Your company is growing. Sales continue to climb, and your online marketing program is so successful that you are getting customer queries from other countries. It’s time to expand your international sales strategy, but where do you start? Is it time to start opening regional sales offices, or is there a better way?
Your best bet is to ramp up your international sales program with channel partners who understand the regional market and can get you traction quickly. As with any form of outsourcing, finding the right partner can help you achieve your sales goals without adding substantial overhead. If you manage your international channel intelligently, you will not only increase sales, but you’ll be able to build a global brand that will continue to open new markets.
Why You Need International Channel Partners
When planning how to build your international sales channel, start by asking yourself why you want to build a global business in the first place. That will help you make smarter decisions when it comes to choosing international channel partners.
Here are a few of the reasons to consider building an international sales channel:
- You need to open new regions. Hiring regional sales managers and creating direct sales teams in foreign locations is complex, costly, and time-consuming, and there is no guarantee your regional sales offices will pay for themselves. Hiring international partners provides turnkey sales services without adding staff or cost.
- You want to open new vertical markets. Often, selling into vertical markets requires unique expertise. For example, selling to the medical profession requires an understanding of local regulations. Finding regional partners who understand regional sales factors and regulations can help you gain market penetration faster.
- It’s too expensive to target SMB customers. For B2B sales, reaching small to mid-sized customers (up to 1,000 employees) can be costly because the market is so vast. For example, SMB demand for software and services is expected to exceed $600 billion this year. Channel partners make it easier to reach the SMB segment.
There are other reasons to consider international channel partners. Basically, you are looking for regional sales partners who bring value to your sales process by providing local knowledge, market contacts, an understanding of cultural differences, and access to customers that you would find difficult to tackle on your own.
Are Your Channel Partners Ready, Willing, and Able?
When assessing potential international channel suppliers, you want to make sure you find the right partner to match your needs and your company. You want to find partners that understand your industry and can work independently, but there is more to it than that.
Ask yourself some very basic questions:
- Are they ready? Do they have the necessary resources to succeed in achieving your target sales goals?
- Are they willing? How enthusiastic are they about a potential partnership? You want to find partners who can work with you as equals so that your products and services will be a priority and not just another catalog item. Also ask yourself if you can help them reach their own goals.
- Are they able? How competent are they? Check their track record, and make sure they are successful at representing other companies. Also make sure they have the necessary tools and technology to collaborate with your team and to succeed with customers.
- Do they share your company’s values? Cultural fit is too often overlooked when recruiting international channel partners. Remember that your partners also serve as brand ambassadors, so look for companies that share your vision, values, and customer commitment.
Are You Prepared to Support Your Channel Partners?
Of course, finding international sales partners with the right qualifications is only the first step. You also need to be ready to support channel partners so they can succeed. There are a number of internal steps to consider in order to ensure you are ready to take on an international sales partner:
- Executive support: Senior management buy-in is critical for an effort on this scale. You want to be sure that the C-level executives understand the importance of the international channel strategy and are willing to make the commitment necessary for its success.
- Changes in the organization: The care and feeding of the channel requires dedicated resources, including a Channel Account Manager (CAM) or similar role. You will need staff dedicated to channel support and enablement, with well-defined roles to ensure you are working closely with your international partners. If you have designated support (as opposed to a dedicated team), then you will need to ensure that the right incentive plan is in place to provide the right motivation for success.
- Channel resources: Your sales channel should be prepared to serve as an extension of your organization. That requires special training, as well as access to the company knowledge base, product documentation, sales collateral, etc. Close collaboration should be a natural component of channel partnership.
- Problem resolution: Establishing an international sales channel is complex, and there will be missteps. The best way to address problems is to empower the channel team to deal with routine issues related to shipping, pricing, and other aspects of the partner program.
Establishing an international sales channel is a big step for companies of all sizes. Aligning corporate goals and values with channel partners that are ready to help you succeed is always challenging, but when you add in language and cultural barriers, it can be even more difficult. Working with a team experienced in establishing and managing international partners is going to be your best strategy to ensure global sales success.