Sales Channels

Sales channels are the pathways for your products or services to reach and be purchased by customers. They range from having a direct, in-house sales team to utilizing online marketplaces to value-added resellers (VARs).

The idea of a channel partner making you money while you're out playing golf is no doubt appealing to any entrepreneur, but it's not always so simple. If you are a D2C CPG company, then channel partners like Amazon and Etsy may be the single best way to sell your product. If you're a B2B enterprise SaaS company, then your channel partners may field their own sales force and the issue becomes a bit more complicated.

What it Means

First, it's important to note that sales channels and marketing channels may overlap, but they're fundamentally different. A marketing channel is how you get into the mind of your prospective customer. A sales channel is how a prospective customer purchases your product. For example, Instagram paid ads may be a marketing channel you use for people to learn about your product. If people click that ad and are redirected to buy at, then Amazon is the sales channel.

If you're targeting multiple customer segments, then you may choose to use different sales channels for each segment. For example, a product may have a B2B segment and a B2C segment. Your team may plan to sell enterprise B2B software packages (high $$$ deals) through a direct sales force, but rely on an online marketplace for smaller B2C deals.

An important consideration when evaluating sales channels is the customer relationship and how valuable that is to your business model. If your channel partner makes a sale, are you then able to directly send surveys to the end customer for feedback? If a customer has post-sale needs, like a warranty claim, return, or troubleshooting, then is it clear that you will own that or your channel partner will own it? 

Types of Sales Channels:


A key consideration for any sales channel is the alignment of incentives. Direct sales forces tend to expect commissions and online marketplaces normally charge fees and/or a small % of a transaction, but what about the other types of partnerships? Two select examples:

Why it matters

Making the decision to pursue the right sales channel is important, and changing your strategy is only as inflexible as the contracts you sign. Sales channels will directly impact your sales volume, financials, brand image, and customer relationships.

Let's say you've built a new B2B software product and you're trying to acquire your first 20 customers. You want to be as close to these customers as possible so that you can get feedback and iterate on your product. If that's the case, resellers or channel partners probably aren't right for you (yet). 

As a B2B company, you should consider that resellers and channel partners can be great ways to accelerate growth, but they likely won't be able to create it from zero. They are very good at selling third party software (why you chose them), but they're incentivized to make money and to have happy customers. If you don't have case studies or social proof, then it makes your product harder to sell because it's an unknown quantity. On top of that, the reseller doesn't want to risk their relationship with a loyal, happy customer on a piece of software that may negatively impact the relationship.

If you're B2B, then consider the case that resellers and channel partners are strategies to accelerate and speed up existing growth, but not to create it


Diversifying across several sales channels may mitigate risk, but "spray and pray" doesn't normally work well when it comes to running a successful business. There is a cost in terms of time and money involved with each choice. As an example, let's think about online marketplaces:

Stack it - Resources & Tools

Building Successful Partner Channels - This book is based on software channel partnerships, but provides excellent BP/LL for anyone looking to establish a network of channel partners.

Samples T's & C's for an SAP PartnerEdge VAR Agreement