By Rob Spee
A leading expert in the channel shares advice on strategy, management, marketing, sales, automation, and transformation.
Earlier this year, I launched the Channel Journeys podcast to share my channel knowledge and learn from others. My mission is to elevate the channel profession by educating, inspiring, and empowering channel professionals. I’ve had many great guests on my podcast representing centuries of channel experience. Here’s a summary of the top lessons from my first ten episodes with channel chiefs, analysts, consultants, and channel tech entrepreneurs.
Building and growing a successful channel starts with your go-to-market strategy. While indirect sales drive 75 percent of world trade, many IT companies go to market with a direct-first mentality.
- Your sales strategy should be aligned with how and where the customer buys and not how you want to sell. Put the customer at the center, and think about all the organizations that touch the customer throughout the buyer’s journey. Then build your channel strategy to leverage all those touchpoints.
- Change doesn’t happen without executive commitment. The C-suite and board must believe in the value of the channel and be committed to the channel strategy. However, it falls to the frontline managers to really make change happen.
- Your channel business is much less successful when departments operate in silos. Channel marketing and channel sales are often working independently of each other and of other departments in the company. Having channel partners, sales, and marketing data on one platform, available for all to see and use, will help break down those silos.
The channel account manager’s role is tough. It requires the combined skills of a general manager and a business consultant. Very few come into the role with these skills, so they need to be properly trained.
- To be successful, a channel account manager (CAM) must understand their partners’ business models, their joint value proposition, and their business challenges. The CAM needs the confidence and ability to walk into the CEO’s office and have a meaningful business conversation.
- The CAM should focus on the partner and not be in the weeds with transactions. Conversely, the direct sales rep and partner sales rep should be focused on the end customer and progressing the sales opportunities.
- CAMs must be trained on how to conduct joint business planning and holding each party — vendor and partner — accountable through quarterly business reviews (QBRs).
I often work with executives and sales leaders who have the mistaken belief that the channel is something that operates autonomously. They think that channel partners, once signed up, will go off on their own and bring in new logos.
- A successful channel partner requires the support and alignment of the direct sales team, including sales, presales, marketing, and enablement.
- Direct sales reps can boost their productivity by acting like a sales manager and building a team of indirect sales reps who work for their partners. Every rep should have a small number of go-to partners aligned to their geographic, or, better yet, vertical territory.
- A hybrid sales channel can be a very effective strategy when direct sales reps and indirect partner sales reps collaborate on accounts. Like a hybrid car, each does what it is best at in each account.
There’s a lot of talk about the buyer’s journey and how it has changed with cloud, mobile, and social technology. The partner’s journey has also changed, requiring a shift in how we approach channel marketing and partner engagement.
- Social channel marketing can provide vendors a more effective way to communicate and engage with partners than with just email and newsletters. That engagement should come from more than the vendor’s channel manager and channel marketing team. Sales, technical, services, and other stakeholders can all participate.
- The three key ingredients for effective channel marketing are through, to, and for the partner marketing. While the largest chunk of your channel marketing budget should be spent on through-partner marketing (partner-led activities), the second largest should go toward to-partner marketing, and the smallest amount on for-partner marketing.
- Many vendors miss the mark on to-partner marketing. If you’re spending less than 30 percent of your budget on to-partner marketing, then you can expect to get less than 15 percent adoption of your through-partner marketing.
Sales and marketing have both been revolutionized through automation. First came sales automation with customer relationship management platforms. Next came marketing automation with email, digital, and social platforms. Now we’re seeing a huge wave of channel technology gaining adoption in the market. This is getting the attention of venture capitalists who are investing in disruptive channel technologies.
- Channel management will become just as automated (and respected) through the adoption of channel automation as sales and marketing have become through their adoption of customer relationship management and marketing automation.
- Automating channel management and social engagement allow vendors to build relationships with all partners, from strategic to long tail partners, without increasing their workload.
- Business process automation tools can greatly increase CAM productivity. Tools are available that allow the CAM to quickly assess and compare partners with a partner scorecard, prepare joint business plans, and create QBR presentations.
You can’t go to a channel conference these days and not hear about channel transformation. Driven by digital transformation, it’s creating new business models and threatening existing ones. Both partners and vendors need to be aware of these trends and anticipate the impact they are having on their businesses.
- As infrastructure and infrastructure services become commoditized by cloud technology, partners are learning that the serious money is in specialization, creating their own intellectual property, and adding true business value for their customers.
- There’s a new breed of partners referred to as the “shadow channel.” These are partners such as born-in-the-cloud legal, accounting, and human resource firms that are technology companies with business expertise. They open whole new channels for vendors while creating new competition for existing partners.
- More and more vendors are recognizing the importance of the channel and a partner ecosystem for reach and scale. As a result, channel talent is more critical than ever. Yet “channel” is still not seen as a profession. More focus must be placed on training channel talent, including channel account managers, channel sales reps, and channel marketing managers.
Special thanks to my first 10 podcast guests for helping me launch the Channel Journeys podcast by sharing their insights, experience, and channel journeys.
ROB SPEE is the founder and CEO of Channel Journeys Consulting and host of the Channel Journeys podcast. Rob applies his channel expertise to help clients create and execute channel strategies to scale faster and accelerate revenue growth. His global channel experience spans from building channels at startups to vendors and distributors including Arrow, BMC, Carbonite, and SAS.