As one of many tools available to channel marketers, lead management is categorized under the the broader umbrella of opportunity management programs (along with deal registration, referral management, and special pricing). Within the context of channel marketing, lead management is intended to send leads down from the vendor to the designated partner(s) to assist in or complete the sales transactions. It’s cousin, referral management acts as the mirror image by allowing 3rd parties to send leads up to the sponsoring vendor (although effective referrals programs are designed to accept leads from a number of sources including customers, employees, affiliate organizations, in addition to just channel partners). Combine characteristics of each of these into a single program and the result may be labeled as a bi-directional lead management program. I spent the last couple of days helping one of our clients craft such a program and that process yielded some interesting observations and insights, which are the subject of this entry.
First, a single stakeholder on both sides should be assigned to monitor lead integrity and follow-through regardless of your lead distribution rules (1:1 or 1:many). Ideally, this is a person that has a vested interest in the partnership. Otherwise, leads may go to “never-never land” once they are acknowledged and accepted. This is especially an issue in 1: many lead distribution models where leads may be accepted by any number of sales reps within a partner organization. Since it is likely that person isn’t 100% committed to your agenda, it is equally likely that getting status updates will be challenging at best and non-existent at worst. If you are creating such a program for the first time, you may want to consider limiting the distribution of your leads to a single owner within the partner organization, and having that person solely accountable for updating lead status—IF tracking is important to you, and it should be.
Lead dissemination rules and follow-up processes may be very different between partners, products, and sales models. For instance, desired partner behavior is going to be quite different across these distinct sales scenarios: a joint sales opportunity, if you are leading the sale, if the partner is leading the sale, or if the partner is simply providing a fulfillment function for a customer you have basically already pre-sold. Assess which of the various models apply to you, and design your program to address all those pertinent.
Have a clear definition for expected lead quality that is mutually understood. Are leads pre-sold?, pre-qualified? Or are they simply “inquiries”? Rules must be clearly defined and expectations maintained on both sides. For instance, If you are getting leads from partners in a bi-directional model, and those partners are compensated for closed deals that you make on those leads, what is to keep them from submitting the phone book in hope that you’ll close “Something”. Using this example, you’ll likely label their leads as “useless”, lose interest and in them and won’t follow-up anymore—ultimately such behavior will damage the partnership. The same is true in reverse for the leads you send your partners. One way to overcome this is to monitor the lead conversion ratio to assure a predefined close ratio is maintained.
Design a closed-loop process for lead tracking throughout the sales cycle to understand the programs overall ROI and to demonstrate the value of the program to your partner community. Once the lead is received by your partner organization, there is often no incentive for them to update lead status on your system unless there is a “carrot” or “stick” in place. Commissions and SPIFs may be a good incentive to update closed/won deals, as can reconciling POS sell-through data with lead information provided to the partner. However, neither are effective in helping you to get updates at various mid points in the sales process (for long sales cycle products), or to learn the details of “closed/lost” leads. This is where you either have to a) get creative with your “Carrot” and “Stick” options, or b) have someone continually involved who has a vested interest in closing deals for your products. In the case of the latter, this can be either a CAM or Program Manager (employed by you), or a partner relationship manager (employed by your partne)r who has a vested interest in growing their business with your partnership. Another score for the first recommendation in this listing.
Leverage existing processes where possible—for you and your partner. Opportunity management programs of any sizable scale are facilitated through software, either resident within CRM systems, or as point-based tool sets. That software represents yet another login requirement on behalf of your partners. Because your partners have to adapt to their own systems (as well as those provided to them from other vendors/partners) adaption to your systems and process is going to be barrier. An entire blog post—or even white paper—can be devoted to the many ways this can be addressed. Possible solutions are program-centric (incentives, program oversight, etc.) as well as software-centric (SSO, custom integrations, etc). Components of both will likely be needed to promote system usage. Think about it, though, in the context of a bi-directional lead management program, are you really going to want to capture and update leads on separate systems provided by your various partners?
As partner channel models and segmentation schema gets more complex, so does all the rules surrounding your opportunity management programs in general, and your lead management programs in particular. Continually reviewing and updating your programs to adapt to these changes is among the many things on your “to do” list, and another way to add value to your company and partner community—and hopefully add some job security for you.