For manufacturers that sell primarily through indirect channels (think dealers and manufacturing representatives), there are additional layers of complexity that must effectively be addressed within the CRM solution to support sales and service business processes. Fortunately the extensibility of the Microsoft Dynamics CRM/xRM platform and the availability of ISV components, provides an ecosystem for an integrated solution that can meet the demands and challenges of managing extended sales channels. And in a highly competitive sales environment where dealers and reps choose which manufacturer’s products they will propose and sell, companies that can provide a better experience through strong channel relationships will become the vendor of choice; driving revenue and margin growth while improving overall levels of satisfaction.
One of the powerful features of the Dynamics CRM platform is its ability to be easily extended to address the data and process complexities introduced by the business requirements inherent to extended channels. First, sales channels must be identified and defined as they connect and define what and where each external sales agent can sell. Once you have created a sales channel, it must be connected to the dealers and manufacturer representatives that sell in that space. Dealers and reps are created as extensions of the CRM Account entity with additional custom fields as required. Each dealer and rep can then assigned to one or more channels through which they are authorized to sell. By defining these basic relationships we have created the core channel structure.
As with other CRM Accounts, Contacts must also be associated with each of these accounts to identify the key business relationships the company has with each channel sales agent. Don’t let the apparent simplicity keep you from appreciating all the database and solution infrastructure supporting these structures and relationships. Building the channel structure on the Dynamics xRM platform allows manufacturers to leverage built in features such as views, advanced searching, charts, reports, activity tracking, workflows, and a robust security model without any effort. Dynamics CRM takes care of the infrastructure of the solution allowing the focus to be on the data and processes required to support sales channel functionality.
Supporting extended sales channels also requires defining and assigning territories to each dealer or rep. Territories are typically defined by countries, states, zip codes, or local counties. However they are defined, the territory entity must support the method the company uses to clearly define a geographical region. Third party solutions are available to easily manage territories and provide advanced visualizations mapping Dealers, Reps, and customers to defined regions.
Another consideration is that most indirect sales models are supported by an internal sales team. These inside resources are also assigned to defined channels, territories, or dealers and reps. Establishing these supporting relationships is important to maximizing automated workflows and activity assignment within CRM. From approvals to assignments of incoming channel requests, this is where CRM automation can yield greater efficiencies allowing a small team to support growing channel activity without additional staff.
Another key area is defining what Products can be sold within the Channel and potentially down to each external sales agent. For example, a manufacturer may have multiple product brands which are sold through some channels but not others. This requires the CRM solution be extended to define which product families and/or products can be sold in each channel. For companies selling internationally this can become even more complex with multiple channels operating with different prices and currencies in a number of countries. Ultimately, the relationships between Channels and products must be configured to drive availability, price, and any supporting sales processes. Capturing and managing this information adds a level of information to support intelligence and automation ensuring the right products are sold in the right way in each channel.
Managing a company’s communication within extended sales channels can also be challenging. Again, the Dynamics CRM platform steps in and provides the capabilities to generate letters, send out e-mails, and track calls or e-mails with each dealer and rep across every sales channel. Marketing teams can easily send out updates on new product offerings and promotions, sales incentives and programs, and relevant news tailored to each channel. It is also important to provide dealers and reps regular feedback on sales performance, sales activity status, and incoming leads. Dynamics CRM can be used to automate communication to coordinate service activities, manage warranty work, provide work order status, and proactively drive part sales. Delivering a strong level of comprehensive communications around Marketing, Sales, and Service is a sure strategy to the higher levels of loyalty and excellence that differentiate the experience of working with top-tier companies in the channel’s market.