Inbound marketing for manufacturers...and sales channel implications

Ed Marsh | Jul 15, 2014

Agents & Distributors - can't live with them and can't live without them

Without exception every B2B manufacturing company exec with whom I speak laments the challenges they face in channel management.  The complaints are nearly verbatim.  Channel partners expect and demand 10-20% (or higher) margins/commissions yet the manufacturer often must create, close and deliver the projects.

Certainly there are different, valid perspectives.  Some channel partners drive real value (often those focused on just a line or two) and some proactively create projects and manage the sales process.

But many just wait for the phone to ring....and piss and moan incessantly.

Supplement, replace, upgrade and delight

The internet, though, and industrial marketing tools can substantially shift this dynamic for companies willing to step back and consider alternatives. 

There are four fundamental ways in which digital marketing can reshape the manufacturer/channel partner relationship in the B2B sales world.

  1. Supplement - In some cases channel partners actually do a decent job managing and closing projects.  But they distinctly underperform in opportunity identification and project creation.  You can work with this (and in industries/geographical markets where relationships are a currency of business, you'll need to!)  Digital marketing can cast a wider net than any channel partner, anyway, and can be the source of a flow of marketing qualified leads.  Internationally you might need to hand off earlier in the process (let the partner nurture the lead to a sales qualified status) while domestically you can often run your nurturing through marketing automation, handing the lead off to the channel partner once it is sales qualified.
  2. Replace - But what if the channel partners not only don't create projects but basically just tag along while it's up to your employees to manage projects and close deals?  You're probably fed up with paying commissions in return for essentially no value - but you're hesitant to drop them because otherwise you'd have nothing.  With digital marketing you'll have far more than nothing - you'll have a flow of leads which you'll be working to manage and close just as you are now.  So why allow useless channel partners to continue to extort commissions from you?
  3. Upgrade - Somewhere you have one of those channel partners that really works.  They create projects, they nurture leads, they help enhance your brand while building theirs, they close deals, the create value for their customers and you enjoy working with them.  Why do you only have one?  Or at least a small percentage?  Struggle to find the right ones?  Have you thought of approaching that prospecting like customer prospecting?  Here's where digital marketing can help.  Create a "channel partner" persona and market for them, based on business issues and value, just as you would for customers.  You'll be easily able to filter out the opportunistic, single transaction crap from the legitimate business partner leads.  And further, you could effectively implement a GE/McKinsey style "up or out" system to continuously upgrade your channel.
  4. Delight - Have some awesome channel partners?  Plan to find more using digital marketing?  Once they're in place then you can further solidify strong collaborative relationships through a flow of high quality marketing / sales qualified leads.  You know the drill - even good channel partners always whine that you don't send enough leads.  And then when you do, the follow up is poor - often matching the quality of the leads that you've sent.  So break the cycle.  Start generating and sharing high quality leads that convert into profitable business for both of you....and see how the relationship flourishes then!

It's your business - run it like you mean it

Here's the bottom line.  If you had an employee that only worked occasionally - when you happened to stand there and demand it - they wouldn't last long.  And yet you tolerate that from channel partners.


Tools are available if you're willing to change your mindset and leverage the tools.

Want to explore upgrading your domestic and international B2B sales channel?  Let's talk.

Want to understand how to leverage internet marketing for your manufacturing business?  Check this out.