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Filtering & qualifying potential 3D printing sales partners (Part 1)

The world’s pandemic has raised different challenges with regards to expanding the business growth of 3D printing companies, when it comes to recruiting new channel partners. If in the past this process included face-to-face meetings before completing a distribution agreement, the reality these days is that in many cases this process has to be done remotely.

Taking on board the right channel partners is always challenging and important for the long-term growth of the company. How can this be managed successfully in the current business environment we are in? What are the challenges 3D-printing companies encounter when trying to build a strong and successful global channel network?

Challenge #1 – Who will recruit and manage the channels?

When you are a small/medium size company, your team is mostly composed of R&D people with little experience in sales and channel management. Therefore, your first step would be to hire a professional sales/channel manager with proven experience in this field. Ideally, this person has already built-up relationships with strong resellers, and has previously sold a product similar to yours. He needs to be able to work remotely, have high self-motivation and established business relationships with people from different cultures. From the channels side, they need to have one point of contact that will work with them on an ongoing basis in order to take care of any topic or problem there is.

Finding the right person can be done via social networks, or by hiring the service of a professional recruitment agency that has candidates who fit the profile you are looking for. Hiring a professional channel manager is as important as hiring strong channel partners.

Challenge #2 – Defining your ideal partner profile

Know what you are looking for. Either you have reached possible candidates yourself, or if you were lucky have had the chance to physically attend a trade show and meet candidates yourself, and have generated a list of potential resellers from different countries. Now you need to review each one individually and qualify the ones that seem to fit your requirements.

You are aware that by only reviewing their website and product portfolio you can’t really know how they would perform. Do they understand the value proposition of your solutions? Do they have the adequate resources to sell and support your products? Are they willing to invest in marketing and lead generation activities?

To answer these questions, you first need to define your ideal partner profile:

  • How many years of experience do they have?

  • What type of solutions do they sell today – complimentary/similar to yours?

  • Are they active online and can run marketing and lead generation campaigns?

  • What is their total install base and how many customers do they have?

  • Do they have a strong technical support team?

  • Can they purchase a demo unit/demo license?

  • How much focus can they dedicate to your products?

Once you have this profile in place, only then can you start to reach out to potential candidates.

Gil Lavi, 3D Alliances with Atha Kotrotsios & Slaven Miskovic, iGo3D, Germany, a leading 3D printing reseller in Europe, at the Formnext 2021 trade show

Challenge #3 – Setting the right channel deployment plan

A successfully global channel deployment should be based on a good long-term plan that clearly defines the steps, milestones and time frames. Naturally, before building your global channel network you’ve gone through the step of selling several systems directly, in your home base or to a strategic customer in a different country. Once you feel confident enough to expand, channels are a good and popular way to do so.

Your plan should have three main steps: as an example, if your company is located in Europe, then the first step should be taking onboard sales partners in Europe. The second step should/could be North America, and then Asia (or vice versa). When you set a plan for each continent, you should prepare a list of prioritized countries, number of partners per country and a time frame.

When setting this plan, you should consider several topics that are critical for operating in different countries/continents:

  • Is your team ready to support channel partners with training, technical and application support, and marketing activities?

  • Are there any countries that are more accessible than others?

  • Which countries have large industries that could benefit from your solutions?

  • When should you open subsidiaries in different locations and why?

  • Shipping and taxing issues and more.

Challenge #4 – Filtering potential candidates Usually, this step starts with conducting initial research by exploring the candidate’s website and social networks activities. From this you may learn a lot on how they promote their business and the products they sell. Points to consider:

  • How many years have they been in the AM business?

  • Who are the people behind the company?

  • Are they selling boxes or solutions?

  • What type of products do they sell – known brands, meaning they already went through a filtering process by other successful companies.

  • Do they generate original content in their local language or do they just share the 3D printing companies content?

This minimal research is very helpful in ranking the top candidates even before reaching out, and prioritizing the ones you wish to communicate with first. The next step would be to reach out to the candidates for a first go/no-go - who is interested in discussing a possible collaboration. Having as many calls as possible can be a time-consuming task but a process you can learn a lot from. It’s a great opportunity to obtain more information about their structure, activities and experience. For this step, you can also hire the services of a professional consulting firm that specializes in this field. A face-to-face meeting is a bonus these days, either at your premises or their location in order to get a better feeling of the people behind the company, whether they have the right resources and if they share your vision. Once you have a short list of good candidates, now you can move to finalizing agreements with your chosen channel partners. How do you kick-off the activity of a new channel partner, what do you need to prepare in advance, and what is the secret of a successful channel management?

All of this in the next article - Recruiting and managing 3D printing sales partners.

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