To borrow a sports analogy, the independent sales rep is the free agent of the sales world. They’re ready and willing to step in to help you solve a problem.
And while they won’t be hitting home runs in a literal sense, an expert independent sales rep can knock big sales out of the park.
Independent sales reps are a key resource for wholesalers. They sell multiple brands of similar products in the same industry—telecommunications, for instance—and help guide customers toward the solution best suited to their needs.
Giving them the channel sales enablement to succeed is very important, but that autonomy must be balanced with the right consistency to make sure your brand is being represented correctly.
What Is Channel Sales Enablement?
Simply put, channel sales enablement is the process of empowering your independent sales reps to sell your services or products. Its goal is to help sales reps operate autonomously while still maintaining message control, and ultimately allow them to improve sales performance in each channel.
Since you’re not really in control of your independent reps—you don’t “own” them in the same way you “own” an in-house team—you need to make sure that they have the right tools at their disposal to make selling your product as smooth as possible.
Without the right tools to enable your independent sales reps, they might be playing fast and loose with the facts of your products to get the sale across, leading to disappointed customers.
While enabling your independent reps to sell your products is enormously important, tempering that autonomy with effective brand consistency is key to long-term viability.
Why Is Brand Consistency Important?
When you watch a baseball game, it’s easy to tell one team from the other, as they’re wearing starkly different uniforms. That’s their brand, displayed out in the open.
A brand is much more than a logo. It’s the voice of your company; how it’s spoken about. It’s the people that represent you. It’s the supplementary images that contribute to a unique, palatable feeling.
If your independent sales reps are misrepresenting your product, your sales can suffer.
Here are four ways to enable your salespeople to sell while maintaining the consistency of your brand.
1. Make Product Training a Priority
Independent sales reps sell what they know. It’s only natural. So if one of your reps is more familiar with another company’s products over yours, they’re going to fall back on selling that one.
More than that, they want to look knowledgeable to their clients. It’s hard to persuasively sell something if you don’t know the ins and outs of it.
By providing thorough exhaustive training to your team of independent sales reps, they’ll be better equipped to answer the questions potential customers have and, accordingly, be more likely to sell your now-familiar product.
How do you get them to undergo training? Start with small incentives, such as free lunches or one-off awards, then migrate toward a tiered system.
2. Cooperate with Co-Op Marketing
In co-op marketing, parent companies offer marketing dollars to their representatives for advertising their product—an auto manufacturer would provide co-op spend to their local dealers, for instance. This helps the parent company spread the word about their vehicles by absorbing some of the cost involved for local ads.
By offering sales representatives “free” money to advertise your product, they’d be tempted to sell more, since potential customers—readers of the advertisements—associate the rep with your product.
The problem lies in ensuring those advertisements are consistent with your brand. To ensure the perception of your product or services is well-kept in the marketplace, it’s important to have a review process in place to approve or reject any advertising created by an independent rep.
3. Add Gravity to Your Message With Incentives
Many incentive programs are based around how much you sell—if you close more deals than the rest of the team, you can go on a trip, for instance.
Aligning an incentive strategy around brand consistency is also possible.
By evaluating the gaps in your independent reps’ performance and honing in on the behaviors that need improvement—more training or a uniform appearance for client meetings, for instance—you can develop an incentive program that they really want to be part of.
When your reps are rewarded for behavior that provides customers with a consistent brand experience, all while giving them the sales enablement they crave, they have real skin in the game and are encouraged to follow your protocol.
4. Communicate Creatively and Consistently
According to the “rule of seven,” prospective buyers need to hear or see a message at least seven times before they buy it from you. The same rule of thumb applies to your independent sales reps, too. They need to hear your message multiple times before it really sinks in.
Independent reps are being bombarded with messages from multiple companies, all proclaiming that their products are the latest and greatest. Your company’s communications should not just keep them in the loop—they should stand out from the noise.
Chances are, your independent reps all come from different backgrounds and are different ages. That’s why it’s important to take a mixed-media approach to communications—think email, brochures, company intranet, social media and more.
Not only will creative, consistent communications keep your audience in the loop with new products and company updates, it will help them be more knowledgeable, adept salespeople, and it contributes to the overall brand perception.
See how one leading automotive aftermarket parts distributor helped maintain brand consistency in their channel with a powerful incentive travel solution that got impressive results.