Published On: November 9, 2014By
Why and how should you change your sales channel? Learning tech analyst John Leh explains the business wisdom of channel training

Forty years ago, my five siblings and I took mandatory turns to act as my Dad’s remote control. It was the time of indentured human remotes and random flipping or recording programs hadn’t been invented.

Television was a planned event using the weekly TV Guide in a religious, ritual fashion led by our patriarch. “It’s time to change the channel,” he would announce, and we would all argue about whose turn it was to respond.

Well, it’s time to change the channel again. But this time it’s not the TV channel. It’s your external sales and distribution channel. No, I’m not talking about replacing your existing sales channel with entirely new partners.

I’m talking about changing the behavior of your channel. Specifically, I’m talking about the power of training and certification to improve channel performance and drive measurable business results.

Ironically, while many corporations strive to change channel behavior with modern learning technology and strategies, others still continue to send out indentured human trainers for point-in-time sessions. This instructor-led training approach has been in place for decades.

Every time I encounter an organization relying primarily on in-person trainers, I can almost hear my Dad saying, “Channel 3 please.” We moved forward when TV technology advanced. Why don’t we do the same with partner learning solutions?

What Is An External Sales Channel?

In your organization, the term “channel” may be known by one of many other terms – including partners, value-added resellers, franchisees, dealers, distributors, retailers and agents, to name a few. The external channel is the part of your extended enterprise.

These representatives are responsible for selling and distributing your products and services. However, you don’t hire them, they are not your employees and you usually can’t tell them what to do.

In most cases, your channel sells and distributes products from more than just one organization. This means that your brand reputation, business growth and livelihood are in the hands of a third party that may also represent your competitors’ products.

The only way to gain and keep mindshare among your channel reps is to provide them the knowledge, support and motivation to sell your products and services easier than competitive offerings.

In the heat of the sales moment, salespeople will sell what they know best. They won’t remember a 3-day training session they attended in 2012. They will remember the constant push of learning content, experiences and tools that help them convert a particular prospect to customer status.

There is only one measurable way to have an ongoing relationship with your channel partners and their employees — a Learning Management System (LMS).

How Can Changes In Sales Channel Behavior Pay Off?

Organizations in every industry globally use an LMS to train and certify their channels as a competitive differentiator. It can also generate money, save money and reduce sales cycle time.

When you gain mindshare among your channel reps, and you guide them to change their behavior, numerous business benefits follow. For example, you can:

  • Increase brand and product awareness with channel reps
  • Increase sales and revenue from each channel partner or distributor
  • Create new revenue streams from the sale of partner-related content and certification programs
  • Accelerate time-to-market for new products
  • Decrease time to proficiency of new channel partners
  • Decrease cost to penetrate into new markets
  • Improve end-customer satisfaction
  • Decrease technical support calls
  • Decrease traditional training costs
  • Increase channel reps’ ability to cross-sell and up-sell

Measuring the Impact of Changing Behavior

It is easy to measure the business impact of channel learning if you have the right kind of learning management system.

An extended enterprise LMS makes it possible to track, analyze and report on channel partner education – what content partners consume, how much they consume and when they consume it. It also tracks the results of those interactions and can track certification progress and completions.

By comparing behaviors and performance of trained vs. untrained channel partners in terms of sales they generate, support call volumes tied to their accounts, or other business metrics, you can demonstrate the measurable impact of your training efforts.

And that impact can be huge.  Want real-world examples? Check these case studies for inspiration.

How Can You Get Started With Channel Training?

Channel learning is a process, not an event. To train, certify and communicate with your channel, you don’t need to buy and implement a complicated and expensive system. You can start small and inexpensively.

Then, when you prove that the concept works by analyzing results, you can grow from there. You really only need three things to get started:

1) A channel-friendly Learning Management System (LMS)

This system houses and manages all your content, records about your partners and their employees, as well as the relationship among those three elements.

2) Product and Sales Content

This can come in many forms and formats, including instructor-led training, virtual classrooms, elearning courses, video, audio, infographics, how-to guides, documents, games, performance support guides and more. Typically, much of the content you develop for your sales team can be repurposed – sometimes without revision – for external channel partners.

3) Measurable Success Criteria

To win your initial budget, prove business impact and expand your program over time, you’ll need to develop appropriate metrics. This can be as simple as testing engagement with a single piece of content on a trial basis. Or you could develop sophisticated learning experiences with multiple levels that take months or years to complete.

Regardless, once you have proof that channel reps consumed content, you have a baseline to correlate content consumption with a relevant business performance metric. More importantly, it confirms that when your channel reps have access to tools that will make them more successful, they will use and apply them. And isn’t that why you selected them as your channel in the first place?

Sure beats sitting on the floor next to the TV, hoping someone else will change the channel.

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About the Author: John Leh

John Leh is Founder, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning and the Talented Learning Center. John is a fiercely independent consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and educator who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies, primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based upon more than 25+years of learning-tech industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to hundreds of learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $100+ million and growing. John would love to connect with you on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

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