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What Makes a Channel Account Manager Valuable to their Partner Network?
|Computer Market Research had the pleasure to sit down with former VP of Channel Sales at Panasonic and Channel Maven, and current Chief Consultant, Sheila O’Neil, for her take on channel strategy and what makes Channel Account Manager valuable to their partner network.
This in-depth Q & A covers a wide scope of industry best practices, current trends, and practical insight CAMs can begin to apply today.
You can get in touch with Sheila (SM O’Neil Consulting):
1.) How can a channel account manager provide partners with the expertise, resources and consulting advice to drive revenue and accelerate growth?
A CAM is a jack-of-all-trades.
Perhaps. However, not many professions support this figure of speech more accurately.
Her role is to be the primary point contact. The liaison between the partner and their company. They are the trainer, the communicator, the marketer, the business manager, the salesperson and sometimes even the IT person.
As a CAM, developing relationships with people within the partner organization is relatively simple. You have the same formula as you would with any other relationship. Honesty, integrity, transparency—all qualities one should come to expect in a person—are essential for channel account manager to possess. Once the “people” aspect solidifies, the more challenging duties of the job are more feasible to accomplish.
As for the more tangible attributes, the channel sales team needs to be knowledgeable inside and out. Not just about his company’s products, but how those products integrate with partners’ solutions, value proposition to customers and overarching business objectives.
A successful CAM, to the partner, is not just an extension of their team, but someone with an internal perspective indistinguishable from in-house personnel. Communicating the sales potential is only scratching the surface.
2.) What marketing support do partners want from their channel account manager?
A CAM needs to be able to work with partners’ marketing team to develop a plan that will grow their business. This depends largely on how well vendors enable their channel account manager to provide partners with the resources and business tools to excel in a competitive market.
Handing over a sales and marketing plan without any concrete direction will not help build their growth strategy. Channel partners are dealing with numerous vendors, incentive programs, solution offerings, and reimbursement opportunities. Due to the chaotic environment the channel presents, partners have no choice but to focus only on what makes sense. Equipping partners with limited marketing resources, and essentially letting them ‘hang out to dry’ is a quick and easy way to lose mindshare and profitability potential.
Channel executive, Gary Morris, (Successful Channels) illustrates how vendors can better equip their CAMS to support partners’ marketing initiatives in the image below:
3.) How can a channel account manager overcome the status-quo of “just another pawn” of the sales team?
The CAM overcomes being ‘just another rep’ once they develop trust. Creating long-standing relationships with a partner’s team is a process, and although partners are intuitive beings and can quickly dissect a channel account manager’s intentions, trust mandates consistency over time.
The basis of trust depends on the follow-through of desired actions. They must listen and deliver on the needs and requests of the partner in a timely manner, especially in the unfortunate circumstance of bad news such as channel conflict, disputed claims or monetary and budgeting issues.
4.) How can a channel account manager help partners build a profitable go-to market strategy?
Helping partners build a profitable go-to-market strategy starts with the CAM understanding partners’ overall strategy, and how/where they fit in their partner’s solutions. The CAM understands their capabilities, structure, and goals, and in working together with the partner, they create a business plan for growth.
The plan includes setting targets, customers and solutions to go after together. To reach these targets, he must develop a joint marketing plan with set goals and regular tracking to measure results. The important thing for channel account manager is to communicate details of the plan to their company. It needs to meet both business’ goals to be supported, and thus, successful.
5.) What factors make a channel incentive program profitable and effective?
The formula for successful incentive programs starts with keeping it simple; communicating the incentive program with regular status updates that help keeps the program top of mind. An incentive will never get off the ground if there are too many requirements or the goals set are unachievable. A partner must know exactly what they have to do in order to be successful and remain eligible for financial compensation.
I’ve seen it happen too many times when a vendor implements a program only to be disappointed by results and lack of partner opt-in. When a program is too difficult to follow, they will go about their business and, best case, submit what they have in the hope the vendor lacks the resources to accurately validate claims.
The other way for an incentive program to bomb is to announce it only once and expect everyone to remember it.
The only way you’re going to keep them interested is to communicate and to do it often. Continual tracking and posting results will help keep partners motivated. Partners are competitive by nature and they like to meet goals just like anyone else, but if you can’t tell them how close or far they are from reaching those goals, it’s not going to push them where you want them to be.
Ideally, vendors are using POS tracking tools and can quickly know where a partner stands in the promotion. It’s even better if a vendor’s utilizing mobile-friendly apps that allow reps to quickly see where they stand.
6.) How do CAMs leverage incentive programs to maximize revenue?
Traditionally, incentive programs have been revenue based.
These types of incentives used to work well when most of the IT products were based on units the vendor wants to be sold. Given where we are today with cloud-based solutions and less of a commodity push, it’s a good time to consider non-revenue incentives to help develop your partner’s skills and knowledge to help the growth of your solutions.
Consider incentives such as the number of training or certifications completed, completion of marketing campaigns based on the number of leads generated or online social engagement results. Implementing incentives that aren’t based on the number of units sold will help develop your partners for future and ongoing growth instead of short-term and non-repeatable gains. This also gives you a better chance to evaluate your strategic partners; the companies that take advantage of non-revenue based incentives may demonstrate tactical assets you never knew you had.
7.) What are some fundamental strategies CAMs can use to become a partner’s favorite vendor?
Today’s partner sells and supports anywhere from 5-25 vendor partners. Vendors expect their partners to train, market and sell their products—not to mention—be available for meetings, webinars and any other request from the vendor.
Now think about this: With 5-25 vendor partners, how are they going to remember everything about your products, programs, and processes?
Answer: They are not.
To earn favorite vendor status, it takes a company not just a CAM. In other words, be easy to do business with as a company including a place to find the resources and tools they need right away.
A capable, trustworthy and easy-to-communicate CAM follows.
Showing up at the office on a regular basis, building relationships, being great at follow-ups and responsive will move you up in the “vendor rankings.”
8.) How do you incentivize partners to submit POS/inventory data without coming off as “pushy?”
Asking for what is considered to be partners “gold,” aka POS and inventory reporting, isn’t always easy.
It’s about 50/50 how partners feel comfortable or not to share their information.
They may trust the CAM of the company however, they’re probably more resistant to share the information because they are looking at the company as a whole (including the field sales teams who call on end-user customers and work with other partners). This could potentially put partners at a competitive disadvantage.
If there has been even one issue in the past with a single field rep, their comfort level will lessen in their openness to share the information dramatically decreases.
So how can you incentivize the partner to share their proprietary information?
It’s important for partners to understand that providing this information can serve their best interests.
Providing a negotiated agreement to ensure the information has a trusted submittal process to a secured source will help dispel some of the apprehension. In addition, incentivizing partners can also provide that push for participation and compliance.
These incentives could potentially be additional discounts the following quarter, maintain program level status or component of a quarterly rebate.