Why your partner locator may be failing to convert sales prospects into quality leads for your distributed sales partners.
What is a partner locator?
A partner locator is a self-service web-based tool used in certain industries to help sales prospects connect with the 3rd party sales agents or outside organizations who sell their company's products.
Partner locators are different than location finders. Location finders are used by retail and direct-sales organizations to help customers navigate to branches or store locations. Partner locators, on the other hand, are more like match-making websites helping introduce prospective customers to vendors that are licensed or approved to sell certain products. This distinction is important because customers have different needs and expectations when searching for a partner than they do when simply trying to locate a store.
An easy example of how and why partner locators are used can be found in the life insurance industry. Most life insurance companies still require users to buy their products from 3rd party agents or reps. That means it is up to end-consumers to locate and select a quality life insurance agent, if they wish to buy life insurance.
How do partner locators work?
Most partner locators are little widgets located on corporate websites that allow prospective customers to search for a sales partner. In the typical experience, a customer enters in their geographic location and the partner locator returns a long list of sales partners located within a certain radius -- often with the closest partner ranked first in the list.
Many partner locators don't work
Partner locators don't usually provide the kind of information or assurance that prospective customers need to select a sales partner for an important purchase.
For example, when you decide to go out for a nice dinner to celebrate your anniversary with your spouse, location is not the primary deciding factor. You probably won't end up eating at McDonald's just because it is physically closer to your home than another restaurant. An anniversary dinner is a special occasion, and you probably want to to pick a restaurant based on the food it specializes in, how well it has been reviewed by critics and other diners, and a sense of the price range of the food it serves. Which is why there is no app on your phone simply called "Food Locator" which spits out the location of the nearest establishment to your house that serves food, with no other information than the restaurant name, phone number, and address.
Consumers today are self-educators
Before purchasing a product, whether big or small, for personal or business use, the modern consumer researches it online. We, as consumers, try to find the best product that we can afford to fit our needs. We rely on reviews by other consumers and critics to give us the confidence and assurance we need to make the purchase.
You may need to explain your sales process
Don't take it for granted that your customers understand your business model. Telling some consumers that they can't buy your product or service from you is confusing and even upsetting. If you aren't careful about informing customers about the value of working with your sales partners, and make it easy for them to connect quickly with sales partners, then those customers are more likely to seek out your competitors.
The big leap: user reviews
As I've already noted, a partner locator that provides only location information is a losing proposition for the modern individual or B2B consumer. Prospective customers are looking for more information to help them choose their sales partner. Research shows that the most compelling information is user-reviews. User reviews increase conversion rates in all kinds of goods and services transactions across the business spectrum.
User reviews terrify my organization
Customer reviews shouldn't be a scary thing. What should scare you is giving customers reasons to leave bad reviews. If customers want to leave bad reviews about your sales channel partners, then that is a message you need to hear before you can fix the underlying problem.
My business success relies on my sales partners
Let's correct that statement: Your business success doesn't depend on your channel sales partners. It depends on your good channel sales partners. Allowing prospective customers to read and leave reviews on your sales partners is not going to decrease sales. It is going to allow you to identify otherwise hidden problems with sales partners that are already costing you sales.
More partner locator best practices
Beyond user reviews, there is a lot of information that can be used to better match up prospective customers with sales partners.
Some sales partners are going to have a specialty focus within your full line of products and services. Matching up your prospective customer with a specialist can be really important to an overall positive customer experience.
Years of Experience
Another important factor is experience. How long has each partner carried your products or services?
Certifications and Awards
What about certifications and awards? Which of your sales partners are veteran-owned businesses? Which ones are owned by women? Which are committed to green practices?
What about price? There may be a business-appropriate way to identify the difference between premium vendors who focus on your premium product-line and economy vendors who focus on your economy product-line.
Who has your product in-stock? Who can deliver large quantities over-night? Some sales partners are going to be a better fit for a customer with an emergency situation who needs your product ASAP.
What does it take to design, build, and implement a quality partner locator?
It will take a little bit more coordinated effort than just a reallocation of IT resources. But the good news is, it is a project that will see real return on investment.
I suggest an extended commitment of budget and resources to create a small team to gather and refine the appropriate partner data and then maintain it over time. It will also take a strategic alliance with a digital marking / digital design agency to design and implement a superior user experience based on customer research and industry best practices.
Avoid 'out-of-the-box' solutions
Don't expect there to be an off-the-shelf widget called PARTNER LOCATOR that you can plug into your website and solve the problem. It is that kind of magic thinking that has gotten you into the position you are in today, with a perfectly functional partner locator, that isn't doing your business, your customers, or your sales partners a drop of good. Do your customer research and engage experts who really understand the principles at stake and can design and deliver a quality user experience to your prospects. Your very business depends upon it.