Partner Sales Acceleration Blog | Allbound

How to Manage a Channel Sales Team Without Pissing Off Your Direct Reps

Written by Jen Spencer | February 06, 2017

When your direct sales reps take pride in your product and feel personally attached to your brand, it means you’re doing something right. Dedicated reps will put unparalleled energy into selling a product they believe in. Adding a channel relationship to the mix can be incredibly profitable, but if you manage it the wrong way, things can get messy.

The last thing you want is your direct sales reps feeling like they’re playing second fiddle to the channel sales team. If they do, they’ll take that energy that would be otherwise spent on promoting your brand and redirect it towards wasting time on petty rivalries, getting territorial about information, and even searching for work elsewhere. But you can prevent such negative behaviors by managing your channel relationships right. Follow these tips and you can keep your direct sales reps’ energy flowing the right way – in the direction of effective collaboration with the channel.

Foster Cooperation, Not Competition

They say familiarity breeds contempt, but when it comes to sales relationships, the unknown entity can feel like the enemy. The introduction of a channel partner out there somewhere in the world, selling in a direct salesperson’s space, can feel like a new competitor rather than a collaborator.

With that in mind, a good manager doesn’t pit people against each other. Having your teams squabbling against each other and trying to one-up one another doesn’t work in your favor or encourage them to work harder; it just creates bad vibes and inefficiency. Instead of placing them at odds with one another, go the extra mile to set up incentives that foster healthy cooperation, not cutthroat competition. Use the right collaboration tools to make everyone feel like they’re connected to one another, working as part of the same team towards a common goal rather than as self-contained sales silos.  

Make Sure Your Channel “Gets” Your Brand

You’ve probably seen a situation like the following one before: A company’s internal marketing team spends six months putting together a stylebook as part of a rebranding. The company demands absolute, rigid adherence to it, right down to the font that employees must use to write the name of the company’s product. At that very moment a new partner relationship is inked. Those new players on the outside immediately slam dunk that stylebook into the trashcan and start doing their own thing. The internal staff are left with a bad taste in their mouths.

If a sales team sees a partner going rogue in such a fashion it can create frustration, and maybe even a little heartbreak. Not only does the direct sales team deal with internal pressure to adhere to the rules, they want to see the product sold the correct way, with its branding intact and its features explained appropriately.

Your channel partners should want all these things too. To facilitate that, you should make sure that consistent training on branding and marketing, as well as incentivization for adherence to the guidelines, extends to the channel. Not only will it keep your direct sales team satisfied that everyone is playing by the same rules, it will set up your partners to be able to sell your products the best they possibly can. When it comes to branding, they can only go on what you give them or they have no choice but to flounder and go off-message. So give them the right tools to work with.

Don’t Give Internal Sales Short Shrift

Nobody likes to be the odd-person out. Staying responsive to the concerns of your internal staff, no matter how well the channel is performing, is critical to keeping everyone happy. If you start ignoring their emails and rolling out channel-related initiatives that they’ve never heard of and telling them after the fact, you’re setting yourself up for an office full of disaffected reps. Keep everyone in the loop. Let everyone know the role they play is an important one, and let them know their opinion is important. This will keep everyone working hard on your behalf.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2016 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.