruited and trained sales professionals.  You've built a superb B2B inbound marketing program that generates marketing qualified leads and nurtures them through today's extended buying cycles until they are sales qualified.  

But you probably sell through sales channel - maybe in some vertical markets or some regions domestically, and probably in some international markets.  And if you've engaged channel partners who's reps use line cards....you've compromised your sales effort with the same mediocrity by proxy that it would represent in your own internal sales force.

So stop!  When you evaluate potential channel partners don't just ask about how many reps and offices they have, along with all the other proforma survey questions.  But understand how they sell.  Do they proactively identify opportunities to creatively integrate the products they sell into their customers/prospects business to create value?  Or do they fling line cards around the countryside?

And beware - there are line card proxies too.  Sending a pdf equivalent by email is as futile as dropping off a printed version with a business card staple to it at a reception desk.  

When seeking global channel, don't fall for a "cultural" excuse.  Certainly cultural norms and business practices vary.  Tone, timeliness, business process and sales approaches differ between markets.  But no culture values wasting time on aimless sales handouts.  Intelligent, creative, capable sales skills that create value for customers through effective application of solutions is valued globally.

Want to learn more about how to find the right global channel partners?  We've got lots of information here (including a handy checklist) and a free whitepaper for download below.

channel management