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Five Important Skills every Channel Manager Needs to Possess
Want to hear the most conspicuous statement you will hear all day? Channel management is a challenging responsibility.
If you’re not chuckling (or at least shaking your head) in obvious agreement, something is wrong—or perhaps my joke isn’t that funny.
Channel managers are required to possess a plethora of social and tactical skills; not just someone whom wears many hats, but someone with a comprehensive understanding of the channel industry, it’s ever-evolving modifications (in both technology and economics), the complexities and miscommunication it produces as well as the ambiguous gamble an indirect partnership entails.
Yes, it’s a burdensome, but also a rewarding responsibility; nonetheless, a trade intended not for the faint of heart. That’s because unlike managing direct in-house personnel, channel management mandates guidance indirectly to one or possibly several different partner networks and teams. Obviously, this presents channel managers with challenges—let’s explore some of them now.
1.) Management of an Entity, not an Individual
Usually, when one thinks of management, one thinks of managing individuals (e.g., marketing sales personnel, human resources, consultants, engineers, interns, etc.); however, channel management requires a much broader scope of leadership. The type of direction that focuses on the “big picture” and not on micromanagement and individual consultation. There isn’t enough time, resources, energy, and manpower to “take care of the little things.” This type of management would serve counterintuitive and/or unproductive for both parties.
2.) Reporting is Done Indirectly
Similar to the previous, there are too many logistics, loose ends, and obstacles that go into managing channel partners directly. Unlike direct management, where in-house personnel documents results, road blocks, tasks and priorities to an individual—reporting that is done through the channel requires a very different approach. In the channel industry, reporting goes through a series of personnel; a hierarchy where a specific message is delegated through many “gatekeepers” and is eventual echoed back to the channel manager when deemed necessary.
3.) Priorities are Different
A vendor and channel partner may have similar ambitions, goals, and quotas to meet; however, priorities are usually never shared equally. The differentiation in priorities makes the job of a channel manager even more difficult, because what is urgent to the vendor may not be important to the partner. For example, a vendor’s priority may be to corner a specific market, let’s say the sports technology sector; on the other hand, the partner may only have one client in this market, and therefore does not value this demographic mutually. Ultimately, the partner decides to go in a different direction, leaving the vendor with added competition in the sports tech market, forcing a reduction in pricing.
4.) Different Partners Require Different Business Models
The relationship shared with one partner may be completely different than the relationship shared with another. Depending on the level of revenue acquired from a specific partner will usually determine this; for example, these differences may include: how incentive programs are distributed, the time spent on product training, helping partners convert leads into deals, offering referrals, working together on marketing initiatives, co-branding content, and/or products, etc. Constructing alignment on priority and programs offered is one of the biggest hurdles and most time-consuming components to what a channel manager endures.
5.) Forecasting Becomes Ambiguous
In the channel industry, there are so many end-customers on top of so many different products that trying to predict and/or analyze market trends becomes painfully taxing; additionally, knowing where to implement additional resources, knowing which incentives should be offered and identifying the end-customer becomes an ambiguous and demanding endeavor to accurately forecast. Sometimes, certain product categories may be performing differently, which means consistent and transparent communication is absolutely essential. As trivial and, at times, maddening as communicating through the channel is, channel managers have to not only be persistent with partners but also consistently prepared to ask the right questions at any given moment.