Forecasting Channel Partner Sales the Collaborative Way

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    If some or all of your company revenue is driven through reseller or distribution channels, you’ll appreciate the (fictional, but true-to-life) story of Dave Presser, a Channel Manager with Acme Business Equipment (ABE). Dave manages Gold-tier resellers across North America, the UK and Ireland. He often has his first partner forecast call around 5am on Mondays and is often back-to-back until about 7pm.

    Even though he works with some of Acme’s top producing partners, Dave constantly struggles with getting accurate, timely forecast information from his channel counterparts. Sometimes committed opportunities slide into the next quarter or vanish off the tracking spreadsheets he gets from each partner. There have been a few occasions where an urgent order comes in out of the blue and ABE doesn’t have an adequate inventory of the hardware the ultimate customer is looking for.

    Dave’s boss, James Driver is seeing similar behaviors across all his company’s partner channels and has tasked Dave with finding ways to:

    • Improve the accuracy of partner sales forecasts.
    • Eliminate forecast spreadsheets and enable partners to update their leads in ABE’s CRM
    • Stop the practice of “stealth” opportunities which aren’t on ABE’s radar until the customer needs equipment yesterday, but there isn’t inventory available to meet the customer’s requirements.
    • Improve the quality of sales funnel discussions so partners aren’t “tap dancing” through the call. Partner surveys revealed that resellers are concerned if they mention a customer they are working with, that ABE’s channel managers will hold their feet to the fire on each opportunity. The “spreadsheet shuffle” has caused a few opportunities to be disclosed to competitive resellers accidentally and some deals were “poached”.

    Do these scenarios sound familiar? Many manufacturers, software companies, and other channel-centric companies struggle with partner forecasting. Solving the problem is in part technology, part business process re-engineering, and a measure of psychology.

    Partner Forecasting Best Practices

    Dave decided to change partner forecasting business practices first and he’d select technology solutions which would facilitate the process. He implemented a lead registration process, where each partner used a common set of criteria to qualify an opportunity and register it as soon as possible.

    To motivate compliance with the Lead Registration process, Dave offered full margin on the sale to the partner that registered the deal first. Any other reseller would only be eligible for a reduced margin, though only with a customer confirmation that they didn’t want to do business with the partner with the initial deal registration.

    Another practice ABE put into place was to create an opportunity scorecard with clearly defined rating systems, sales stages and parameters for pricing out a hardware configuration. At first, all the forecast data was populated into a Google form and Dave took the input and manually entered it into ABE’s application.

    After communicating all this Dave immediately recognized an increase in registered deals. He would quickly respond to inbound requests for the latest product literature, success story information, and kept his colleagues in manufacturing and logistics apprised of committed and potential deals.

    Forecast calls improved, though there were still some glitches in the Google Forms process which wasn’t meeting the goals of the pilot project. Dave found he was still scrambling to update his CRM system before his sales team meeting, and by the time his partner cadence calls rolled around, he had to document and communicate scope creep or other changes in his reseller opportunity funnel.

    Integrated, Collaborative Portals for Partner Enablement

    It’s in a channel partner’s best interests for their manufacturer/publishing partner to have accurate forecast data. In Dave’s case, it’s a lot easier for him to gather support and resources for a partner with an opportunity that is slated to close soon. One of the easiest ways to streamline the forecasting process is to implement a secure portal for partners to register and update leads and qualified opportunities. Integrating it with an organization’s CRM creates even greater efficiencies.

    The more informed Dave is, whether through conversations while looking at opportunity records together in real-time; (regardless of where Dave and his partner are located) or through a high-level pipeline dashboard, the more effective he can be in support of his assigned partners.

    Now Dave has current forecast data and background notes at his fingertips including:

    • Probability of closed revenue
    • Customer credit terms if they are buying direct
    • Accurate configurations/quantities of product, and any complementary services or supplies
    • The customer’s Conditions of Satisfaction
    • Competitive information, in case competitive intelligence is needed
    • Customer use case details and any prerequisites to winning their business

    Enabling partners to submit this information in advance, and update it as sales cycles progress helps partner managers to be less administrative, and more strategic. Instead of spending hours a day chasing updates and completing data entry, they can curate resources for sales pursuits, and collaborate with partners on building strategic co-marketing campaigns for lead generation and nurturing deals to close.

    Building Trust and Relationships

    The Partner extranet and an intranet facilitate live conversations about opportunities to ensure everyone’s on the same page. Now, forecast conversations don’t need to dwell on opportunity mechanics and instead can focus on strategy. In this case, ABE implemented a partner community portal, and streamlined their partner forecasting activities through dashboards, scorecards and frequent forecast updates via web and mobile devices.

    ABE executives found Dave and his partner manager colleagues were delivering more value to the partners they manage, and they realized better ROI from their web presence and CRM investment. Partner satisfaction increased, and stronger relationships were forged.

    Looking to improve the accuracy and timeliness of your partner forecast data? Contact Magentrix for a discussion about how you can leverage a self-service partner portal to improve channel transparency and effectiveness.

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