On paper, it’s the dream job. On paper, travelling to glorious destinations is a must, hosting parties for partners is compulsory and spending millions of dollars in marketing funds is mandatory.
“All this while not being held accountable to senior management, perhaps it sounds too good to be true?” asked Jay McBain, global channels analyst, Forrester Research.
“What could be easier than dealing with people who are passionate about your products and want to promote them to the world? How hard could it be recruiting this fan base and keeping them motivated by dozens of expensive programs? Oh, and look at that, another industry magazine just put you on the cover.”
Ending his sarcastic opener, McBain paused, and delivered the truth.
Because in practice, it’s a role of complexities and challenges. A crucial role that requires a particular personality, a specific approach and a certain flair.
They say that anyone can pick up a channel role, yet as history shows, heading up a partner ecosystem isn’t as easy as the job description appears.
“These common perceptions actually make the job harder,” McBain acknowledged.
For the channel represents the long-game, a game played by the “red-headed stepchild” within an organisation.
Collectively, internal and external factors amount to a high-pressure job that struggles for in-house support and respect. But today, that should no longer suffice as viable excuses for stagnating partner strategies.
“Today, too many are too sales focused,” McBain observed. “They need to balance their role across a range of competencies such as business advisor, sales, marketing, capabilities development and partner enablement.
“They also should be educators, trainers and certifiers, with expertise around co-marketing and co-selling, alongside knowledge of operational and inventory levels. That’s in addition to working with the end partner and perhaps also, they should be part-time psychologists.”
According to McBain, the attributes of a successful modern- day channel manager centre around an ability to act as a business consultant, displaying a knack for broad-based skills and a nimbleness that reflects the changing market dynamics of today.
“The entire channel is expected to do more with less,” McBain added. “Typically, the channel receives 80 per cent of the quota with 30 per cent of the resources that the direct division is allocated.”
As channel managers remain weighed down by a lack of internal resources, the cause for channel profitability is further hampered by a shift in cultural behaviours.
Specifically, and perhaps bluntly, the relationship game is dead.
“The channel has a great legacy of old-school sales techniques to help gain the trust and commitment of partners,” Successful Channels CEO Gary Morris said. “But the days of driving meaningful revenue from your partners on the golf course, over steak dinners or at sports games are behind us.
“Channel managers are now expected to be business growth and profitability consultants to help guide partners through new business strategies. What partners need now more than ever is practical business advice to help them grow profitably.”
Today, Morris defines a successful channel manager as a manager with “expert partner capabilities”, one able to display knowledge across key areas such as business development, profitability, pipeline development and marketing.
“These are the skills that partners are expecting and demanding from the channel managers of their leading vendors,” he explained. “Relationships are still very important but they are simply not enough to gain loyalty and commitment from your partners today.
“Channel managers need to be equipped to help their partners build their capabilities, advise them on improving their business model, and help them create pipeline development programs that will generate measurable leads, revenue and ROI.”
Currently, most vendors rely on the experience of individual channel managers to provide this counsel and advice to partners.
“Unfortunately, many channel managers lack the skills, tools, and training to provide the guidance that partners are looking for,” Morris added. “As a result, companies miss a lot of growth opportunities because they are not giving their channel partners what they need to succeed.”
Top four reasons why channel teams fail to meet goals:
- Highly complex role — The old model of a relationship CAM (channel account manager) is far too narrow to be successful today. CAMs need to become experts in the product, markets, sales, enablement, marketing, business models and profitability management
- Lack of channel management-focused systems — Company IT systems make channel managers work far too hard to pull the appropriate data for partner performance tracking and QBRs
- Need to become an expert partner business consultant — Partners are looking for professional business advice from their channel management team on all aspects of their business
- Roles and incentives are misaligned with partner needs — Too often, particularly when it gets near the end of the quarter, partner enablement is abandoned for channel team focus on direct selling
By Gary Morris - CEO, Successful Channels