Today we feature a blog by Michael DeRosa, the director of professional development at Travelers Insurance, and one of our 2019 Miller Heiman Group Icons.

Channel selling is a different breed of selling from direct sales. To succeed, sales managers need to adopt a different approach and mindset—but the overall message they convey must be the same to all of their sellers. Whether it’s direct or indirect selling, sales is all about building relationships, and that’s a message that needs to come from the top.

Here are three ways sales managers can better support their channel sellers by cultivating better relationships.

1. Use Sales Training to Differentiate in a Crowded Market.

For Travelers Insurance, like many companies that sell through a channel, standing out from the competition is difficult. It’s especially hard in the insurance industry, where stringent regulation means there is little differentiation between providers and services.

For us, upskilling our underwriters has been the differentiator. Our goal is for independent agents, who choose to connect their clients from various insurance options, to feel that Travelers is among their top three options.

We rely on training programs like Strategic Selling with Perspective, Professional Selling Skills and Professional Sales Coaching to ensure that our underwriters’ skills stand out from the pack. Before implementing this training, our underwriters used to only talk with agents about their account. Now they’ve learned to approach sales differently with the goal of becoming a trusted advisor.

Building the trusted advisor relationship plays out differently in channel selling than in direct sales. With direct sales, sellers are focused on the close. But with indirect sales, the channel salesperson’s job is to form relationships.

2. Ask Questions to Build Better Relationships

When selling through a channel, one challenge is that the seller’s relationship with the customer is kept at arm’s length. It’s difficult for channel sellers to stay current and connected to what their customers care about when they’re working through agents and brokers.

I recommend that sales managers teach sellers this key strategy: always ask questions. Sellers should avoid the old approach of “showing up and throwing up.” Sometimes it’s difficult to break salespeople of this habit, as they’re well-versed in the company’s products and services and they want to impress the customer with their knowledge.

But the agent and brokers won’t care about anything that channel sellers tell them until they realize that the channel seller is invested in learning more about them. By asking questions, channel sellers get to know the person who sells to the end user and their goals, so they tailor their conversations to match their needs and strengthen their relationship.

3. Build Trust With a Consistent Experience From Start to Finish.

For many companies, it’s difficult to maintain the brand’s value proposition when it’s sold through an indirect channel. The key is for channel sellers to build trust with third-party sellers to show them that their clients will have a consistently positive experience throughout the relationship.

At Travelers, underwriters achieve the most success when they put together high-quality insurance quotes that are valuable to the agent or broker. In that way, they start to form a relationship. They ensure that relationship carries through to service—for us, that’s the claims department. As long as everyone who touches the customer, directly or indirectly, delivers the same level of service, the agent’s trust in the underwriter, and Travelers, grows.

Over time, the agent realizes that they can rely on Travelers to take good care of their customers and then they send more business our way. It’s a win-win.

Learn How Sales Managers Optimize Channel Sales

Check out my Move the Deal podcast for more tips on how to build a sales channel strategy that helps you optimize your indirect sales.

Michael DeRosa is currently the Director of Professional Development at Travelers Insurance. He has been in this role for 13 years and is based out of Tampa, Florida. He was recently named a Miller Heiman Group Icon after 27 years as a facilitator of multiple MHG programs in various industries. He is a graduate of both Johns Hopkins University and Villanova University and has spent the majority of his career helping salespeople and sales coaches maximize their potential. He resides in Tampa, Florida with his wife Glenna and their two dogs, George and Koda.

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