When the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank President Thomas Hoenig said recently that the economic outlook for the first half of 2009 looked “grim,” it may have made your stomach flip. Most likely, we won’t feel any economic relief until the third quarter. At the close of 2008, factory orders, home sales, and service industries were still experiencing a steep decline. Is there even a dim light at the end of the tunnel?
How do you plan to survive the recession? How will you ensure that your customers continue to look to you for the products and resources that retain important value, even in these troubled times? If we look back through history and study successful businesses, those that held the course or, better yet, did well during bad economic times survived and sometimes thrived because of word-of-mouth recommendations. The concept, of course, is nothing new. We use it every day. Your best friend recommends a fantastic new Indian restaurant. Your mother just had a great experience with a new dry cleaner in town that you are now certain to try. Your running partner ran 10 miles in new state-of-the-art sneakers that made those miles feel like five. You get the picture. People are more apt to try new things or make educated purchases if someone else has made a recommendation. What does this mean for VARs in 2009?
Your resellers are an integral part of your sales team
Did you know that in PC retail, 67% of everyone that comes into the store ask the sales rep for a recommendation, and 97% follow it? That means that 65% of the product that goes out of that store is determined by the product name that comes out of a sales rep’s mouth. I hope you already see where I’m going here. Your products need to be the ones recommended by your resellers.
So how do you do this? How do you create a partnership with your customers to encourage them to recommend your products and services ahead of all the others at their disposal? Let’s take a look at some easy ways to brand your reseller.
– Resellers should be using your product personally. Your resellers should always have their own personal copy of your latest software or specialty product that you want to them to sell. You give them this. It is free to them and theirs to keep (marked “Not for Resale”). Everyone likes to get something for free. Giving them a copy of your product will only benefit you, because if a rep is using your product and liking it, they will more actively recommend it.
– Become a teacher. Chances are your resellers have used your product along with one (or more) of your competitor’s, so they’re familiar with the general concept of why someone would want this latest piece of software. Now it’s your job to show the sales rep why an end-user should choose yours. Spend some time with your resellers and offer a hands-on tutorial of the product. Walk them through the special features. Show them the points of difference that distinguish your product from the others. Reinforce the selling points to them and answer their questions. Get them fully educated and engaged, and welcome them into the fold! Encourage your resellers to use it personally in their daily lives. The more they use it, the more familiar it will become to them.
– Spring training. Take the time and invest in periodic reseller training (or retraining) with your product. Give them a playbook and offer seminars on how the resellers can easily sell your product to their customers. Is your software easier to use than any other? Does it have a proprietary back-up feature? Does it have an unlimited number of users per copy? During these short training sessions (30 minutes is usually ideal) teach your resellers how to, in turn, educate end-users on your product’s usage. Give them the value-added phrases that will help them close the sale. By making their sales job easier, they are naturally going to want to recommend your product versus the competition.
– Communicate changes and upgrades. Branding the reseller isn’t a one-shot deal where you walk in, hand the reseller a free product, and walk away, hoping he’ll use and recommend it. What happens when you create the 6.02 upgrade? Or the technology needed to use the product changes? Encouraging the personal use of your product is an ongoing endeavor. You want your resellers to have the latest version or new product available as soon as possible, and then be able to recommend it whole-heartedly as though they had been using it for years. So, when you have an upgrade to offer or new services or features, start the training process again. It is your responsibility to give your resellers the tools to want to sell your product.
– Utilize the Internet for virtual training and communication. Everything we discussed so far in this article could be done online. While I’m an advocate of the face-to-face meetings, if you have a group of resellers who don’t have the ability to travel easily or if finding an agreeable time is difficult, think about using your website as a portal for training and communication. You can post white papers on your products or host webinars, training sessions, and podcasts online.
– Establish “Members Only” eliteness. Remind your resellers that they are part of an elite group of carefully selected businesses who are valued, respected members of your team. Create a password-protected place on your site for information and offers available only to them. Reward their loyalty with valuable information here, and the occasional incentive like a spiff. Maintain regular communication, reminding them of your support of their sales endeavors. Check in at least monthly to see if you can answer questions or provide additional help. At the very least, you reinforce your commitment and maintain that high level of top-of-the-mind awareness!
The bottom line is that in this troubled economy, you want your resellers selling you and your products. The easiest and simplest way to do that is to encourage them to know your services inside and out, answer all the questions they have, and give them the ammunition they need to close the sale. Presenting the opportunity for a reseller to give a recommendation of something they know and feel confident about is very powerful – for both you and the reseller. The reseller comes across to his customer as knowledgeable and service driven. And you reap the benefits from the sale.