Channel Partners Look to Improve Sales Prowess in Post-COVID World

New Channelnomics Channel Forecast Study examines impacts of customer churn and more

By T.C. Doyle

Buffeted by supply-chain woes, customer churn, and economic uncertainty, channel partners look to rebound in 2022 by investing deeply in new sales and marketing capabilities.

This is just one of several noteworthy findings from the Channelnomics Channel Forecast 2022 report, which is available now to CiQ subscribers. This year’s report covers financial expectations, product and service sales mixes, growth drivers, and more.

While channel partners remain upbeat about their prospects, revenue expectations fell short in 2021. It’s little wonder then that 61% of channel partners polled said they plan to reinvest revenue this year to build new sales capacity. In addition, 45% said they’ll make new investments to improve their marketing expertise.

Those were the highest investment priorities identified by channel partners in the 2022 Channel Forecast report — significantly above other growth drivers such as increasing portfolio offerings (24%) and expanding geographic reach (12%).

Several factors account for the findings. For starters, channel partners are eager to claw back sales lost as a result of business interruptions and customer closings during the pandemic. Also, channel partners recognize that customer demands are forcing them out of their comfort zones. To win new business today, many partners say, salespeople must be able to speak the language of their customers and understand their most pressing business concerns.

“Channel partners are eager to claw back sales lost as a result of business interruptions and customer closings during the pandemic.”

In past years, those skills haven’t been valued by many solution providers, especially not those that concentrated their sales efforts on IT departments that elevated product performance, technological standardization, and cost savings above other priorities. But times have changed.

Today, improving business outcomes and enhancing the customer experience are driving many investments in digital automation. Because of the shift, many channel partners recognize they must evolve their sales expertise.

Doing so in today’s market conditions, though, is anything but easy. For starters, channel partners say there’s a dearth of talented sales experts available to hire. Even when talented salespeople can be found, their salary demands are often well beyond what most channel partners can afford.

What’s more, new talent doesn’t always mesh well with traditional technology sales reps and leaders working at many channel partner organizations. That’s because many channel organizations are still transitioning from transaction-oriented product sales models to more consultative, subscription-led sales models. The shift requires a wholesale rewiring of customer priorities, internal compensation plans, training requirements, and much more.

Until they complete their own digital transformations, many channel partners are stuck managing two different sales models, which is akin to trying to run a business in two different languages. Everything from KPIs to sales cycles are different, partners are finding. The cultures that evolve within different sales environments are so divergent that many channel partners have chosen to split their sales teams into two rather than craft a single one from a mix of old and new sales professionals.

This helps explain why the balance of product and service sales has taken a step or two backwards, according to the Channel Forecast 2022. Prior to 2019, solution providers were successfully transitioning toward models purpose-built for cloud and service transformation. But the pandemic forced many channel partners to scramble for business of any kind in 2020 and 2021. Not surprisingly, many sales organizations fell back on old familiar ways and doubled down on transactional product sales.

With economic conditions improving and customer demands evolving, channel partners now find themselves in need of more digital service sales capabilities. Those that can find or develop them stand to make significant gains in their chosen markets. Those who can’t are likely to find that rebounding from the pandemic can be more challenging.

For more research on channel dynamics, be sure to check out Channelnomics’ 2022 Channel Chief Outlook report.

T.C. Doyle

T.C. Doyle is the vice president of strategic content at Channelnomics. A renowned content creator, Doyle has spent the better part of the past four decades covering and commenting on the channel in different capacities. Follow him on Twitter at @tcdutah.

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