When it comes to selling through distributors and outside reps, most manufacturers cite a common, but crucial, problem: They don’t get enough distributor feedback on their sales leads. In fact, our manufacturer clients report they only hear back on 10 to 20 percent of their leads. Was the lead contacted by the distributor? How long did it take? Did an opportunity or sale result? These are questions that often go unanswered. That’s largely because manufacturers don’t have an effective process or the right tools in place to facilitate two-way communication.
It’s not something to ignore, and indeed, what you don’t know can hurt you. Up to 80 percent of the leads passed to sales fall through the cracks, according to the American Marketing Association. Depending on the product, that is thousands to millions of dollars in lost sales each week. Additionally, Gartner Research reports that 43 percent of sales go to the company that follows up first on the lead. So it’s imperative that distributors know which leads they’ve received, and then act quickly, or both parties risk losing even more.
Fortunately, you can change the status quo.
Both manufacturers and distributors have a vested interest in improving communication, and ultimately making the sales process more efficient and effective. The key to doing so rests in receiving better feedback and more information from distributors. Here are five ways to improve distributor feedback, and boost sales in the process:
1. Simplify the feedback process
First, let’s look at why most manufacturers don’t get consistent feedback from their distributors. They mostly use email and/or a phone call to communicate. Not only does this take a lot of time, but also there’s the potential for information to get lost in the fray.
In others cases, manufacturers have deployed Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programs to their distribution network in hopes of receiving updates on leads. However, this requires the distributor to login to yet another system and learn a lot of complicated features. This strategy is expensive for the manufacturer, who is required to buy a license for each of their distributors’ sales people—and often distributors don’t end up using the CRM anyway.
Ron Somerville, an equipment distributor covering the southeastern U.S. for Master Pumps, knows this all too well. "Several of the manufacturers that we represent have asked us to use their CRM programs, but they’ve never worked," says Somerville. "Distributors don’t want to learn how to use 20 different systems and keep track of 20 different login details. It’s a huge hassle for us, so we just don’t use it."
But there are ways to simplify the feedback process. And software can help. For instance, one Web software product on the market eliminates the login process for distributors entirely. Instead, the solution presents the distributor with the data they need via a secure, encrypted Web interface. This allows distributors to quickly and easily provide feedback on leads without the hassle of responding to individual emails or learning several CRMs.
2. Use technology to your advantage
Over the years we have heard of many strategies that manufacturers have used to solicit regular feedback from their distributors. We know of several companies that have asked their distributors to fill out surveys and forms. Some continually blast their reps with emails asking them to respond, and one even hired a telemarketing firm to call their distributors regularly to collect the information they wanted. Imagine the cost of the latter.
Thankfully, today’s mobile sales force is always connected, using their smartphones or tablets to gather information and follow up on leads in real time. A 2014 survey reports that 87 percent of sales professionals use a smartphone in their daily business activities. That provides an opportunity for manufacturers to garner feedback, if they can make it easy.
In this context, solutions must provide a simple way to report back to the manufacturer on the leads, opportunities, and projects in the pipeline, with options beyond just email or a phone call. Additionally distributors should have access to an immediate feedback loop to report on lead status, potential value of the sale, and to request any additional information required to enable the sale. Look for leading software solutions, which usually offer the ability to update this information in one, convenient place, for help on this front. Implementing this feedback loop enables the manufacturer to respond more efficiently to in-field rep inquiries, ultimately resulting in a shorter sales cycle, and more efficiently closed deals.
3. Prioritize your leads
If you’re a distributor, you may be greeted by two dozen new sales leads each morning. But how do you know which ones demand immediate attention, and which ones can be followed up with at a later time. It’s an important question. Consider that only 25 percent of leads are immediate sales opportunities, according to Gleanster Research.
By not identifying which leads are priorities and thus helping your distributors determine when to contact which leads, manufacturers are losing sales. You can solve this problem by pre-qualifying the leads and assigning each a priority or score. This allows your distributors to quickly recognize which leads they should tackle first, and to devote their time to leads that will more likely result in sales. Marketing automation software programs can provide effective lead scoring tools. Then make that scoring exponentially more powerful by combining it with a feedback solution.
4. Automate your lead management
To give distributors the best chance of closing deals, manufacturers have to improve their lead-management processes in order to get the leads to the right sales rep fast. InsideSales.com’s lead response research paper reports that the odds of connecting with a lead if called within five minutes versus even 30 minutes are 100 times greater.
Getting leads to your distributors while they’re hot will help them close more deals.
So, how can manufacturers automate their lead management processes to leads get to the right person at the right time? Several CRM, marketing automation, and lead management software programs allow for auto assignment of leads based on specific rules. That insures that the leads get routed to the right distributor as soon as they enter the system. Implementing one of these tools is a good first step to getting leads to your distributors fast. In fact, companies that automate lead management see a 10 percent or greater increase in revenue within six to nine months, according to Gartner Research.
Then you need to ensure that distributors have the ability to easily provide feedback as the opportunities progress through the sales process.
5. Make data-driven decisions
A benefit of creating a constant stream of feedback, is a lot of new data. The feedback you receive from distributors will be a real-time snapshot of your sales pipeline, lead status, ROI on marketing spend, distributor performance, and a whole lot more.
But having the information is just the beginning. Manufacturers need to analyze that data and then make use of it. For example, you’ll quickly find out which sales reps respond to every lead. You’ll also be able to tell who is getting to leads the fastest. Alternately, you’ll identify the sales reps that only follow up on a small number of leads and some that take three to four weeks to call on a lead. Such information can then help manufacturers make data-driven decisions that increase revenue, whether it’s promoting a high-performer, offering additional support to a sales rep or determining the most effective leads sources.
Spotty feedback about sales leads and sporadic communication with distributors has long been the norm for many manufacturers. But given the technology now available, there’s no reason it needs to stay that way. Don’t let a communication breakdown affect your sales any longer. With these five tips, you’ll improve distributor feedback, streamline your sales process and watch your revenue soar.
- CRMSwitch website, “2014 Smartphone CRM Access by Salespeople,” (January 2015).
- Modern Distribution Management website, “Solve the Mystery of Lost Leads: Key steps to improve your marketing and sales ROI,” (January 2015).
- CRMSwitch website, “2014 Smartphone CRM Access by Salespeople,” (January 2015).
- Gleanster.com website, “Measuring the Impact of Lead Nurturing on the Sales Pipeline,” (January 2015).
- Insidesales.com, “A 2012 Retrospective: Five Years After the Original Lead Response Management Research Paper,” (January 2015).
Justin Johnson has more than 20 years’ experience building software solutions for the manufacturing sector. He is an author and regular contributor to publications and thought leadership groups on the use of technology to improve profitability for manufacturers and their distributors. Johnson is co-founder and CEO of LeadMethod, a channel sales and lead management software company. He can be reached at 800-406-5020 or [email protected].