Forget Strategy. Look for Inspiration From Your Customers

Over the years of working with wholesaler-distributor leaders, I have often heard that leaps of progress around the use of digital tools happen when things just click. Some distributors have used the phrase “aha moments” to describe these situations. Sometimes, they happen in the middle of a planned, sustained effort to adopt and use digital tools. At other times, aha moments happen when they are least expected – a customer says something, a simple phrase, observation, or request – and all the pieces fall into place. Aha moments are intensely personal and specific to one’s business. They are not broad generalizations about how digital tools will be used across all wholesaler-distributors in an industry’s value chain. Aha moments are about what your company should serve your customers while creating competitive advantage for your business.

Read my full post on “aha moments” here: Forget Strategy. Look for Inspiration From Your Customers

Digital Tools Were a Hot Topic at NAW 2017 Executive Summit


I had the pleasure of attending the NAW 2017 Executive Summit earlier this month in Washington, DC. This year’s theme promised to speak to many of the challenges faced by distributors today: a tough economy, advancing technology, rapidly changing customer requirements, shifting demographics, and tight margins. I found the program and presentations excellent, offering fresh ideas, hard facts, and useable recommendations. My many side conversations with wholesaler-distributor executives indicated that all topics hit home and that leaders are already pushing ahead with new solutions for serving customers and improving competitiveness.

Click here for my complete post: Digital Tools Were a Hot Topic at NAW 2017 Executive Summit

How to Build an Industry-Leading Sales Channel – Distributors in the Digital Era #3

I’ve been looking at how channel disruptors, including both incumbent distributors and outside players, might restructure distribution-intensive value chains. A few predictions are emerging, including one that is worth discussing now: Distributors will soon build world-class, industry-leading sales channels.

Read my full post here: How to Build an Industry-Leading Sales Channel – Distributors in the Digital Era #3

Making Sense of Digital Tools – Distributors in the Digital Era #2

Cutting Through the Fog by Recognizing That Success Begins at Home

My ongoing conversations with distributors reveals, over and over again, that leaders are inundated with a flood of urgent pronouncements about the need to make investments and build digital capabilities. Experts and vendors proclaim that distributors must go online to keep up with rapidly evolving customer preferences, and that disruptors—including incumbent distributors and online marketplaces (like Amazon)—are out in front and pulling ahead. Distributors must “go digital” if they are to prosper, or even survive. Action is required, but what are the right digital investments for your company? And, what can a leader do to drive his or her company forward?

Read my full post: Making Sense of Digital Tools – Distributors in the Digital Era #2

Don’t Leave Your Digital Vision to Chance – Distributors in the Digital Era #1

Follow a Process – Don’t Leave Your Digital Vision to Chance

Following a process will help ensure that your vision is not driven by a single point of view, that it works in the value chain and avoids inside thinking, and that it achieves the right balance of creative thought, industry experience, and analytic proof. There are many potential visions for wholesaler-distributors; the challenge is to build the vision that is right for your company. Our process is designed to do this, and also to give you the information needed to build the capabilities required to execute it and the logic and documentation needed to make adjustments as you take actions and learn from your successes and failures. 

Read my full post: Don’t Leave Your Digital Vision to Chance – Distributors in the Digital Era #1

Channelvation: Back in Business to Grow Your Business

With the beginning of the new year, we are officially relaunching Channelvation. Our goal remains the same. Channelvation helps clients grow. We leverage thirty years of go-to-market experience and work directly with leaders and teams to design, optimize and manage every type of channel — direct and indirect, inside and out, human and digital, local and global, incumbent and disruptive.

Please visit our Workshops and Solutions pages for more details and examples of Channelvation services. We offer free Assessments to help you get started. We “give back” through channel research and writing, though new and ongoing partnerships. We are up and running, reaching out and looking forward to working with new and ongoing clients. If you’d like to start a conversation, please click here.

Winning with CRM: New Results Require New Behaviors

Channelvation’s newest article is available online at Industrial Distribution Magazine. Two key excerpts:

Today’s CRM systems are innovative, flexible, and mobile, and offer considerable value for distributors. CRM can improve salesperson performance, upgrade sales management, and connect sales leadership with real-time data for making better and faster decisions. CRM can strengthen distributor competitiveness and profitability, often by allowing wholesalers to manage their sales organization as they run the rest of their business — with disciplined processes and metrics.

But there’s a catch — a missing ingredient in many distributor plans to select a vendor, integrate with business systems, provide training, overcome barriers, and encourage adoption. After months or years of effort, CRM all too often fails to deliver an acceptable return on investment, with failure attributed to salesperson resistance or a poor fit with distributor business models. In most cases, however, the root cause of failure is more fundamental, and it is a failure of leadership, of planning, or of vision.

There’s much more inside, so read the full article at:

Winning with CRM: New Results Require New Behaviors.

Get Real: Stop Assuming Your Data Will Bring You Riches

In his new article on HBR’s Blog Network, Sunand Menon offers sage advice on monetizing the value of data. Among his many useful insights, I particularly liked this passage (emphasis added)

I have come to realize that your target customer may not be your traditional customer. For example, a product evaluating nonprofit organizations may be highly useful to a wealth manager seeking to help his client to select a charity as part of a value-added tax efficiency service. Or a healthcare data offering evaluating physicians’ perceptions on a new drug may be useful not only to brand managers at pharmaceutical companies, but also to portfolio managers at asset management firms seeking to find promising investment opportunities.

Sunand’s full article is definitely worth a read. You will find it at:

Stop Assuming Your Data Will Bring You Riches – Sunand Menon – Harvard Business Review.

Good to Go: Channelvation’s New Digital Channel Project

NAW Institute LogoChannelvation is launching our second major research initiative in partnership with the NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence. We are looking into digital trends, including e-commerce, CRM, social media, big data, mobility and multichannel. Our goal is to create a digital channel playbook and find opportunities for strengthening the wholesaler-distributor business model. We’ll gather experiences and insights, track the pulse of adoption and change, and help guide innovation and entrepreneurship. I’m looking for priorities as we get started, so please send your ideas through our secure contact form here, whether you are a distributor, manufacturer, vendor or customer.

The Digital Channel Project builds on Channelvation’s first NAW Institute book, Getting the Most Out of CRM: Best Practices for Wholesaler-Distributors. We are excited about our new initiative and committed to sharing findings along the way. Best of all, our plans include community and collaboration, so the Digital Channel Project will walk the walk as we talk the talk!

Chicagoland Event: Sales Enablement at the IBM Innovation Center

Please join me for a dynamic discussion of sales enablement, collaboration and CRM at the IBM Innovation Center in Chicago. Louis Richardson, IBM Social Evangelist, will share IBM’s experiences and ideas with an emphasis on what it takes to become essential to your customers. You can get to know Louis on his blog at

I will be sharing research from my new book, Getting the Most Out of CRM, published by the NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence. Scott Tabeck of Highland Solutions will add his considerable expertise and lead demonstrations of innovative solutions, focusing on collaboration and enablement.

Please click here (or below) to learn more about the event and register. Space is limited, so don’t delay if you plan to attend:

Shaping Sales Enablement with Highland Solutions, IBM and Channelvation.

Human Capital: Enabling Strategic Sales Growth

Channelvation has the lead article in Hay Group’s quarterly ESE report for Enterprise Sales Executives, and will be a frequent contributor going forward. I’ll write about channel and sales strategy, with an emphasis on human capital requirements. Please click below to find my article, and scroll down further to send me a personal message with your ideas and experiences. If you don’t know, Hay Group is the leading global management consulting firm focused on human capital, organization and change with a dedicated practice on sales effectiveness.

Click here for Hay Group’s ESE newsletter and my article, Enabling Strategic Sales Growth:

Hay Group’s Enterprise Sales Effectiveness Report

CRM: Not Your Father’s Sales Enablement Tool

Our latest article on sales enablement is now online at Industrial Supply. Distributors are giving CRM a hard look and learning from the mistakes of others. Innovative and disciplined distributors are achieving results. Manufacturers should take note!

Click below for our research on the Top 10 benefits of CRM and for the critical factors that determine success or failure.

CRM: Not Your Father’s Sales Enablement Tool – Industrial Supply Magazine

If you have comments or questions, please share them here. And for a copy of Getting the Most Out of CRM: Best Practices for Wholesaler-Distributors, click here or on the book image at the bottom of this post.



Chicagoland Event: Sales Enablement Workshop

Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce LOGO - stackedPlease join me for new ideas and networking at our workshop on sales enablement sponsored by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and Highland Solutions. We’ll talk strategy, execution and tools, drawing on our work and the experiences of business leaders and sales professionals attending the workshop. Highland Solutions will share state-of-the-art approaches to CRM, collaboration, social selling and e-commerce. I will offer thoughts on the ongoing evolution of digital channels and  lessons from my research and new book: Getting the Most Out of CRM: Best Practices for Wholesaler-Distributors.

Please click below for more details to register for this exciting event:

Chicagoland Chamber | Events.

New Rules: Collaboration is for Closers!

Graphic for Blog Post - Collaboration - HS - Aug2013 v1.0The commercial culture for selling and acquiring products is changing, and with it many long-established rules for optimizing sales productivity. Under the old school of sales effectiveness, top performing salespeople achieved results by cutting back on activities to focus only on the few critical actions that were essential for closing a sale. The goal was to find the shortest path to success, avoiding time-wasting entanglements with customers and colleagues

Here’s the problem: the shortest-path sales strategy only works if the salesperson is the primary conduit for learning about and acquiring solutions! Today, this is most definitely not the case. Customers are empowered. Online access, digital information and social tools have freed customers from the tyranny of acquisition processes controlled by salespeople for sales advantage.

This new reality is why collaboration is essential for sales success. Highly successful sales people must work with customers, matching their efforts to the customer’s buying process and business needs. As one of my favorite sales leaders puts it, “Collaboration is for closers!”

Collaboration strategies drive results by building a foundation of common understanding and aligned interests. Salespeople build customer equity through proprietary relationship networks, within and across customers, companies and communities. They ask questions, understand the customer’s market, business goals and success metrics, and then offer ideas. Moreover, they work to align the resources of the sales person’s company to meet the needs of the customer, trading information and advice for openness and loyalty. In this environment, successful sales happen quickly, but the new model is more about precipitating sales rather than driving them. When the stars align, sales happen!

Working with clients on the leading edge of new sales models, often enabled by digital channel tools, I have identified five guiding principles for developing a highly effective collaboration strategy for optimizing sales results:

  •  Collaboration begins at home. Sales people must understand the goals and metrics of internal partners, to build a high-powered network for responding to customer opportunities.
  • Put information at fingertips, virtually. CRM can proactively put data, testimonials and marketing materials in front of sales people at the exact moment it is most effective.
  • Incorporate connections in sales territories. Customer assignments should transcend geography and segments to include connections managed through social media and personal interactions.
  • Build your own best practices. Find out what works for your customers and products, then train and coach sales people, marketers and leaders for consistent execution.
  • Leverage a value-selling process. Collaboration leads to sales when sales people work to build sales from ideas to possibilities to solutions, and follow up offering proof of value.

Going forward, best-in-class sales organizations will build collaboration as a culture, competency and process, with best practices and metrics. The best results are enabled with technology, and if you would like to see examples, please check out these ideas offered by my friends over at Highland Solutions:

Teaming to Win – On Demand

IBM Connections and SugarCRM: Case Study of the Future

Fostering Collaboration without Sacrificing Organization

Digital Channels: New Methods for Delivering Complex Messages

guidespark-playerSalespeople and other channels play a critical role in delivering complex messages to customers. Historically, the best methods for essential communications have been face-to-face conversations or sometimes, telephone calls. Today, videos are playing an increasingly important channel and sales role for customer education, training, value propositions, and on and on. Predictably, new companies are springing up and offering “video as a service” to meet this need. It’s all part of the changing commercial culture for interactions between suppliers, channels and customers.

One such company is GuideSpark. GuideSpark targets HR buyers with videos that explain the changing market for healthcare benefits, among other topics. Click here for an example.

My Take? If the ultra complex topic of health care reform can be explained effectively through videos, any topic is a potential fit for a digital communication. Benefits for channel strategists will include delivering a consistent message, meeting customer expectations for on-demand education, lead generation and customer activation, and so on.

Click below for complex messages delivered through a creative video service:

Health Care Reform in 3 Minutes – A GuideSpark Demo

Channelvation’s E-Book on CRM and Growth

Our new book, Getting the Most Out of CRM: Best CRM_PPT_w.rule
Practices for Wholesaler-Distributors
is now available as an e-book for Kindle and Nook! Just click here or here.

Sales are brisk and include manufacturers and distributors. If you’d like to discuss how our book might be helpful for your business, please send a message on LinkedIn or Channelvations’s secure contact page.

I welcome ideas and look forward to hearing from you!

White Paper: Enabling Sales – Strategic Sales Effectiveness

Please click here for Channelvation’s newest whiteImage_WhitePaper_SalesEnablement_MarkDancer_HighlandSolutions
paper, Enabling Sales: Strategic Sales Effectiveness. In it, you will find ideas and experiences on strategies for driving growth and thoughts on the role CRM can play in accelerating results. This white paper accompanies my recent webinarLaser-Sharp: Achieving Strategic Sales Effectiveness sponsored by Highland Solutions.

Please download Channelvation’s newest white paper here:

Enabling Sales: Strategic Sales Effectiveness

Channelvation Webcast: Digital Channel Briefing

My webcast on digital channels sponsored by the Society sncr-logoof New Communications Research (SNCR) is now available on SlideShare here (slides only) and here (with audio and animation). I welcome ideas and discussions, so please feel free to reach out to me on Channelvation’s contact page if you would like to follow up or arrange a briefing for your company. You can learn more about SNCR here.

Digital Channel Briefing: CRM and the Emerging Rules of Channel Strategy

Please join me for a complimentary webinar hosted by the sncr-logoSociety of New Communications Research (SNCR) on Wednesday, July 17, 2013 from 10:00 – 11:00 AM PDT / 1:00 – 2:00 PM EDT. I will share findings from my new book on CRM and discuss broader implications for the ongoing evolution of channels and channel strategy, as driven by the combined influence of CRM, social selling, multichannel, mobile commerce, big data, and other digital technologies.

If you are interested in these topics and don’t know about SNCR, you should. The Society of New Communications Research is a global nonprofit research and education foundation and think tank focused on the advanced study of the latest developments in new and emerging communications tools and technologies and their effect on business, culture, and society.

SNCR webinars max out early, so please click below for my agenda and to register:

Digital Channel Briefing: CRM and the Emerging Rules of Channel Strategy

Laser-Sharp: Achieving Strategic Sales Effectiveness

Laser Sharp Planning

Please join me on June 26th at 12pm EST for a discussion on state-of the-art trends for enabling sales people and improving sales effectiveness. I will offer insights from my work with leading sales organizations and share findings from my new book, Getting the Most Out of CRM: Best Practices for Wholesaler-DistributorsAdditionally, Scott Taback of Highland Solutions will offer insights on team selling and technology.

Here’s a preview of my talk:

Perhaps the most important finding from my research of more than 200 executives is that CRM fails without strategy and follow through. The opposite is also true. By aligning CRM with strategy through a laser-sharp planning process, successful companies find that CRM can be a critical enabler for improving sales effectiveness and achieving strategic goals. The first step is to clearly define goals and build the required strategy. During our webinar, I will share best practices and results from three “hot topic” strategies:

  • Value-selling — as competition intensifies and product differentiation vanishes, more and more companies are looking to achieve success through the actions of sales people. Often, this requires a fundamental shift to a new sale process. One that is based on sharing actionable insights and information with customers, shepherding opportunities through a disciplined process, and measuring success in the customer’s business outcomes
  • Moving the Middle — a sustained, strategic commitment to sales coaching and performance management can yield career-making results through organic growth. The key is to focus on the middle-performing sales people, and providing tools and training to both sales people and frontline sales managers.  Behavior-based competency models are part of the solution, as is providing data and information for fact-based coaching and performance reviews
  • Digital Channels —forward-looking companies are moving beyond social media and digital marketing, to incorporate digital tools within their channels as a way to improve performance and grow profits. There is a smorgasbord of digital tools available, including mobile apps, big data, social selling, multichannel, e-commerce and CRM. Uncertainty abounds, but the new rules of channel strategy are emerging

To achieve strategic sales effectiveness, it’s necessary to build a strategy. Your strategy may not be one of the three above, but you must have a strategy for achieving your goals. Then, you can go on to complete your own laser-sharp planning process by answering the following questions:

  • What information and data is essential for executing your strategy?
  • How can data best be organized for action?
  • What is the best way to put the information in the hands of sales people at the moment it can make a difference?
  • Once enabled with information, what are the behaviors that will actually lead to achieving your desired results?

I have found that it’s important to think carefully about behaviors. Time and time again, leading users of CRM emphasize that successfully implementing CRM is about driving organizational change. CRM arms sales people with customer information and provides opportunity management tools for tracking progress. But, results are not achieved without action. If your company is implementing a value selling strategy, your new behaviors will be about sharing information to communicate possibilities and solutions, and following through with actions that gain commitment. If your strategy is more about moving the middle, your goal will be to help middle performers adopt the best practices of top performers. Either way, sales people must act differently to achieve your company’s desired results.

To hear more about these topics, register for our webinar on sales enablement and strategic sales effectiveness.