Why Sales Channels and Marketing Campaigns Fail

Original post date March 24, 2009

In August 1999, Selling Power magazine ran an article featuring our firm and the work we’ve done helping clients, like IBM, build new sales channels and increase sales productivity. A few months later, we received a call from the head of a division within NCR asking us to meet with them to see if we could help them with something similar.

The senior executive with whom we met said if we could help IBM we should be able to do this project for them. Excited about the prospect of helping them build a new channel, we agreed and they laid out the challenge:

  1. A well-known consulting firm had been previously engaged but had failed
  2. …which left only 41 working days to get the new sales channel up and running
  3. An internal NCR tele organization was competing for this…which, we would later learn, tried to sabotage the effort…and us
  4. And finally, we were entering the holiday season…good luck

After collecting the previous project work we quickly went to work on assessing what had gone wrong. It took us a while, but we finally discovered “IT”. Once found, this insight became the key to unlocking success.

Almost ten years later I’ve seen this scenario play out over and over in B2B companies. This is what we discovered.

The secret recipe for failure

This simple equation is just as true today as it was a decade ago when we discovered it. Oh, you may find one or two exceptions but the majority of the time when we do post mordem on failed programs you find this equation is at the heart of the problem. When combined with a few related pieces, like a lack of time in the market and/or funding, the initiative is doomed. The degree of “newness” in these three areas will directly impact the likelihood of success or failure.

Sales Channels

  • Why they fail – new sales channels fail because companies aim new channels at the wrong targets — new customers/markets. An investment in a new sales channel means that it is competing with existing channels for funding. If it does not hit expectations/goals quickly, it will be robbed of the necessary funding and/or resources needed to make it successful.
  • How to improve the chances for success – The most successful way to build a new sale channel is to do exactly the opposite of what is described above. Shift coverage of existing customers or products to the new channel and use your existing channels to go after the “new.” Shift dormant or flat growth customers to the new channel to give it revenue immediately and free up your existing most knowledgeable, best trained sales folks to go after new opportunity.

Marketing Campaigns

  • Why they fail – new marketing campaigns promoting new products aimed at new customers typically fail because of reasons listed above…they take too long to produce and/or aren’t given the time. Here’s another common problem, agencies will tell you the problem is the “creative” or “value prop”…maybe, but they also could telling you this because they make money on creative and production. “New” works with their business model.
  • How to improve the chances for success – build less individual campaigns and invest more in one or two long term programs with many integrated tactics. Keep the programs in the market longer, closely monitor them and modify tactics based on performance. You don’t need a new campaign every month, you need a program that produces…and with tight budgets this will help you be cost effective/efficient.  Years ago we did an assessment of campaign performance at IBM. We found that the highest performing campaigns had at least 7 integrated tactics and stayed in the market for at least 6 months. Use this as a starting point to design your campaigns and programs.
  • New to New thru New – level set expectations and invest for the long haul. You will need time and commitment to make it successful. Companies have short-term horizons that are getting shorter every day. If you’re going to lead this effort get everyone to agree on what defines success and stick with your timeline.
  • New Product/Service/Solution – try to leverage existing channels, customers or both to start…then migrate to new. This way you can learn if you have the right value prop, messaging, pricing, etc. We like to take existing reps, for example, and use them to help launch a new sales channel, like Tele. We like to use existing customers to test new products, etc.

We got the NCR teleaccount program up and running in 41 days. We transitioned existing field account managers to TeleAccount managers and built their territories around their customers. We then began to backfill them with new lower cost resources over time. You’ll be happy to now that the manager of the group that tried to sabotage the effort got fired.

The program hit our first year sales targets, reduced the expense to revenue ratio from 13% to 6% and grew sales productivity from $1.7M to $3.1M per rep. As a result, NCR then built a full-scale tele channel with close to 80 reps.

Then they killed it.  It’s a long story but the bottom line was the company has a strong field sales tradition and culture.  Mark Hurd, now CEO of HP, became the CEO of NCR, and decided to shut the channel down, redirecting the resources to the field.

Remember my comment about competing for resources. Mark’s an operations guy and a fan of face to face selling.
Culture runs deep, and can also kill channels and programs. Maybe I should update the “recipe” to include the forth “New”…new leadership.

Published by

scott.gillum

Scott is the Founder of Carbon Design Co and the former head of the Washington, DC office of gyro, the largest B2B agency in the world. Prior to joining gyro, he spent a dozen years at a professional services firm that specializes in B2B sales and marketing. Scott also writes a monthly column for Media Post and has contributed to three books on B2B Sales and Marketing. Follow him on Twitter @sgillum

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