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|Ironically, once the Founder is stretched beyond breaking and decides to bring on a Sales Person, the thing that previously was too important to delegate is now dispatched to the new VP, Sales and Marketing. The Founder congratulates himself on this major step forward: “Now I can focus on the Product and know that Sales/Marketing is happening…whatever that means. The VP tells me everything is on track, we’ve got good Traction in the marketplace, the pipeline is filling up, and two new contracts will be signed next week. Sales and Marketing—Check! It’s good to be King!”
“How’s that new Marketing, I mean, Sales guy doing? (My new Sales guy tells me we need a Marketing guy, so he wasn’t as qualified as I thought.) It’s been 3 months and no new Sales? Sure, I understand, it takes a while to understand the Product. Training, yeah, I get it. Our products are very sophisticated.”
… [ 3 months later] “Still no new Sales? I guess that’s understandable, these Sales Cycles do take time. But the pipeline is better than ever! Great!”
… [3 more months later] “Whatever happened to those two contracts that were going to sign 6 months ago? Yes, please do get back with me with the details. I read in the trade magazine that our competitor signed a big contract last month? Were we in the running? Oh, inside job? That’s tough.”
… [more time passes] “If the new VP of Sales doesn’t sell something soon, he’s going to leave unless we extend his commission advance. Then we’ll have to start all over! “
I’m about done with that Sales Guy! The only sales we’ve had since he came are the ones that I closed! And he expects me to pay him a commission for those! Fire him!”
… [3 months later] “Wrongful Termination? He’s got an attorney?”
Channel Partner Relationship Management. If it sounds complicated, it’s because it is. You might think it is a game for big companies, run by a Senior VP, somebody who has a lot of experience with that sort of thing. However it is exactly when you are a fledgling company that the channel partners are so appealing to you. You haven’t yet built out your own Sales staff, you haven’t gotten in front of enough people to really get your messaging down. A guy comes along, “I like what you’re doing here. I think I can sell this.” You go back and tell your team “I have found the solution to our Sales! I have the guy who’s going to make us all rich!”
If a Channel Partner looks really good to you, there’s a good chance it is probably because they have a Sales staff and you don’t. They have client relationships and you don’t. They’re most likely bigger than you. They think you should be satisfied with being along for the ride. If it will be a good relationship it’s because they actually need your product to sell theirs. You have managed to have a product that they cannot easily reproduce. That is going to bother them forever. And when you don’t do what they say (because it is your product after all) they are going to get angry with you. Here you are, helping them sell their product, a product that is clearly missing key functionality that the client needs. And they’re mad at you, primarily because you exist!
The Channel Partner’s Sales staff don’t really understand what your product does. You find out they’re saying that your product does things that it doesn’t and that it doesn’t do things that it does! When you ask “Why didn’t you sell this option to the last customer?”, your contact replies, “I didn’t know you had that! Why didn’t you train my salesmen properly!” He’s right, you should have. In fact, you would have provided training if the Channel Partner had allowed you time at his last national sales meeting, but the agenda was already full with their products.
Pretty soon you have three or four Channel Partners out there, all rattling around, talking to the same accounts. A highly motivated Client Prospect calls to you to ask, “Which of these Sales people represents you?” You don’t know. You’re just excited that he cares! You manage to work through the confusion by engaging the Buyer directly. He buys!! (You decide on whose “paper” it gets contracted, whether it’s yours or one of your Channel Partners’, more on that later.) Now three Channel Partners say “You owe me a commission.” If your commissions are typically 20% for the first year revenue, 60% (!) of your top line is going to pay off your channel partners. Probably none of them really closed the deal. You had to sort it out at the end and close it yourself. You lose money, nobody’s happy and you had to do most of the selling work anyway.
Bottom line: Channel Partners don’t save you any time or effort. All the hard work of figuring out what happens in your product’s Sales Cycle, what it takes to buy it, what Buyers need to know, and when they need to know it, all comes down to you if your product is ever going to get sold. You might have an excellent Channel Partner who is perfectly complementary and non-overlapping with your product and has an excellent sales force. Even then, you still have to do all your own work. The Partner is just funding the Salesmen, not you. It is their investment in the Sales organization that you have the opportunity to leverage. But proceed with caution. You don’t control those people. Sales people follow their compensation plan rather than what their manager tells them to do. With the stroke of a pen, the Partner can change their compensation structure and now your product is not getting sold. They have focused on something else. You don’t control them.
|They might come, if they actually knew about the product. But how will they know about it and what is the process you use to make it happen? A friend could tell a friend, they could read it in the paper or a trade magazine, somebody might phone them at dinner time and sign them up, they could see an ad in a magazine–“Call this number” or “Scan this code”, follow a sponsored link, find you at the top of a Google search.That is the Marketing Challenge. How will your Buyers discover that it is your product that they want? It doesn’t happen by itself.To make matters worse, somebody is probably already out there telling your Buyers things that sound like the same thing…and they’ve already tuned it out.
Once you hit on something that really makes a lot of sense, your competitors start to say the same thing whether or not it’s true. You always have to stay one step ahead. But it’s hard! You had trouble getting the first message articulated.
Marketing is about making sure you get your message to your Buyers in time: before they buy. Marketing is the art of getting the right ideas in the right heads at the right time. (Not to be confused with Sales, which is about getting a “natural person”, not a “market segment” to sign on the dotted line–yesterday, if possible!) But where to start? Here’s the short answer: Talk to potential clients—Today. While you are developing your formal Marketing Plan, start now with this informal one: make time (early and often) for substantive ongoing dialogs with actual and potential clients. Use that information to best structure the rest of a plan that fits your organization’s capabilities and budget TODAY!
What could possibly get in the way of starting Client Conversations? Several things, actually, stemming from the Technophile Founder Personality.
Fear of Landing
Worried that the flood of activity will overwhelm you once your marketing plan is put in motion? “Let’s not prioritize marketing yet, we have more work to do to be ready. There are product features that still need to be built, customer support staff to hire, management books to read…. “ What if you could see the lay of the land clearly? A quality conversation with a potential client can clear the fog for a smooth landing.
Solutions Looking for a Problem
Technologists like Technology. Technical achievement is how they measure their worth. It’s what drives them to create wonderful products before the rest of the world even dreams them. Notice that last point, “before the rest…even dreams”. There are few things more frustrating to a Technologist than creating a product that people don’t know they want—“The Fools!” Whoa, there, big guy. Remember, you ARE special and it takes a different kind of creativity to translate your new vision into terms the rest of the world can understand. People begin listening when the conversation turns toward a problem they are experiencing. If you can’t find words to define the problem your product solves, keep talking to the Clients until you do. Oh, and there is a slight chance that not enough people have that particular problem. That solution might need to take the back burner for now, because that last Client mentioned a huge problem that you can easily solve with the components you already built!
We all love our children, don’t we? Technophiles love their creations that way. They remember the moment they had that special insight (Ah yes, that nobody else could have seen). They sacrificed days, no months, in the sunshine to imagine, design, and bring into existence this functional work of art. They treasure the inspired relationship between the light and dark, words and image, action and response so special to that feature. “Oh, I see an area here and that could be even more functional. No, no! Don’t look at it yet! Wait. It will speak for itself as soon as I get this last little…..” Don’t take too long before you start that Client Conversation. Lose as few sunny days as possible getting the concept articulated then start talking to (Future) Clients about it. If you do find your creation to be pearls before swine, don’t hesitate to put it aside (at least for now). Client tastes evolve, too. If you become part of their life as a vendor today with the product they are envisioning, your more perfect creation(s) may yet see the light of day.
Being the Best Kept Secret in your market is not a good Marketing strategy. “Our new product is so revolutionary, we don’t want the Competition to get wind of it.” At some point you have to tell people what is special about what you’re doing! If you don’t, not even the Clients will know you exist. Remember, the Competition will not be concerned about you until you actually start winning in Sales, and that won’t happen until the Clients know about you. No need to be overly cautious. Aware—yes. Paranoid—no. The key to winning against Competition is getting the Message right first. That’s accomplished by staying in touch with the (Future) Clients.