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Channel Matters Blog > August 2014 > Turning Channel Managers Into Trusted Advisors

Turning Channel Managers Into Trusted Advisors

by Rich Blakeman
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Almost every time I meet with channel leaders, the question is asked:

How can we help our channel managers become a Trusted Advisor to our channel partners?

I love the question. Becoming a Trusted Advisor is essential to influencing channel partners. To make sure we’re on the same page, I usually ask these channel leaders what it means to be a Trusted Advisor. Pretty common answers include:

The channel manager understands the channel partner’s situation, how they make money, what their goals are. Things like that.
They empathize with their partners, knowing when to push them and when to back off a bit.
The partners come to the channel manager with their challenges and their goals. The channel manager doesn’t really even need to ask.
They do what the channel manager asks them to do because they know it will help them achieve their goals.
The partner is open with their information, telling their channel manager things probably only their banker and board of directors knows.
The door is always open to these channel managers. If the channel manager wants a meeting, they get it.

Responses like these show that we’re definitely on the same page. These channel leaders understand the importance of being a Trusted Advisor. They’re expressing the benefits both in terms of what the channel partner gets as well as the benefits to the organization. Having a channel manager who is a Trusted Advisor is a win/win scenario.

Next question from me to these channel leaders:

What are some of the things you do right now to help your channel managers become a Trusted Advisor?

The answers I get here span a range from the mundane to the highly creative, but some more common responses are:

We encourage our channel managers to spend as much time with partners as possible.
We equip our channel managers with tools that we know will help our partners generate opportunities and close more business.
We make sure our channel managers have the knowledge they need to educate partners on the market.
Our channel managers engage partners in joint business planning.

All good ideas – although the devil is definitely in the execution. Yet, despite trying these things and more, most of these channel leaders don’t believe their channel managers are viewed as Trusted Advisors. So what’s the missing ingredient in the secret sauce?

Study Reveals Core Behavior Gap
Our 2014 Channel Enablers Channel Competency Study suggests that many channel organizations already know the answer – and it’s a universal one. Mastering this behavior will help your channel managers regardless of whether their territory is in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Asia or the Pacific. It’s not often you get this kind of leverage from one behavior. Better still, it’s a behavior most of us already know how to do fairly well, even if we don’t put it into practice often enough.

Across all three regions we studied: The Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific, channel leaders agreed that listening was key to influencing achieving results through a channel organization and they all needed to get better at consistently applying effective questioning and listening to build trusted relationships.

The performance gap in listening reminds me a bit of Jan DeLeon’s post A Blessing in Disguise. If we’re still trying to create the secret sauce for turning channel managers into Trusted Advisors, better to know the missing ingredient than to just keep trying different things. (Or, the same thing over and over, expecting different results.)

Of course, listening doesn’t mean we sit there like a bump on a log while our channel partners pours out their story. Not only would it be unproductive, getting most channel partners to open up is going to take a little more effort than that. Active listening is key. Channel managers need to ask the right questions. They need to paraphrase what they heard to make sure they understood – and to demonstrate they want to understand. Then they need to ask more questions.

What makes this so hard is that most sales professionals, and channel managers are no exception, want to lead the conversation to a predetermined outcome. They know what information they need or what actions they want the partner to take, and their questions are designed to achieve the goal via the shortest route possible. If a channel manager is responsible for sixty or seventy partners, the behavior is at least understandable.

However, as in life, if you don’t pay attention to the journey, you’re going to miss the most important bits. Often, it’s what the partners say that is “off script” that gives the greatest clues as to what’s important to them. Understanding these unexpected perspectives will help the channel manager work with the partner work to craft a common vision for success.

Not All Partners Are Equal
Some of you may be thinking, but we already listen to our partners! In fact, I’m sure you can all think of at least one partner who refuses to be ignored. The idea of using active listening techniques and actually asking questions that will just encourage them to keep talking (or complaining) can turn your stomach.

And it should! At the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me say it once more. Not all partners are equal. You want to listen to your Achievers because they can teach you about their success and what you can do to help them reach even higher heights. You need to listen to your Believers because these are the channel partners who want to get to the next level and are willing to commit the resources. These are the partners where the role of Trusted Advisor takes on the most meaning. But you want to minimize the time you spend listening to your Deceivers, those partners who lay the entire blame for their underperformance at your feet and are unwilling to make a commitment to improving performance.

If you’d like a copy of the 2014 Channel Enablers Channel Competency Study Executive Summary, you can request it here. If you haven’t already registered for our Partner Manager Resource Center you will need to do that first. However, it’s fast, free and easy – and gives you access to some great channel management resources.
Last modified on 9/24/2014 12:26:08 AM
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