This morning I attended the SiriusDecisions Forum titled “Bridging the Direct/Indirect Visibility Gap” with Steven Silver & Laz Gonzalez. The topic was particularly appealing as I look at ways to improve effectiveness in the lead-to-win process in supporting channel partners.
Seven insights from the morning
#1 - “Process precedes technology”
Laz gave us the first Tweetable moment of the session:
Of course this doesn’t apply specifically to channel marketing, but it does apply especially to channel marketing. Creating and applying common definitions to how leads are qualified and processed is vital to improving and optimizing the lead-to-win process through channel partners.
#2 - Consider adding more qualification before leads are passed to partners
SiriusDecisions benchmarked conversion rates across different levels of lead qualification. There are various definitions and scenarios here, but the crux of this for me centered on comparing these two scenarios:
Qualifying MQLs based on an action (e.g. filling out a free trial form) and profile (e.g. not meeting specific disqualification criteria) saw a total conversion rate of 7 wins per 1000 inquiries which was achieved through 16% inquiry to MQL, 55% MQL to SAL, 40% SAL to SQL and 20% SQL to Win.
Adding in the qualification of non-verified propensity to buy (which in SiriusDecisions terms moves a prospect from Lead Level 3 to 4) moved the total conversion rate to 9 wins per 1000 inquiries which was achieved through a 7% inquiry to MQL, 72% MQL to SAL, 65% SAL to SQL and 27% SQL to Win.
So in this benchmark by SiriusDecisions, adding more qualification to the leads passed to partners increases the total lead-to-win performance by 29% - significant business impact. This was the most significant tipping point in performance improvement for varied levels of lead qualification.
How could this be done? This needs to be done with care (and A/B testing!) as this will have an impact of reducing the number of leads to partners – so this needs to be well communicated and well managed with partners. Possible ways to accomplish this include adding an additional qualification question (e.g. “what business problem are you trying to solve?”)to a free trial form or a product activation form.
#3 - (My idea) score leads after they are sent to partners
This is my idea building on #2 above. Since the process we are trying to optimize is the lead-to-win, and the fundamental issue is visibility, this could be a great opportunity to apply lead scoring. Score the prospects post MQL qualification behavior (e.g. product activation, engagement in post qualification emails, website page views) so that these scores can be used with partners to evaluate lead quality.
This can then be used in a number of ways:
- As part of lead reviews with partners, to demonstrate lead quality (demonstrate to the partners “there’s life there” when they may have otherwise given up and moved on to the next lead)
- Can be used as a ‘carrot’ to drive partner adoption of CRM systems – “get visibility into lead behavior”
- Analysis around partner lead conversion rates – does the lead score prove to be an indicator for lead-to-win? If so this can be a powerful tool for managing partners deal conversions and business predictability in an area that has often been a black hole in the past.
#4 - What’s next in marketing automation? Channel marketing automation
You thought the marketing automation market was fully mature? Guess again.
Apparently there is a new class of technologies emerging (and much needed) in channel marketing automation, and one specifically called out by Laz was Zift Solutions.
Just guessing that some of the features available including the creation of centralized templates that can be ‘pushed’ into partner co-branded assets (emails, landing pages), the management of partitioned leads for each partner and CRM connectors for opportunity management.
Some questions that come to mind:
- Are these replacement to or integrated with a company’s marketing automation platform? “Integrated to” – powerful. “Replacement to” – still interesting but now creates potential silo’s between demand generation and channel marketing.
- Are there proven tools to support partner outbound lead generation (e.g. social media)? – that would be very attractive.
#5 - “Treat partners like leads”
This was another soundbite from Laz. What he meant here was that the partner relationships need to be worked to ensure adoption of marketing programs and adoption of lead management SLAs. This takes hard work. Totally agree.
#6 - Waterfall Metrics Direct vs. Channel highlights where funnels are leaking in channel process
Another powerful data benchmark:
SiriusDecisions looked specifically at Lead Level 2 qualification (qualified based on lead profile data) and looked at lead-to-win rates for a direct sales team vs. channel sales teams.
For Direct Sales, the lead-to-win was 7 wins per 1,000 inquiries which broke down as 16% inquiry to MQL, 55% MQL to SAL, 40% SAL to SQL, and 20% SQL to Win.
For Channel Sales, the lead-to-win was 1.4 wins per 1,000 inquiries which broke down as 2.3% inquiry to MQL, 53% MQL to SAL, 51% SAL to SQL and 22.5% SQL to Win.
So here’s where this gets interesting:
If you look at the above, the channel actually performed better from MQL to Win (6.1% vs. 4.4%) – channel sales was better at working the right deals and closing the ones they worked, that’s where they specialize. However there was a massive gap for channel teams in managing inquiries to MQLs -- the direct process converted at 7X the rate at channel.
That’s telling me that the heart of the issue with most channel programs is that lack of process applied to the top and middle of the funnel. Issues here could include legacy processes where all top of funnel leads are sent to partners, no lead nurturing process applied to partner leads and/or the lack of nurturing systems by partners.
Therefore applying process and systems to top of funnel partner lead generation and qualification is a major opportunity for most.
#7 - Work towards SLAs for partner lead distribution & management
Tying it back to point #1 on process, the best practice (which, by the way, based on show of hands, very few of the companies in the room have implemented) is developing and applying a service level agreement to partner lead management. Some of the areas to agree as part of this include:
- At which stage are leads routed to partners?
- How will partners accept, interact and update the lead?
- What are the response times required from issuance to close?
- What should be done to ensure commitment to SLAs; what should be done if response times are not met?