To Channel or Not to Channel...

By Colleen Francis

Many Sales managers and business owners think that having a channel program rather than a sales team will increase their sales more quickly while helping them to avoid the "headaches" of hiring and managing a sales team.

I've seen countless cases of companies, thinking that the channel will be their silver bullet, deciding not to hire any "over priced sales people who add no value." But how can you train resellers to sell your product properly, if you don't have extensive experience doing it yourself? Based on what I've seen of early-stage companies in the field, I firmly believe that the founders and their team need to do the initial selling themselves, for two very important reasons.

Don't get me wrong, the channel and distribution can be a lucrative sales tool. Not to replace a sales team, rather to enhance it. Using it too quickly can have devastating results for a young company without an established direct sales team.

When you let someone else run the sales of your product, you risk losing control of the sales cycle, your reputation and your revenue flow. For an early stage company, this risk can be far too great to take.

First, your channel will never be as passionate about your product as you are. As a result, they tend to give up on sales early, letting the sales cycle drag on and on while they're busy selling other products that are literally walking out the door. Because they don't share your vested interest, they naturally want to sell products that are easy to sell, and new-to-market software is anything but an "easy" sell.

Second, as an early stage company, your reputation is extremely fragile. Do you think the channel really cares about how you are perceived when there are implementation or delivery problems with your products? Or are they more focused on making the sale, and letting you worry about the consequences?

Let's face it, there's no such thing as a 100% flawless first-run production on any product or service.  But by retaining control of the sales cycle, implementation and delivery, you can make sure all the bugs are worked out, and more effectively manage your customers' expectations.

My advice? Build the skills or personnel needed to sell your product in-house first, and consider moving into the channel only once preliminary sales - and your reputation - are more firmly established. 

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Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions ( Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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