How to Unstick a Stuck Channel

I grew up in a neighborhood where kickball ruled. One day a bunch of us boys were playing when suddenly the ball bounced down a drainage ditch. Within seconds it got jammed halfway inside a long, skinny concrete pipe under Mr. Stewart’s driveway. We tried to pry the ball out with long sticks and rocks but finally gave up. A couple of guys mumbled about Plan B – bike riding, Monopoly or even checkers.

I should also point out that a few of us were quietly concerned about what Mr. Stewart might say to our dads the next time it rained and all that water backed up in his yard.

That’s when somebody’s little brother walked up and asked what was going on. He was small, thin, athletic, and totally willing to crawl in that pipe. Within two minutes he pushed the ball through, Mr. Stewart’s yard was waterproofed, the game was on, and we had a new rookie player.

Somehow that scene comes to mind when I ponder why world-class products get stuck halfway through the channel. I’m talking about distributors who either can’t or won’t take the time to promote your product because they rep so many lines. I’m also talking about salespeople who fail to sell your product because they don’t know much about it – or don’t think they’ll make much profit from it.

If you’re wrestling with these or similar channel issues, consider the following “un-stickers” …

  • Provide better product training. Focus dealers, distributors and salespeople on your product’s features and benefits, competitive comparisons, support services, warranty, installation details, best practices for selling, and more. Build your value story in the channel – and see what happens. By the way, this kind of training doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective. Online training modules are convenient, interactive, and up-to-date. Here’s a one-page eLearning example that shows how one of our clients approaches the challenge.
  • Provide a deeper level of manufacturer support. Stay engaged with distributors throughout the sales cycle. Depending on the sophistication and price tag of your product, you can make factory tech experts available to support major sales opportunities. Show your distributors just how committed you are to making them successful. Respond quickly to issues or suggestions that distributors pass on to you from their customers. Poll your distributor network a few times a year and find out how they view your products, service and competitive position.
  • Provide more attractive sales incentives. During my years in Detroit, I learned how much impact the channel has on marketing initiatives. All of the end user marketing in the world can’t outmaneuver a salesperson who points a customer in a different direction. Salespeople know where their bread is buttered. They focus on selling products that provide them a better paycheck and cool “spiffs.” That’s why you should take a close look at sales contests, incentives, Spin-to-Wins, and other financial motivators that can commit your sales network to moving your products off the shelf and into the market.

Yes, my friends, there is hope for unsticking a stuck channel. And sometimes it walks right up to you.

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