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Mobile Powers Up Channel Sales And Partner Engagement

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The total number of smartphone users worldwide will reach 1.75 billion by the end of 2014, according to estimates from eMarketer. Tablet adoption also is expected to experience a strong growth trajectory, with the tablet market expected to increase 47% this year, according to Gartner

And the overall benefits of mobile devices have never been clearer, especially in the business world. Sales and marketing personnel no longer have to be chained to their desks. Armed with smartphones and tablets, they have the ability to access information and share content during meetings. Overall, they’re able to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively while still staying connected with colleagues throughout the day.

The powers of mobile technology have now become more pronounced in the channel environment as vendors strive to increase mindshare among partners, optimize engagement and empower their reps to generate more sales.
Now more than ever, channel leaders “need to find creative ways to engage and add value to the partners they’re conducting business with,” said Maria Chien, Research Director for Channel Marketing Strategies at SiriusDecisions. “For most, business is often done on the road via mobile devices.”

That is why vendors need to offer partners seamless access to tools, resources and even deal registration portals so they can do business at anytime, and from anywhere.

“Over the past 12 to 18 months, we’ve seen a growing number of channel marketing organizations move beyond simply developing leads to supporting sales through deal closure with enablement programs,” said Chien in an interview with Channel Marketer Report. “Partner salespeople are constantly away from their desks, and these programs must include mobile options in order to drive maximum impact.”

Maintaining Engagement In A Competitive Landscape

Many partners and resellers sell a variety of solutions and services, which means they manage dozens, or even hundreds, of relationships. It can be challenging for vendors to maintain memorable conversations with these partners, and remain top of mind against their competition.

However, “traditional forms of communication are declining,” noted Jay McBain, Co-Founder of ChannelEyes. “The average vendor portal isn’t regularly visited by 95% of channel partners. Industry email open rates are hovering around 15% and click-throughs are at 1%. Even webinars and tradeshow attendance has been down since the 2008 recession took hold.”

With more than two thirds of business executives using their mobile devices to do their jobs more effectively, a mobile-optimized experience can be a key differentiator for vendors, and offer the engagement and loyalty from partners they’re craving.

“Partners are always being courted by multiple suppliers, so to maintain mindshare, suppliers must develop a proactive enablement program,” Chien explained. “Suppliers are realizing that it’s not enough to simply create and email messaging for partners. By expanding their communication channels to and through partners, suppliers hope to drive program adoption and increase partner mindshare.”

Mobility also can be partners’ key to success. “Unsupported” sales reps, who receive minimal guidance from internal staff, can see the most value out of mobile, as they have real-time access to the tools and resources they need to sell effectively. 

“Those reps don’t have inside sales teams backing them up, setting appointments, doing deal registrations for them or sending out collateral,” said Ehren Maedge, VP of Sales and Marketing for LiveLink Mobile. “For vendors looking at mobile investments and strategy, consider the unsupported field sales reps in your channel. Those are the reps who need mobile enablement the most and who will be most hungry for something to help them with their day-to-day tasks. If you have VARs with heavy inside teams or entirely inside teams, they are the least likely to adopt.”

Showing incentive by offering the support and enablement, even for those with internal support, can have a profound impact on partner sentiment. To confirm this point, Maedge alluded to the 20/80 rule: 20% of channel partners typically generate 80% of total sales, and 80% of partners only generate 20% of sales. The ability to connect — and stay connected — with partners can encourage a top sales generator from losing interest.  

“Everybody is always trying to figure out how to better engage their channel,” Maedge said. “The high-level trend is that people see mobility as a way to always be with the channel sales reps and always be connected to them. Mobile sales enablement apps are in some way like giving a field sales person an ‘electronic’ inside sales person or inside sales person in the palm of their hand. If you think of it in this context, it will be clear what channels and what partners can benefit most.”

Creating A Masterful Mobile Experience

Similar to customer-facing apps and optimized sites, mobile experiences for the channel need add utility to partners’ everyday lives. But what features and capabilities should vendors include to turn their channel sales reps into mobile mavens?

Following is a list of things to consider when crafting a mobile strategy for the channel:

1. Determine which functions should be included: First and foremost, “suppliers need to address what functions must be migrated over to be accessible from a mobile device,” Chien said. “Vendors must add in the functionality with the greatest impact on sales and offer partners the tools needed to generate demand more effectively and enable productive interactions with customers and prospects.”

2. Integrate mobile with vital tools: Supplier tools, platforms and applications, such as deal registration/opportunity management, incentive management, learning management systems, PRM, and sales force automation, should be integrated into the mobile experience, according to Chien. That way, partners have fingertip access to everything they need throughout the day.

3. Offer the right content: Although mobile is a powerful distribution channel, it is imperative that vendors incorporate the right content, Maedge noted. “If you’re going to adopt a mobile strategy, you need to think about what content you need to provide in the app that’s valuable to partners.”

4. Create a personalized experience: Mobile gives vendors the opportunity to segment partners by tier level, geography, product line or even job role, McBain noted. “This allows personalized and focused content and tools and makes sure that the right information gets to the right people at the right time.”

5. Embrace real-time engagement: Sure, content is helpful, but communication can keep partners engaged. For example, “push notifications allow real-time information sharing with a majority of partners,” McBain said. “Implementing mobile live chat allows one-click access to the vendor, answering sales and support questions when they happen.”

6. Have some fun: Incorporating gamification components, such as points, badges and leaderboards, vendors can create healthy competition among partners, according to McBain. Additionally, “understanding successful partner behaviors, and then incenting them, drives measurable results for the vendor.”

7. Promote, promote, promote: McBain recommends that vendors use a variety of outlets to promote a mobile app, including QR codes at events, a badge on the portal and web site, and a link on the newsletter. “We have seen keynotes where more than half of the audience downloads the app right after it is mentioned by the speaker.”

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About Alicia Fiorletta

Alicia Fiorletta is Senior Editor for Channel Marketer Report. Working closely with industry analysts and experts, Alicia reports on the latest news, technologies, case studies and trends coming to forefront in the channel marketing world. With a focus on emerging marketing strategies, including social, mobile and content for demand, Alicia hones in on new ways for organizations to market to and through their partner networks. Through her work with G3 Communications, Alicia also acts as Associate Editor for Retail TouchPoints, a digital publishing network focused on the customer-facing area of the retail industry.

View all posts by Alicia Fiorletta →

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