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Why is recruiting channel partners harder compared with five years ago?

Updated: Mar 20

Many 3D printing companies are adopting the channel strategy leading to increased market reach to introduce the business to new markets and customer segments and reduced costs by saving on marketing, sales, and service expenses. Furthermore, channel partners can provide additional customer support and services that the business may not have the resources to provide.

The 3D printing industry has grown in the past five years, with hundreds of companies joining the market and offering new and innovative solutions. Once ready to engage potential customers, the hunt for good sales partners begins. What makes this process more challenging these days compared with five years ago? Four main reasons:

The ratio between companies and resellers

In 2023, especially after several years when entrepreneurs had easy access to funding, the number of 3D printing companies has grown significantly, much more than the number of professional sales partners. For a reseller, this makes the screening process much stricter when considering adding a new product to sell. In other words, there are more 3D printing products than professional resellers can successfully sell.

Resellers’ portfolios are full

Historically, before reselling 3D printing products, most AM channel partners sold compliant hardware or software solutions, like injection molding machines, CNC systems, or 3D design software. Entering the 3D printing space started with reselling only one or two brands. About five years ago, with growing numbers of 3D printing companies, they expanded their portfolios to cover most end-to-end workflow elements. Today, channels already have portfolios full of the required products.

Resellers’ previous bad experience

Five years ago, resellers added new products that looked great on paper but were immature and not ready to be sold in practice. After investing time in learning new products, buying a demo unit, promoting, and selling the new products, resellers discovered their original customers were unhappy. Therefore, they decided it was better to stop selling or replace it with a different product from another company. In many cases, the loss of valuable time and money resulted. Therefore, today, they are much more careful and pickier about adding a new brand.

Focus is a key success factor

The approach of resellers to offer customers a large variety of 3D printing products is becoming less relevant, especially when it involves industrial solutions. Selling polymer-based AM systems differs from selling metal ones, and selling AM software differs from selling automated post-processing solutions or materials. Technical experience, understanding the customer’s pain points, and helping them find the right applications are needed to successfully resell additive manufacturing solutions and save valuable time and costs. Having too many products to sell will defocus technical and sales teams from becoming experts in what they do.

Does this make finding good channel partners impossible? Should companies adopt a more direct approach and abandon the channel strategy?

Onboarding the right sales partners requires expertise and a wide network. Companies are making the common mistake of forming business alliances with resellers not qualified to resell their products or with opportunistic ones that are not very active in promoting their products and looking for quick wins.

There are two possible solutions: a) hire an experienced channel manager with a personal relationship with good AM channel partners, or b) use external help from individuals or consultancy companies that can shorten the process and make the perfect match between a company and a reseller.

Building and managing a strong global channel network is vital for companies looking for long-term growth. Choosing the right partners and building strong relationships with them are critical to maximizing the partnership benefits.

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