Manufacturers and distributors these days face a new challenge: Trying to control the “customer experience” and drive up sales as more customers place more orders through self-service e-commerce and through networks of what can be hundreds or thousands of wholesalers, distributors, resellers and other channel partners.
That can leave the top-tier suppliers—manufacturers and primary distributors—out of touch with the specifics of customer demand and how well their end-customers are being served by channel partners. But there are ways for suppliers to regain that control, professional services and management consulting firm Accenture says in a new study.
In “Make Music, Not Noise,” Accenture asserts that manufacturers and distributors can regain control of their markets—and generate happier end-customers and more sales—by building data-sharing ecosystems in their networks of channel partners.
Jason Angelos, managing director of the advanced customer strategy practice in the Accenture Strategy unit, and one of the authors of the report, says Accenture has found that companies that help their channel partners share customer data and generate leads are 63% more likely to exceed their revenue goals through channel partner networks.
“We’ve seen real results in business performance for companies who are involved in extending customer insights, lead management and coaching channel partners,” Angelos said in an interview.
Although Accenture has found that 68% of companies say they believe improved management of customer data has the potential to drive sales growth through their channel partners, 84% say they do not have clear visibility into their channel partners’ interactions with end-customers—what Accenture refers to as channel partners’ “sales opportunity pipelines.” Accenture compiled these and other data points in a 2016 study of B2B executives.
“What’s needed today,” the report says, “is a sales ecosystem that enables trusted relationships with select partners. These key partners don’t just pass along a product or service to customers. They create value together. They share resources and insights to deliver better CX. Above all, they consistently demonstrate a commitment to connected growth.”
That may be easier said than done, but the report offers tips on how to get far-flung channel partners to cooperate in sharing data on customer demand and even sharing customer leads with other partners who may be better situated to deliver what a customer needs. “Providing partners something they value—such as leads, customer events and sales coaching—will encourage them to share customer insights,” the report says. “Aggregating, enriching and sharing appropriate customer insights among select ecosystem participants allow the indirect channel to operate as an engine for connected growth.”
Angelos adds, however, that manufacturers and distributors face several hurdles in realizing better management of channel partners. He lists common reasons why companies don’t have good visibility into their channel partners’ activity, including:
- Many companies don’t use a partner relationship management system, which typically provides a web portal where manufacturers and distributors and their resellers can share information on supply and demand, and allocate sales leads to the partner best able to meet a customer’s needs for product delivery and service;
- A “trust gap” persists among channel partners who resist sharing information on customer demand for fear of losing sales to other partners;
- The number of channel partners—and the volume of customer orders processed through them—can be overwhelming and difficult to manage.
But things are also starting to change, he adds. “The flip side is that there is much lighter technology investment required in next-generation digital capabilities,” such as new partner relationship management systems, he says. And as companies deploy such systems and share data with their networks of channel partners, the tendency is that partners will realize that sharing information can help them get more profitable customer engagements suited to their particular services and geographic location.
The report also notes that 53% of manufacturers and top-tier distributors are using or investing in a partner relationship management system, and that 70% say they believe that channel partners are more valuable when digitally connected in a network.
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