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4 Ways to Improve Lead Follow-Up with Your Partners (Partner Channel Series: Part 1)

Cognitive virtual agent improves customer service satisfaction

Partners play a critical role in your success as a manufacturer. And you want to work with the ones who have a vested interest to represent and sell your brand well. After all, you’ve invested time, energy and dollars to build effective partnerships that benefit both your organization and theirs.

But how do you know if you are effectively partnering with your channel? Are they engaged? What are some ways you can streamline processes so your partners love doing business with you? What are their customers saying about them?

We help manufacturers get the most out of their partner channel, and in this blog series, I will share some of the ways we’ve helped our clients answer these and other key questions. First, we’ll look at common lead management challenges. After all, turning leads into sales is probably the most important function of your partner community, so that process needs to work as effectively as possible.

Case in Point: Here’s a Common Scenario

Let’s say you are the channel partner manager with a nationally recognized manufacturer. You have a Salesforce Partner Community up and running, and your dealers are logging into the system regularly. You have established lead routing rules, and you are forwarding leads to partners. But you aren’t seeing the level of partner activity on those leads you would expect, and you’re not seeing these leads turn into sales. Why not?

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  • Poor quality leads – In other words, marketing and sales are not aligned. Marketing “throws leads over the wall,” giving sales and the channel little, or nothing, worthwhile to pursue.
  • No follow-up expectations set – Partners have never been held to lead handling standards, and they suffer no penalty for stale or stuck leads.
  • Too many steps – Partners see the lead conversion process as too much of a hassle, so they bypass the opportunity phase and simply work the lead instead. (This might explain why your Salesforce opportunity reports look so weak!)
  • Too many assignees or no specific assignee – No one person is “it” so nobody takes responsibility.

There are certainly other reasons why partners don’t follow up on leads. But in our experience with manufacturing clients, these are the most common.

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So how can you alleviate these issues? Let’s work through each one at a time.

1. Improve lead quality.

Forwarding unqualified, low-quality leads to partners is a quick way to erode their trust in you, the manufacturer. “You don’t send me good leads – why should I bother opening them?” Your brand recognition in the marketplace earns customer’s initial interest, but partners rely on your marketing efforts to get sales-qualified leads into their hands.

Here’s how:

  • Establish a good nurturing strategy, and build out an effective buyer journey with Salesforce Marketing Cloud to engage your leads with individualized, timely content.
  • Talk to your partners to establish what constitutes a “good” lead, then build those criteria into your lead qualification process – even automate qualifications with Visual Workflows.
  • If you turn a decent volume of leads, Salesforce has a recently introduced Einstein Lead Scoring that applies artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to evaluate patterns and trends of your most successfully converted leads. Take advantage of this technology to inform your qualification process and automation.
  • Use data quality tools to match Leads with Accounts and Contacts to give your partners a heads-up that a lead is actually an existing customer ready for some repeat business.

2. Set expectations and follow through.

If you’re doing your part to deliver good leads to partners, you want to set the expectation that they’ll do their part to work those leads. Spelling out expectations, paired with some accountability mechanisms, keeps the relationship healthy.

Here’s how:

  • Work with partners to agree on reasonable sales cycle milestones and timelines (ideally tied to your buyer journey). Then map your opportunity stages to those milestones.
  • Create lead/opportunity reports and dashboards, make them partner-facing and use them. Train partners how to monitor their own performance, and give channel account managers responsibility to keep up with their respective partners. Don’t be afraid to use a little peer pressure, too. In the right context, the “Wall of Fame” and “Wall of Shame” dashboards can be very effective!
  • Reinforce your accountability expectations with escalation rules for stale or stalled leads/opportunities. Use basic Salesforce workflow rules to notify a channel manager, or in worst-case scenarios, reassign to another partner.

3. Convert qualified leads, then forward them.

Starting with the Summer ‘17 release, Salesforce introduced enhanced support for partner relationship management (PRM) with Partner Central. One of the great features in Partner Central is the Lead Inbox, which provides a mechanism for channel partners to assign leads for their partners to accept. This is great for some partner networks – especially ones with more open territories or ones with a handful of partners per channel manager. However, some manufacturing clients choose to qualify and convert leads, and then just forward the accounts/contacts/opportunities to partners.

Here’s why:

  • It keeps the process simple for partners. They don’t have to deal with managing and converting leads. They only have to work the opportunities.
  • It makes it easier for the manufacturer to manage customer data. Utilizing data quality tools and sharing rules ensures that a) there is only one unique customer account/contact in Salesforce, and b) only partners who should have access to that customer do.
  • It sets the stage for channel forecasting. Since partners only are dealing with opportunities they receive from corporate, it makes for an easy transition into deal registration to support channel pipeline forecasting.

4. Designate an Opportunity Manager at each dealership.

Whether you use the Lead Inbox to forward leads to partners or you decide to convert leads first and then send the opportunities to your partners, it’s important to know who’s carrying the deal forward.

Consider this classic scenario: you email a question addressed to multiple people only to get no answers back – everyone assumed someone else would answer! You can avoid this situation with your partner leads.

Here’s how:

  • Designate a single person to accept leads/opportunities. It’s that simple. Typically this person is a sales manager or an administrative lead in the sales team for each partner.
  • If you’re converting leads on behalf of partners, designate an Opportunity Manager, and change ownership to that user (who can then reassign if needed).
  • If you’re using the Lead Inbox, train your account managers to assign leads to the same person at each dealership every time.
  • If you choose to attach a queue to the Lead Inbox, make sure you’ve designated an individual at that dealership who is responsible and accountable to keep the queue empty.

With all these approaches to improving lead follow-up, it’s important to emphasize the shared incentive with your partners to follow through with leads/opportunities. We call them “partners” for good reason. And everyone is happier when you’re working together to turn leads into closed sales.

Want to know more about how we’ve helped other manufacturers get better utilization with their partner networks? Be sure to check back for the next post in this series where we’ll cover Market Share & Quotas. Any additional questions about lead follow-up or opportunity management with your partners? We’re here to help.


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David Stone

With more than 30 years of experience in IT, software development and client consulting, David is passionate about making things. He loves the process of taking raw materials and turning them into useful products that add value to people’s lives.

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