"The downside of the Reseller model is the Reseller model"
I always loved this quote. To really appreciate this quote, you need to have spent some significant years earning your stripes in the trenches of reseller sales. Its not a so much a "negative" statement on the channel business as it is a guideline --> The channel business can be your friend or your enemy. You need to decide which one you will make it.
I have been meaning to post some thoughts on channel sales for a while. My first introduction to channel sales was with VeriSign Registry. My task -- manage + grow domain name registrars in North America and Europe. Couple key things I learned from this introduction:
- Just because your company is a monopoly - doesn't mean you have a guaranteed acceptance of marketing plans, adoption of value-added services, or adoption of promotions from registrars. You need to earn each one.
- You need to know your business. If you have a retail registrar as a partner, you need to be presenting retail-focused ideas. If you have partners in the wholesale business, you need to be structuring deals that fit within the wholesale partner's model. These are radically different partner types. Understanding the difference and adjusting appropriately is key.
- Understand your channel partners direct customers. To me, this was the most important. The more you understand the customer they are servicing, the better positioned you are to help grow their business.
These were key lessons for me. They served me well when I joined eNom. Managing eNom's large reseller network was magnitudes bigger than my experience at VeriSign. Joining eNom had placed me directly in to the center of the web hosting reseller network. It was an invaluable experience. The key lessons I learned managing Channel Sales at eNom:
- Know your competition. eNom was not a monopoly. We had to fight for each sale. I enjoyed this part of the job immensely. It kept us honest and forced us to get creative in our deal structures. In short, we had to be nimble.
- Customer Service is a key part of selling. The hosting space is an API driven business. However, there are also major 3rd parties involved as well (cpanel, whmcs, etc). Being able to assist partners with integrations is key. Support needs to be highly technical and fast (this can be a tough combination).
- You have to find that thing that separates you from all the other vendors and run with it. As I said before, know your competition. This helps immediately highlight the standard areas where you are different - API features, pricing, support, etc. But this is not exactly exciting. What's our vision? How are we going to better assist these resellers in growing their business compared to others? What strategic advantage are we bringing to the table?
I spent eight years selling in this environment and loved it. The absolute all-out competitive nature of the space raised the bar for me. It forced me to become a better sales rep, be more aware of our channel, and do more research on the space.
So, that brings me to today and the rapidly evolving web hosting space. There are alot of people out there vying for the attention of the big distribution players. It makes sense - these companies have the customer base and the method to upsell their base. How are you going to break through this ecosystem and get traction for your product? Couple thoughts on this topic.
1. You are running a marathon. The channel business is about building the pipeline. It takes time. Dont place "retail" goals on yourself when running the wholesale playbook. You need to pitch it, sign it, and then let them build it! This takes time.
2. Bigger guys are doing fewer deals. This is due to consolidation, integration timelines, engineering resources, etc. Ask yourself, why should they place their bets on your product? Think about how you would answer that and it will start leading you down the right deal structure for bigger accounts.
3. Dont let integration be an excuse!! It is absolutely key that you offer channel partners multiple integration options nowadays. API is par for the course. But CPanel, WHMCS, Plesk remain key 3rd party software providers that are making it easier for products to be adopted by the hosting community as a whole. These guys are no longer nice-to-haves. They are required.
4. I am a big believer in raising the visibility of your brand among the Hosting community at key conferences. The standard question is - where is the ROI in shows? Well, if you actually plan in advance, have a strategy, set up meetings, and *really* work the show, the ROI will come. This may not sound so enlightening. But I really believe in this attitude and approach to conferences. Its a mindset and it makes a difference.
5. Take full advantage of all speaking opportunities. Every keynote, every panel session, and breakout session matters. Enough said.
6. As you get traction, you get feedback. Make sure there is a commitment internally to review, prioritize, and ultimately act on the feedback. This is a tough process. But it separates successful teams from mediocre teams.
7. I have used all the common tools when it comes to press. Video interviews, press releases, guest blog posts. However, I really love customer testimonials. Lets face it - everybody expects you to hype the product. The message is so much stronger when your customer discusses it and explains why they joined your reseller program. Video testimonials are my favorite - but I do like case studies as well.
8. Use the phone. The reseller business is a relationship business. Email is a tool for you to use. But I like to call. Make the personal connection. Email can only do so much.
9. Read the industry blogs. Staying on top of the news in the channel is key. Senior people leaving, senior people joining, acquisitions, product launches, etc. These are all forms of opportunity. Leads don't fall in our hands - we have to dig them out. This is one great way to find some quality leads.
10. Finally, make doing business fun. I have hosted several parties in the past. I approach it the same way I approach the conferences, plan ahead! Lets face it - everybody loves a good party. ;--)