By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing

Late in 2015 we started producing a bi-weekly radio program called Sales Pipeline Radio, which currently runs every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific.  It’s just 30 minutes long, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.

We’ve already featured some great guests and have a line up of awesome content and special guests into 2016. Our very first guest was Funnelholic author and Topo co-founder Craig Rosenberg.  Next we had Mike Weinberg, incredible writer, speaker, author, followed by Conrad Bayer, CEO & Founder of Tellwise.  Recent Guests: Jim KeenanJoanne BlackAaron RossJosiane FeigonMeagen Eisenberg, and Trish Bertuzzi.

We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities heading into and throughout the year. We’ll publish similar highlights here for upcoming episodes.  You can listen to full recordings of past shows at SalesPipelineRadio.com and subscribe on iTunes.

Robert Pease hosts Justin Johnson, LeadMethod CEO and a great conversation about channel sales enablement and engagement follows:


Paul:  All right it’s time to tune in again to Sales Pipeline Radio. So grab your board, catch a wave and let’s catch the latest in the sales pipeline today with a guest host. We have a guest host today, Robert Pease! Hey welcome Robert.

Robert:   Hey, great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Paul: Okay, how did you finagle? Lots of people want to be a guest host on Sales Pipeline Radio, you must have known somebody.

Robert:   Yeah I know. I actually work with Matt at Heinz Marketing. He’s off gallivanting around the country building funnels or something at this stage and gave me the keys today so hopefully I will earn my keep and be invited back. I want a practice group there at Heinz called Pipeline Performance. So we help companies with identifying, engaging, converting customers kind of top to bottom so that’s kind of my passion and what I do. So yeah I am excited to be here today. Thanks for having me.

Paul:  Oh yeah, well who do you got on the show today?

Robert:   So today’s guest is Justin Johnson. And Justin is an interesting person doing some really interesting things via his company LeadMethod. And so our broader topic today is around channel and channel sales, channel sales management and kind of a different animal depending on how you go to market, right? As opposed to a direct sales force that goes out and works for you and then sells your products out in the market.

This is a little bit more about the challenges and the opportunity that comes from the scale distribution model through partners and resellers and distributors, independent reps. And so that’s what LeadMethod sort of focuses in on and Justin is widely knowledgeable.  Thank you for making the time today definitely appreciate you adding some expertise and some input into this topic. I have known Justin and have known about LeadMethod for some time– in the spirit of full disclosure here. So I was very involved in getting this guest on to this show today.

LeadMethod is doing some cool stuff. I feel good about the value they are showing their customers. So Justin can you just tell me a little bit about what LeadMethod is all about? And the problem you guys solve?

Justin:  Sure, absolutely and thanks for having me.

As you pointed out earlier, there are fundamental challenges that are unique to selling through a network of channel partners versus those that are direct.

Companies that sell direct with an internal sales team often will put a CRM in place. And they can get pretty strong engagement and feedback from their sales folks. They are required to utilize the CRM product that updates management and everyone else on opportunities and leads and what’s going on in their pipeline.

And as you mentioned, the channel environment has quite a few additional challenges. There are independent companies selling products and to get that critical engagement from those groups and feedback on what happens with the leads and opportunities and ultimately understanding your sales pipeline for planning and lots of different elements is difficult. And that is the sort of problem that we look to solve is channel sales enablement, channel sales engagement and also the feedback, the critical feedback to run a sales team.

Robert:   Thanks for giving us that quick snapshot. And the work that I do and the work we do at Heinz, that we look at how companies go to market, how they sell, how can they be more efficient at that. And what’s interesting here is we take a funnel based view of the world and look at what a marketing engine can do to generate leads and then just get passed into the sales team at some level of qualification and then you have this wonderful visibility sort of end-to-end.

This situation if I am not in control of all the pieces or even using the same systems, what am I doing? Am I sort of trying to track things down via email, and sharing spreadsheets and always kind of confused if what I am doing as someone who sells through a channel is actually working?

Justin:     You hit it right on. There is so many different elements of companies that sell through channels working hard to generate leads and opportunities whether through advertising or relationships with partners or any different elements like that. And that work is essentially passed on to that partner network to follow up and to work deals and to understand what’s going on.

And there is certainly a communication there, collaboration gap there; two independent companies coming together to collaborate and communicate. But there is not a sort of single point system or an easy to engage system; a lot of that falls apart so the challenge, the ultimate sort of company that is selling to these channel partners is how do you get enough data to make conclusions both on the channel, your ROI and your marketing efforts, what your pipeline looks like, it a lot of times with our clients refer to as flying blind, to run a team without the data that’s necessary to certainly make the right decisions and conclusions on what’s going on.

Robert:   Yeah, so sort of a black hole of information that exists. And you, do you all work with companies that sort of use this as a primary way to go to market or is this… Do they have a field sales force and this is sort of augments that through distributors and independent reps?

Justin:  Yeah, it’s a really good question. Companies are built all sorts of different ways. Some companies will sell 100% through the channel. Some companies will sell percentage maybe 60% through a channel and then they have direct sales forces that are working with the large sort of – oh, we have accounts or larger relationships. And so it’s important to recognize the differences in these groups and how they sell and we’ve spent a lot of time and research over the years sort of becoming the expert in this model. We had to in order to build the system years ago to fit it.

And so a lot of the companies, several companies use our systems to manage their channel and to really run leads and opportunities and track them, those that are selling 100% to the channel. We have a lot of scenarios where unique CRM’s such as Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics are some of the larger ones, Oracle; they are able to understand what’s going on and what their direct sales team is and they need to know what’s going on with the channel.

And so LeadMethod for instance, integrates with all major systems to give that complete picture back into the CRM. But we are really, really focused at and the big challenge here is engaging the distribution group and that’s the key and in collecting the critical feedback in order to understand what is happening with leads and what’s happening with opportunities.

For example in the pipeline, what are these deals worth it and when are they expected to close? It’s just information that companies that sell through partners just don’t understand and don’t know.

Robert:   Yeah, so that’s the classic sort of if I have a CRM system, why isn’t this covered by that? Or maybe I do have a CRM system and I’ve kind of set up a partner portal or something with for all of the independent folks I work with for the partners I work with. Is that why this falls apart, is it just it isn’t necessarily configured to do that, there is no way to do this closed loop sort of visibility and reporting? What’s the biggest reason that my deployment of Dynamics or of Salesforce is just not going to cut it in this model?

Justin:  That’s an excellent question. You really have to look at fundamentally why CRM’s were built, right? It’s a customer relationship management system. So understanding what customers have bought, who they may have bought it from, what product they are involved and the price and then they sort of morphed into more of a lead management system. And those lead management systems are great for internal teams. They can take the time and the investment and the training, sometimes 6 to 8 hours of training, the support varies that a consultant Salesforce, consultant on stats has sort of worked through those challenges.

Now you look at the channel engagement aspect of it, right? And what we hear over and over and over is that channel partners have their own business processes and they’ve worked hard at that. They’ve got their software, they’ve got their people, they are working with the definition of channel partners specifically they sell for lots and lots of different companies.

Logging into company-sponsored CRM for one they have to log into it and two – they have to learn software, that is just fundamentally a deal breaker when it comes to these channel partners, they are not going to invest that much time and energy in order to use heavy systems like CRM. They are amazing. Salesforce for example, those elements within an organization but it’s heavy and it takes a lot of time to learn it and to be efficient at it and that’s just fundamentally a deal breaker when it comes to the channel partners.

Robert:   Interesting stuff there. So tell me about what kind of companies kind of have, I guess this biggest need or this biggest challenge or even I guess more narrowly focused, like who is it do you help? What kind of companies do you guys work with?

Justin:  Yeah, that’s a great question. Broadly, it’s any company that sells at least 60 to 70% through a channel. It’s getting the information and the engagement from the channel partners is significant enough to sort of solve that problem. Right now, and so that can be any company. We are seeing that device, financial services typically insurance. Where we are focused now is manufacturers. I mean a lot of manufacturers sell through a channel of some sort whether it’s reps, distributors, channel partners or some VAR scenario. So it could be in the technology space, it could be in industrial equipment but those types of groups, there is a lot of them out there and that is really, really solving the key problem for them.

Robert:   Yeah, I mean sales enablement is a very typical thing these days and again to the direct model it’s obviously very challenging to get sort of highest performance possible out of your existing sort of internal resources, right? The people that work for you and that sort of cadence thing and orchestrating the whole lead generation to sales engagement and closings process.

And then the work that we do here at Heinz, you have to look at them as similar but very different animals here, especially as you get into more indirect or channel based engagement models because you don’t control all the pieces, right? You don’t control all the systems. You don’t even maybe use the same language to describe what is a lead or what is an opportunity and so then you are scrambling to sort of not only do definitional translation but you’re trying to get everybody on the same song sheet.

Justin:   Absolutely, that’s a key point. And really what we’re talking about here when we are talking about sales enablement, because it is a strong buzzword going around for companies that sell direct as well is through a channel, enabling your salespeople to be more efficient, to be more practical and ultimately to sell more. And so the exercise we have here is revenue optimization in the channel. It’s not just about increasing efficiency of the business and lead and opportunity tracking and the engagement but it’s giving the sales people the tools they need to be more successful.

And we say it all the time, it’s important that channel partners especially should be as educated and knowledgeable as their direct internal sales managers or salespeople and that’s really where this revenue optimization comes from. You’ve got to be effective, you’ve got to be knowledgeable and these channel partners are selling for 50 different companies and trying to keep track of 500 different product SKUs there is just going to be a gap in product knowledge, sales pitch, the talk track in every single case.

And so when we think about channel sales enablement which is really where we are focused it’s not about only just giving the channel partners a way to quickly give you feedback on what’s happening with these leads and opportunities but then spoon feeding information that they need in order to be as strong as the company that’s selling their product whether it’s the talk track, whether it’s the sales pitch, embedded video, whatever it is. But in the end of these companies have to look at what is it going to take to improve and really optimize the revenue across the entire organization and it starts with the channel partners because they are expected to bring those deals in.

Robert:   Yeah, so overtime is just zooming by Justin. I’ve got sort of a couple of minutes left here.

Justin:     Okay.

Robert:   And this has been tons and tons of fun. So you talked about revenue and revenue optimization quite a bit. I mean is that the thing that gets people’s attention? When you walk in and someone is like okay I’ll give you 10 minutes to talk, what is it that they are talking about to really get their attention?

Justin:  You sort of mentioned earlier the black hole fundamental? These companies ultimately are spending millions of dollars to generate leads whether it’s advertising trade shows, even repeat customers, right? They are coming back to them to reengage and to be up sold. These companies don’t have any visibility of what’s happening to those key assets within the company which is the leads which is where revenue starts. And so that’s really the part that we focus on in the beginning. And nearly every company out there that sells through a channel agrees that yeah, I work really hard or my team is working incredibly hard to generate these leads and then we just don’t hear anything and that’s where things start.

So it’s recovering the lost revenue and we’ve done a ton of research here that ultimately says 70% of channel partners may not be following up on leads, they are plus or minus in that scenario depending on the company but the reality is it’s happening.

Robert:   Yeah, the ultimate nightmare, right? – for a marketing team or for an executive is to have stuff fall through the cracks.

Well just tell folks that are listening how they can learn more about LeadMethod or how they can contact you.

Justin:  Sure, absolutely. I appreciate everyone for listening. We have a lot of details on our site, it’s www.leadmethod.com. Videos and webinars and lots of different sorts of research and announcements of the challenge and our solution. They can also give us a call at 800-406-5020 and we can walk them through the different scenarios.

Robert:   Thanks so much and Justin for again making some time today to talk to us a little bit about channel sales management and what LeadMethod is doing about it. The first part of the conversation was really interesting and helps kind of frame the problem and how you all kind of come at it.

One of the things you had mentioned during the course of that was that this sort of training and education, both need I guess and a gap that exists in sort of the current models and would love to hear a little bit more about that in terms of look, is this you’ve got this wide network of people and they all are carrying products beyond yours and all of a sudden let’s say you have a new product you want to roll out and you have a promotion or something like that, how is that inefficient today to sort of get that information out there and make it actionable so that people are selling to it versus how you all approach it?

Justin:   Sure. That’s a really, really good question. There is an evolution of consuming information both from a direct sales team is also channel partner relationships have evolved a lot over the years. It started with sort of let’s get a website up there and give them all the information they need and we will hope they will go find it right? – Is sort of the key word there, you’ve got to hunt and find a lot of this information.

And then companies started to roll out the intranets where partners could log in and get some practical information, the details and then there is some tools out there. So Salesforce’s partner portal and some other tools that are sort of wrapped into the CRM aspect.

And I think what we continually hear with a lot of research and conversations in the channel is that that’s great, information there but it doesn’t follow the process from that channel partner. When they need the information they’ve got to go look for it. Where is it? Is it on the partner website? Is it on the partner portal? Intranet?

And you can understand the complexity when you as a channel partner are working with 50 to 100 other companies. Well I wouldn’t even know where to start, right? And so it’s great that it’s there and the material is there. I mean companies are producing some incredible information but what we’ve found, is a lot of these suggestions have come from these channel partners that we worked with consistently and learned from is that they need the information exactly when they need it and where they need it.

So an example here is through the use of LeadMethod, a company will send a lead out and engage the channel partner in the system which did not require them to log in but as a very, very simple interface with button clicking instead of learning software which is a key part of how we do it.

And at that same time when the lead is consumed, they are able to position the information in a very, very bite-size way that that channel partner needs in order to be as highly educated about that particular customer; the talk track, the sales pitch, the feature benefits, the fact that it’s a new product and here’s a promotion they are running. They are a really big win for how we have approached it and we hear that consistently from the channel partners that this is exactly how we need it. But you can leverage those additional assets in the partner portals or the website and link back out to them when additional details needs to be consumed.

Robert:   I get it. So it sounds like what you are describing there is the ultimate sort of thing we seek which is the win-win situation that there is definitely value for the manufacturer or for the company but also there is value in this to the actual channel partner themselves, right? In terms of their ability to do business better. I mean is that sort of how you engage or how you talk to people? It’s like look, this isn’t you pushing something on the people that are your channel partners, this actually is beneficial for them as it is for you?

Justin:   Absolutely in every way. It’s not just an operational tool for the company that buys it. Similar to the CRM, it’s a sales enablement tool and a revenue optimization tool that you’ve got to get in order to engage them but you’ve got to give them something. That’s human nature you’ve got to benefit them in order to give you something and so we continually, this feature that I am talking about, this sales enablement, channel sales enablement is one of them that we continually research things to make that channel partner better at what they are doing, more educated about the product, get the mind share increase for the product when they are thinking about it and somebody is talking about and need they are going to think of that product because they’ve got information they need to ultimately sell more and that’s what we are seeing consistently.

Robert:   I am a huge fan of technology but I am not necessarily blind to it I guess I sort of view technology as an enabler of process and I think the best opportunity is when there is either absence of process which sometimes can be hard to get on or just an inefficient one. And I guess in this case this is where we just have a ton of inefficiency because of the fact that there’s different companies involved and different people involved and different systems involved and that this is something that basically you put in place to attack that inefficiency and make the process actually work like it’s intended to, not like it actually is. Is that kind of the far field sort of you on this or is that how you guys sort of see it?

Justin:   No absolutely. I mean like any company and sort of product manager, you’ve got to identify the problem and just live with it and you live with that customer, walk in their shoes for a time and time and then you can really understand what’s going on.

And that’s how we fundamentally approach the situation and this is advice for lots of different companies is that you really have to understand the business process on both sides especially when you are working with two completely different focused companies; one completely sales driven organization as a channel partner.

There is value add in a lot of different ways with the service and things and one is typically a producer, a manufacturer of something and they are relying on that channel partner to sell that product. So two completely different businesses with different goals and processes and we understand both those processes because we’ve worked and been around this world for a long time and determined a solution that will fit with both and really approached it from the channel partner’s perspective because if you don’t get engaged in it from that group then it doesn’t matter what you are doing.

Robert:   Yeah, for sure. Sort of one of our, I guess a parting question here as we are wrapping up on time is like what’s the bottom line here? The folk you’ve worked with, you guys have been in business for a while and you get a lot of customers, and certainly a lot of experience under your belt. What are you seeing in terms of gains? Is it cost-reduction? Is it additional revenue? I mean where is the impact for this in an organization by investing in something like a technology platform for channel sales management?

Justin:  The beginning results really comes down to data. When you are running a team with the majority channel partners selling your product and you are producing the product and you don’t get the consistent feedback about these leads and opportunities that you are working hard to produce, then you are sort of like – where are our pipeline analysis and what is our estimation of business next year? Well it is often determined based on the seasonal trends or the economy’s production or something like that, not on real data. And so, the sort of eye-opener for our customers is wow! Now I understand what is happening with my leads, my channel partners and what are they doing with the leads that I send them. Are they engaging? Are they engaging fast? Are they following up? So I know that your potential customers are being addressed.

And then they are starting to understand the pipeline analysis and I can understand next quarter and what’s going to come in. That visibility is what was there before. And when you have that finger on the pulse of everything that’s happening in your sales channel and you are supporting and giving and empowering your channel partners to have the education and information you need, then ultimately comes down to revenue and revenue increases and revenue optimization is really the end game for us and our clients are seeing pretty significant uptick with no additional lead volume or no additional advertisement or anything else. To generate business, they are actually doing more with what they have.

Robert:   So there is gains to be realized by just doing this out of the gate not to mention anything that happens into the future.

Justin:  That’s right!

Robert:   Hey, well this has been an awesome time. Hopefully I’ve done Sales Pipeline Radio just by my involvement today. Justin thank you so much for your time for weighing in about not only how you guys are coming at channel sales management but how LeadMethod is solving that problem in a unique way.

Tell the folks again how they can get in touch with you all.

Justin:  Absolutely! Www.leadmethod.com; a lot of information there and would love to talk to you. Thanks Robert, I appreciate the time.

Robert:   Yeah, I know. I am excited. We are able to do this and look forward to any and all feedback from the listeners out there. If you would like to hear more of me please vote me up and I will have some data to prove to Matt that I am actually a good addition to the show. But I do appreciate this, this is fun, always great to talk to good people and sort of put some good content together that hopefully folks can get somebody out of.

So if you sell through a channel or you are seeking some clarity to that whole process, give the folks at LeadMethod a call, they know the problem and the solution inside and out and that is I think the extent of the conversation today. I don’t know if we’ve got other things we need to cover off on or we are all wrapped up! So thanks everyone for listening!