Your leaders and stakeholders are critical for your strategy and brand direction. The complement to that guidance are your sales channels for the delivery and reinforcement of that messaging. The great thing about your sales channel is that they can deliver your message and also gather the direct feedback about your competition to keep you honest. I always strive to work across these partners and bridge the strategy to the delivery for greatest effect.
Most sales channels in the B to B space follow a pyramid structure with dedicated sales and technical teams that call on your most important and most profitable customers. Details will vary by business, but this top layer of the pyramid will represent 5-20% of your sales force and typically provide 10-30% of your sales. The mid tier of your customer base is usually a mix of regional sales people that cover multiple accounts and one or more technical FAEs that are shared across wide territories. The numbers depend on the economics with this mid tier typically representing 20%-80% of your revenue. The bottom end of this pyramid is usually covered by some kind of a channel sales manager who acts as a Jack of all trades that has to be everything to every distributor in the region.
B-to-B Corporations are typically run by sales leaders that proved successful in direct selling at major accounts. These customers do generate big wins and superior selling can be the primary reason for success. This creates a natural bias with senior executives that marketing investments are less important; Keep this in mind as you build the business cases for marketing investments. This is especially true at early stage and start up companies. Direct selling and winning at the largest customers keeps you in business so the bias is understandable. Of course, this rule is not always true with pure play internet companies being an obvious exception, where direct marketing to the end customer is critical in getting a brand established.
Good marketing extends the reach of your brand and improves the selling process across the pyramid. The greatest benefit of sales to smaller customers is that they tend to pay higher prices for products in smaller volumes. In the aggregate, this revenue can balance margins and improve market share by leveraging lower cost channels. As companies grow, this benefit is significant. Use this in your advocacy. Good marketing can be helpful at top accounts by creating a positive or a compelling brand image but it will seldom be seen as responsible for the wins. Market share and revenue numbers are your best ally when getting these investments approved. While top accounts move the needle with every decision, smaller accounts provide the margins that delight your accountants.
FAEs or Technical Support
Your Field Application Engineers (FAE's) are your technical support infrastructure. They tend to be more analytic and don't believe what they read in marketing brochures. They do believe in seat of the pants experience. Engagement for this audience requires technical competence and hands on practice. If you can walk these users through your brand experience and convince them of your messages, it's a home run. Find a way to get them on your side. Train them in the field or the best case is to bring them in for personal attention. While they can be some of the hardest to persuade, they are also passionate advocates when they are convinced of technical merits.
Direct and Regional Sales
Your direct account and regional Sales Force are your face to face personality for your customers. You will be most successful when they reinforce the messaging presented on your web site. The top priority for this group is personal selling. Get out there and visit them in their regions. Travel to their neck of the woods and join them on customer visits where possible. Get on the agenda and be the center of attention at every sales conference or quarterly meeting. Hear their feedback directly and integrate their suggestions in your products that offer solutions to their customers.
The botom of the pyramid are your distributors. This is a tough group to persuade because in reality, you are just one of what could be dozens or even hundreds of lines that they handle. Your message to this audience has to be very simple and straight forward and your directions easy for them to follow to have an effect. In our days at National, we had good success with distribution because we were consistent with what we wanted them to do and we were easy with which to work. Our web site was very good at providing easy to follow leads so we made their job easy. We worked across the business silos with them.
This Web site is aimed at capturing some of the basic concepts I use when creating integrated marketing programs and leveraging the internet.
Phil Gibson ©2016