By Corinne Sharp
President Canadian Channel Chiefs Council
At the Canadian Channel Chiefs Council (C4) we wrestle with the many business issues that channel leaders face in their day to day lives — managing, coaching, guiding, directing and fueling partners to drive mutual business growth.
During a recent board of directors workshop, we focused on the multiple and often confusing ways vendors ready, enable and engage their channel partners amid the chaos of a noisy and highly competitive landscape. Also, how they educate their own team of diverse employees including channel account managers (CAM) with varying levels of channel experience, knowledge and insights.
This is part 1 of a 3-part series on Channel Enablement.
- CAM as a Sales Manager
- Growing a Better Channel
- Market your Way to Success
Who do we need to enable?
Before vendors consider enabling partners, they actually have to be ready themselves. The vendor channel team needs a broad understanding of the product, solutions, selling competencies and marketing trends that impact your offering. They also need to understand the myriad of different channel organizations that make up your ecosystem. Although this basic knowledge is often considered table stakes, some C4 members admit they struggle to keep their own channel teams at peak knowledge levels.
C4 decided that “phase one” of our Channel Enablement focus should be on the CAM, the role that leads, influences, guides and educates their partners. This critical role – whether they are managing one large alliance partner or 50 smaller reseller partners – is key to the success of many partnerships.
The CAM role is truly multifaceted, with workshop speakers suggesting they should have the qualifications, aptitude and/or experience of a sales manager, not just individual contributor. Hence the title of our first article in this series: CAM as a sales manager.
The CAM can also be titled a vendor manager/rep, partner account manager, partner recruiter, partner business development manager, or one of several other titles. Regardless of the name, this is person who is accountable for the success of your top partners in your ecosystem and the one who will drive 80 per cent of your thru partner revenue.
What are we training them on?
We could have filled several whiteboards listing the topics our workshop participants believed would more and/or regular training would be valuable, but with readiness budgets thin to non-existent for some of the smaller vendors, the idea arose that the C4 might be better positioned to develop best practices and frameworks that could be helpful.
CAMs join a channel team with a skill set ranging from no experience to 10+ years in the field. But even those with experience need to upgrade continually as the channel partner landscape is reshaped by the advent of cloud and managed service providers and ISVs who are bringing new innovation to faster market than ever before. Where do you begin to build a channel enablement program that suits all levels especially when you are asking them to manage the strategic relationships with an outside organization with several of their own reps, executives and technical experts?
Tracey Hutchinson, director partner sales at Cisco shared, “each manufacturer has tonnes of product, technical and partner program material that they provide. The gap in the channel is around business and industry enablement for many partners.” While having a fabulous team of CAMs with years of experience, he felt that there is more room to learn in the following areas:
- Enabling around the IT industry segments: implications of segments on each other: cloud on networking; security on mobile.
- Enabling around the financials of a partner: how most successful partners make money.
- Enabling around the solution/service creation of a partner: turning product features into professional or managed service offerings and the steps required to do so.
With this reference in mind, our workshop of over 35 channel leaders broke into groups to discuss the CAM competency gaps that exist, what positive business outcomes would be realized when those gaps are resolved, and what with ideas, concepts and best practices are required in the Canadian channel ecosystem.
While many vendors believe they already have talented CAM, there was general agreement that if they could improve some core competencies within their team, the business outcomes would be exponential.
What makes a good CAM?
For the workshop participants, the top CAM seemed to have a higher level of business acumen and understanding of why a partnership even exists. They are able to translate the needs of the vendor business and their personal objectives into action. A successful CAM is able to communicate the vision, educate and evangelize their business solutions within all levels at their partner, and strategically align it to business outcomes for both. Can your CAM’s effectively do that?
If so, they are bringing a new three “Rs” of partnership to the table – relevance, relationships and repeat sales – and you are probably realizing increased productivity, revenue and overall growth.
There were two areas of partner management that were common across all seven break out groups.
Partner revenue management
For those vendors who had very clear sales models, there seemed to be more alignment both internally and externally with their channel.
- Is it partner-led? – Does the partner own the entire sales cycle?
- Is it co-led? – Can the sale close without vendor support or intervention?
- Is it a hybrid model that is not clearly defined or documented?
- How is your direct sales team and partner sales team collaborating?
The “how” we sell and engage with partners still seemed to be a generous divide between channel leaders experience. The answer was often “it depends”. That level of uncertainty is what drives the partner community crazy as they often don’t know what the rules of the game are in relation to co-engagement on a sales opportunity and customer account management. Channel partners will stop selling or avoid selling a solution that they don’t know how to win or will be pulled out from under them.
With a challenge in sales execution, no wonder we see the relationship foibles between vendor and partner.
John Dathan, general manager at Insight Canada, attended our workshop as a special guest. He has been in senior leadership roles on both sides of the fence (vendor and reseller). He articulated a dream that if all the top vendors could be aligned on a common template for business and growth planning versus the 20 different approaches his team currently has to contend with, he would be better able to plan, hire and execute to support the needs of their mutual customers while balancing the vendor/reseller partnership.
The CAM is the pivotal point in managing the co-sell relationships between the two organizations. Some may even call it co-parenting – having to manage channel conflict of “who got there first”.
Partner business management
This leads to a definite gap in overall account management. A CAM can work with one large global partner or a territory including several partners, but how he or she optimizes their portfolio is key. And, there is a required competency in communicating all of this in a coaching, expertise-driven manner.
Alain Fournier, channel sales executive at IBM Canada stated, “the role of a CAM is like running your own business. Every new partner you are recruiting and onboarding is like a startup. Are our CAM’s really trained and empowered to make the decisions necessary to chart the right course for this new business partnership? Do they understand the market and have access to data to make the right decisions for their organization?”
In the world today of data, analytics and insights, a top CAM can leverage the power of this information. They also need to identify, manage and influence a virtual team of experts both within their own company and also those at their partners to work in harmony on go-to-market strategies.
This new world of data-driven decision making requires the CAM to have the same competency as a senior manager trying to identify insights to greater growth, customer satisfaction and competitive advantage. Therefore, the new CAM requires analytical thinking and understanding to be on top of their game both for themselves and the partners they manage. The partner community needs help from the vendors with market, customer and industry data as they often do not have the resources to pull this together themselves.
In summary, CAM must have a strong business sense, they must lead thru inspiration and motivation, they need to have enough marketing to be dangerous and they have to be able to sell with their partners as customers. This long list of skills makes a great CAM a rare and valuable commodity.
C4 supporting channel teams
As the conversation turned to how the Canadian Channel Chief’s Council could support the vendor community to recruit, enable and establish the benchmarks for top Channel competencies, several ideas surfaced. These are the areas C4 will be exploring in the coming year to support our members.
Top enablement needs for channel professionals
- Establish profiles for desired CAM competencies tied to actions and experience levels
- Build a curriculum for CAM to ensure every action, communication and plan should be tied to business outcomes
- Develop consistent channel business plans examples consistent for all vendors
- Mentors to coach those business plans
- Benchmarks for channel profitability models
- Provide market trends and research with the Power of Data – industry standard channel insights
- Leveraging the value of marketing for successful partnering
- Consumable relevant packaged training for CAM
It was very clear to all the participating senior channel leadership members, that as a collective if we could move the dial on the channel competencies by starting within our own teams, the results would follow. One of the workshop teams summed it up perfectly.
- Strategic development = Expansion to new opportunities
- Critical solution approach = Efficiencies and higher margins
- Partner coaching and accountability for partner success = Improved collaboration and partner loyalty
- Understanding market trends and intelligence to translate to action & Results = TCO, ROI, Value and exponential strategic relationships
Next in the Channel Enablement Series: Growing a Better Channel
For more information on the Canadian Channel Chief’s Council, please check out our website