To run a successful partnership program, you constantly need to evaluate and troubleshoot. A common problem businesses run into with their partnership programs is leaky funnels. What are they and what can you do to fix them? To find out, we spoke to Nicolette Lopes, Manager of Channel Partnerships at PartnerStack.
What is a partnerships sales funnel?
In business, a funnel refers to the journey from a prospective customer’s first contact with a business to becoming a won customer. At the top, there are many prospective customers but as they go through the various stages of the sales process, some drop out, narrowing down the number of prospects. You can look at it as shaped like a funnel: wide at the top and very narrow at the bottom.
As the prospective customer goes through the funnel, the business employs ever more specific strategies to win their business. Lopes explains, “The further down a funnel a prospect goes, the more the business expects to understand [about them] in order to accurately project numbers to investors, leadership, board members.”
Related: High-touch vs low-touch sales models: What you need to know.
Types of partnerships sales funnels
There are different kinds of funnels, each with several stages the prospective customer goes through. According to Lopes, the number of stages in the funnel varies from company to company, but it typically goes from general scope and alignment to more technical review and contract negotiation. Some examples may include:
The marketing funnel
This funnel focuses on creating awareness of the brand up to the point where the prospective customer considers buying the product. It starts with marketing campaigns to build that awareness and generate leads. As soon as someone shows interest in the brand, the next step is to nurture that lead. Marketing becomes more focused, tailoring content to the prospective customer to help them become more familiar with the specific product.
See more: What are marketing development funds (MDFs) and how can you allocate them?
The sales funnel
The sales funnel focuses on taking the leads the marketing funnel has created and turning them into sales prospects. They’re now aware of the product and in the process of deciding whether or not to buy it. So, the sales team tells them more about the product and what it does. Then they hone in on the reasons the product would be perfect for the prospect and assuage any fears or doubts. Finally, they close the sale by convincing the prospect to take the steps necessary to make the purchase.
The conversion funnel
This last funnel is more specific to eCommerce. Here, many people land on a referring page. Some of them click through to the eCommerce site — the number of people doing this gives you the click-through rate. From here, an ever smaller number of people click through to go to the product pages, add products to their carts, fill in their contact and payment details and, finally, make the purchase. The number of people who actually purchase the product and are converted into customers, which gives you your conversion rate.
While these funnels have different stages, they ultimately all have the same end goal, which is to turn a potential customer into an actual customer.
Related: How to get to know your channel partners in 2023.
What is a leaky funnel?
Lopes describes a leaky funnel as, “a vendor’s pipeline of prospective customers where assumptions are made throughout the sales cycle”. She says that a leaky funnel becomes more clearly flawed as you go through the sales process and start to uncover that the assumptions made have left gaps in your business case.
In essence, a leaky funnel is one where potential customers drop out of the process in greater numbers than expected. They may have seemed like the perfect fit for your product but for some reason, they just don’t convert into customers.
How do you spot leaks in the funnel?
The key to spotting leaks in the funnel is diligent tracking. Google Analytics is one way to track sales and find sales funnel leaks. The most useful report for this is the reverse goal path report, which shows the actual funnels. The goal flow report, which shows the path to conversion, and the basic funnel visualization report are also useful in spotting where and when leaks occurred.
Good partnership program software, like PartnerStack, tracks conversions through your partnership program and provides regular reports that you can analyze. You should be able to see clearly where lots of people drop out, for instance just after a free trial has ended. These points are your funnel leaks.
You might also like: Channel sales vs. direct sales: What’s the difference?
How do you fix a leaky funnel?
Lopes says that one of the main reasons why a sales funnel is not working is that there is not enough partner engagement. “In B2B, more and more of the vendor’s evaluation is taking place without having to speak to or engage with the tech company itself. Partners are injected to the sales process in place of the vendor because they are trusted industry advisors. If you do not learn to leverage the partners, the holes in your sales funnel will only continue to grow,” she explains.
Partners can support the health of your funnel in a number of ways, depending on the nature of the partnership. Some partners are there to increase volume and quality at the top of the funnel, while others are there to add value later in the sales cycle or even after contracting. Lopes suggests that as a business looking to leverage partners, you could start by understanding where the weak parts of the funnel are today, and develop partnerships that support that function first.
Finally, Lopes cautions against making assumptions about your prospects if you’re finding your funnel isn’t leading to conversions. Instead, ensure that everything you report to your business has been clearly and plainly communicated by them and ties back to one of their core business goals. If it is not, it will very likely get reprioritized before you can win that business. This often happens very late in the sales cycle, which makes it a very expensive lost logo by losing a deal mid-sales cycle.