If there’s a disconnect between your sales and marketing teams, neither will reach their full potential. In this blog, you’ll find out why involving your channel in the positioning process is a key ingredient in successful marketing and sales. At the same time, it helps establish and maintain a relationship that pays off for both you and your channel.

It takes a lot of work and extra time to involve your channel in the positioning process whether your channel is the sales department down the hall, or your channel partners are value-added resellers (VARs). But it’s worth the effort because the benefits are so compelling.

Channel involvement not only improves relations, but also the quality of research you receive to support your positioning process. Getting closer to your channel brings you closer to the battleground, so you can gain a better understanding of what your channel needs to win. An unexpected benefit might be the most important of all – your sales team learns how to communicate more effectively with prospects.

Making your channel your positioning partner
You’ll need to help your channel understand your positioning process, why it’s important, and how the channel benefits by participating. Create a presentation to channel members that summarizes your positioning process, depicting their pivotal role. Then, use it as often as you can to drum up interest, enthusiasm and support.

Your task is to replace their distrust with willing, enthusiastic participation. Let your channel know how they can help. Here are some examples:

1. Provide input about successes, customer problems, competitive challenges and outright failures…literally anything that relates to strengths or weaknesses of your product and how customers perceive it.
2. Help make customer introductions (if you sell through partners or VARs)
3. Provide “battlefield intelligence” on current trends and issues, and ones they see developing.
4. Provide input and feedback on your draft message strategy, marketing materials, presentations, etc.

Brainstorming – insight by invitation
The first step in the positioning process is to put together a team responsible for research, brainstorming and the iterative process of converging on the right positioning statement for your message strategy. Invite those in the channel who are willing participants; include product marketing, marketing and management.

Before you start a brainstorming session (where you come up with ideas for your message strategy), create a rationale document that summarizes information you’ve gathered about the 3Cs – your customer, competition and channel. It documents customer problems, how competitors are positioned and any challenges in the channel. The rationale document is for those involved in brainstorming or reviewing drafts of the message strategy. They can quickly refer to the research before providing input and feedback.

Your brainstorming sessions are more productive when they have a definite structure and focus, as well as basic rules for participants to keep the exercise from degenerating into chaos with egos on stage. Some basic ground rules:

• Make “what do you like about it?” the theme of the session.
• No negatives allowed; they destroy the momentum of idea generation.
• Build on each other’s ideas.
• Have fun – there is no such thing as a bad idea.
• But no war stories, especially ones that start “We tried that…”

Eventually you will develop a draft positioning statement with three support points. A positioning statement is a short, declarative sentence that addresses the target market’s most pressing problem by stating a benefit. Support points unfold your story in more detail, and explain how you deliver on the promise made in the positioning statement.

As you refine the drafts of your message strategy, continue to seek feedback from those in the channel who have contributed input, and acknowledge their contributions. Once you have a final draft message strategy, test it with a variety of audiences, especially your channel. Even if they have been a participant, like everyone, they’ll relish being a critic.

Channel buy-in means they’ll actually use what you’ve created
With a little luck and a lot of diplomacy, you’ll get valuable feedback from your channel on the viability of your message strategy. By involving your channel, you open lines of communication and share a sense of mission. You will better understand the purchase process, and what your sales force or VAR channel feels they need to close more business.

As a result, the materials you create – based on your message strategy – are likely to be received with a much more open mind. Your channel will understand the thinking behind your product message strategies, especially if they recognize some of their own contribution. They’ll not only use the materials you provide, but be in a better position to articulate your positioning strategy to the buyer. The result is a more consistent message delivered over and over throughout the marketing and sales effort.

Six to eight years ago, I met with a client – the VP of marketing at a company acquired by Microsoft – who confirmed the importance of involving sales in the positioning process. He shared a story about a channel manager who suddenly found himself face-to-face with Bill Gates, who wanted to see a demo. The channel manager went blank for a moment, then remembered the high-level product message strategy, and was able to both talk and show his product’s benefits under a fair amount of pressure.

Think of the positioning process as a consensus building exercise to bring the whole organization – including the channel – behind the position you have converged upon. A positioning process that puts the channel in the middle of the effort demonstrates your recognition of the channel’s importance, and is bound to improve channel relations, while contributing to greater success in marketing and sales. It will invigorate your channel by making them feel that their input counts. They’ll open up, allowing you to tap into their real-world knowledge and experience. You get better, more insightful information, and they get better ammunition to win the sales battle.

Now everyone’s got to love that!

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