Why Selling to Partners and Resellers Is Never a Straight Path
Working as a business development director in the digital media space — selling to resellers and partners — is one of the more challenging roles a salesperson can take on. Prior to joining a SaaS company, I worked in a consulting role at BIA/Kelsey where I was connecting digital product companies with reseller channels. My perception was that ad tech companies were continually innovating and making available the latest ways to market online while media companies continued to lag behind in bringing these innovative digital media products and services to market. Stepping over to the other side to market (a SaaS company to resellers and partners) revealed a more complicated path to purchase and integration.
Not unlike local merchants, media companies are constantly bombarded by digital product and ad tech platform companies all vying for their time and consideration. At any one time, a media company may be reviewing or considering 3-5 different digital solutions or platforms. Getting the attention of reseller and partner decision makers requires a clear understanding of their business challenges, a clear view on revenue development, and ways to leverage existing products in combination with your product or service. In other words, selling to resellers and partners required more consultative and business building skills to gain attention and sustain discussions.
Often the main hurdle to overcome in moving from discussion to initial consideration was the revenue or margin potential the product could generate. Having been burdened by low-margin products, media company partners and resellers often require product margins above 30% to even be considered. Product directors and CMOs have become risk-averse, so they need the confidence that the next digital product will drive acceptable margins for them to champion the product though the multiple approval levels required to adopt a new product.
No matter the entry point for a platform or digital product, there are multiple decision makers to whom every product must be sold. Each decision maker has their own requirements and timeline, which significantly extends the overall selling period. Selling periods of 12-18 months or more are not unusual for larger media companies. Decision makers often involved in the process include product managers evaluating the business potential of the product, IT determining how to integrate the product into their reporting systems, procurement directors negotiating pricing, legal negotiating terms, sales working on strategy and price points, and training understanding product value and how to develop the sales effort.
The most surprising aspect of marketing to resellers and partners is the importance of back-office support. Several of the larger media company back-office teams I encountered were already overwhelmed with current product and customer service needs. Platform and product companies must now provide customer service features to support or take over key back-office functions including customer intake, billing and collections, IT help desk, and customer support. Balancing between product and tech development, while now needing to build infrastructure support for partners and resellers, adds another level of investment and complexity to the process.
Once the product or platform agreement is in place, companies quickly discover that the reseller’s or partner’s sales force requires training, support and incentives to regularly sell and support the product. While business agreements project expected volume of sales, the reality is the sales team will require constant support and nurturing in order to achieve the established goals. Often this requires the product company to assist in developing bundled offerings, provide research and sales visuals, offer sales support, fund contests and incentives, and deliver regular sales training. Investing in a “customer success” approach, a marginal partner can quickly ramp up and sustain projected sales volume.
The role of partner and reseller business development has evolved from the pure sales function, to more of an analyst and customer success expert. Resellers and partners struggle to maintain and manage multiple products, platforms, data streams and customer service issues requiring them to look to their partners to take on additional roles if they are to adopt their products. By offering a turnkey approach, resellers and partners are able to maximize revenue potential and reduce back office costs, while product and platform providers gain more influence over quality control and revenue development.
Partners and resellers are looking to digital media and platform companies to smooth out the path in order to assist them in getting innovative digital products to market faster. As with any sea change, successful companies must adapt to the new requirements or risk getting lost along the path to purchase.
(Disclosure: I spent eight years working for local media analyst firm BIA/Kelsey advising many SaaS, platform and digital product companies. Last year, I made the jump to developing partner and reseller relationships for a SaaS platform provider in the growing online video space.)
Michael Taylor is the director of business development with Thrive Analytics. He is an international digital marketing, research and sales strategist helping companies understand digital transformation and how to build competitive digital portfolios.