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INSIGHT: Examining generational gaps in the channel

INSIGHT: Examining generational gaps in the channel

Channel experts team up to offer their knowledge on generational gaps that cause obstacles in the channel.

Channel experts Ken Thoreson and Keith Lubner team up to offer their knowledge on generational gaps that cause obstacles in the channel.

What are some of the gaps that distance Channel Managers and their partners?

Thoreson/Lubner: The Channel Manager is a challenging role. Generally, they have several layers of internal personnel that are attempting to promote their products, their marketing/sales promotions, and corporate program rollouts.

At the same time, they have to assist with the issues facing their partners that deal with their corporation. The Channel Manager needs to be the partner’s representative at the table.

On top of those opposing issues, there is a continuous need to achieve sales quotas. To build “trust” with the partner (so they sell the products/market them, train their salespeople, etc.), the Channel Manager must satisfy the needs of the channel partner.

Without basic trust, there is not much of a relationship, especially when the partner has 6-10 other Channel Managers attempting to gain their mindshare.

When you add in generational gaps (e.g. a partner considerably older and more experienced than the traditional Channel Manager), not only are communication styles a challenge but having confidence in that Channel Manager becomes a top priority for most partners. Vendors tend to do a poor job of onboarding their Channel Managers (another issue in itself).

You mentioned generational gaps, where are these gaps being seen in the channel?

Thoreson/Lubner: Generational gaps appear at all levels and they interfere mostly with the job of a Channel Manager in driving revenue. When communication breaks down due to generational gaps, the messaging from the vendor to the partner fails to connect.

Having business discussions that are misunderstood or social communications via text (versus a telephone call) can be disruptive.

We often see discussion on topics that are of interest to the Channel Manager but not to the partner. When we speak at vendor conferences we frequently hear that “events are planned by one generation, but the partners attending the events are from another generation.”

The result is that the vendors who planned the event had fun while the partners who attended thought it was waste of time and money.

The secret is measuring PFT, or Partner Face Time. The more time a Channel Manager spends with a partner, the more they can understand that person and they communicate.

What issues or problems are generational gaps causing between Channel Managers and their partners? Can you offer an example or two?

Thoreson/Lubner: Generational gaps can cause an immediate disconnect by virtue of experience. Good vendors direct their Channel Managers to help grow the business of their partners but often what happens is that you find an inexperienced Channel Manager trying to counsel a seasoned, typically much older, business owner (partner).

The latter does not yet respect the former, inevitably causing a bit of a disconnection. The results are slower adoption of technology by the partner, lower sales by the partner, and minimal marketing by the partner.

We like to recommend that once a year, Channel Managers spend a week with their partners. Shadowing their salespeople, their management team, and attending client meetings will help them better understand the partner environment.

How can Channel Managers do a better job of connecting across generational gaps with their partners? What should be the principle area of focus?

Thoreson/Lubner: Solving the generational divide is not an easy task. However, there are some things that Channel Managers should be aware of, starting with building trust. Channel Managers must realise that building trust with their seasoned partners is crucial. This starts with listening more to what the partner is telling them.

The Channel Manager then needs to do more “asking” instead of “telling,” and develop an attitude of “give before you get.” The bigger the divide is in the generational gap, the more that the Channel Manager needs to cede to the aforementioned.

Can generational gaps in the channel be bridged for good? How?

Thoreson/Lubner: We can close the generational gap by paying more attention to the existence of this issue. Currently, vendors do not do a great job in giving their internal teams the tools and programs to realise how to “connect” to people from different generations.

Step one is accepting that a divide indeed exists. Step two is all about constructing programs to educate the Channel Managers on the partner environment, the reality of entrepreneurialism, and business management. Step three is the most important, and that is reinforcement. Too often, programs are built without creating a cadence of reinforcement.

What needs to be taught? Examples include techniques in identifying personality styles and giving lessons in what technology to use with different generations.

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