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Channel Matters Blog > May 2013 > Why partner executives don’t take your Channel Sales people seriously

Why partner executives don’t take your Channel Sales people seriously

by Corinne Bartow
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There are plenty of nice folks in Channel Sales roles.    They know their product and can position it against the competition. So why don’t partner executives really listen to them; why are their results so inconsistent and hard to forecast, and why must sales managers spend so much of their time holding their hands?

Ever witness someone who was obviously winging it?  Unless they were highly skilled and practiced, it probably was painful to watch and they were unlikely to have earned your trust and confidence.  Too many channel and partner management staff are left to wing it.  While they may be smart individuals, well versed in their own products and business, they receive little or no training in the specific skills that they need to deliver consistent, predictable results through partnerships.
 
Rarely are channels managers ineffective at selling to their partners.  Where they most often are challenged, once a partner is sold on working with you, is influencing the partner’s investments and then coaching them to success.   I think back to one of my staff from my first channel leadership role.  Walter understood the products very well and could readily position them versus the competition and articulate the value for the end client.  So what was he missing?   He struggled in understanding the partner’s business challenges and financial concerns.   And while his revenue results were strong some quarters, he struggled with consistency and his forecasts were often inaccurate.   
 
So given those challenges, when and why was Walter successful at times?  He had good people skills on a peer level and became buddies with a few of the partner’s sales people -- those that were happy to join him at the night clubs, especially when he was paying. They included him on deals out of friendship.  Where he fell short was in winning confidence and gaining investment from the executives at his partners’ firms.  They didn’t take him seriously; he didn’t speak their language and didn’t provide business value in their interactions with him.  Worse, they felt our competitors better understood their business challenges and were better able to help them succeed in meeting their own objectives.  At the time, I didn’t know how to teach him the skills he needed, and we had no access to training other than the sales training for our direct sellers.  As a result, I spent too much of my time going on calls with him to model my slightly more effective executive interactions.   In the end, I failed in transitioning Walter from a successful individual technical seller to a successful channel manager, and he ultimately left the company.
 
Many years later, with much more training and experience, I now know what I should have done in that situation to improve skills for both of us.   If I look at it from the perspective of a channel sales competency model, it’s clear that we lost a good employee not because he failed us, but because we failed him.
 
We didn’t have a competency model specific for our indirect sales personnel and had no process to identify skill gaps and target training to address the gaps.   I’ve thought a lot about the competencies that Walter needed to learn and how those skills could have complemented his basic sales skills.  With that he would have been a strong channel manager.
 
Selling skills are necessary in managing indirect sales partners, but it’s not the same as selling to an end customer.   Your partners are not buying your products or services for their own use, and they are not beholden to your offerings.  Partners have choices in what they promote to their customers and make decisions based on their own business imperatives.  What you need your channel managers to do is to identify what needs to change and then to influence partners to make those changes.   Typically those changes include investment from the partner, such as resources, training and marketing.   Channel managers need the business acumen to talk their language and influence skills to sell the supporting business case.  
 
Walter’s approach worked well with individual sellers.  But without a better understanding of his partner’s business issues and concerns, and the right language, he had no chance to influence executive level decisions.   And given the lack of training and personal development available to him, it’s not fair to expect he would have those skills. It was also a problem that Walter was personally engaged in every opportunity that his partners pursued.  Rather than creating leverage, he was essentially used as a product expert instead of a business advisor.  Partners weren’t able to sell independently because they never saw the big picture, the opportunity that would lead them to making their own investment in the skills and programs to grow their business around our solutions.
 
The best channel managers are able to sell, educate, influence and coach partners in a way that builds trust and confidence in the partnership.  The partners they manage make smart, effective investments and deliver predictable, consistent results.    In addition to basic sales and communication skills, these professionals have the relevant business acumen to gain credibility with their partner executives.   And the best apply both influence and coaching skills to lead partners to consistent business results.
 
Coaching partners is not about giving answers or advice.  After all, few channel managers have ever run a business as a C-level executive.  They simply haven’t walked in the shoes of their partners senior executives.  That said, the way we listen to and interact with partner executives often determines how well obstacles to shared success are identified and solved.   For most, these skills do not come naturally and require training and practice.   
 
At the core, all business relationships depend upon a high degree of trust and confidence to deliver results.    And while partner executives may personally like many of the channel managers they interact with, trusting them as true business partners won’t happen unless there is a clear ability to impact the business in a big way. You are competing for your business partner’s mind share.  Don’t leave your channel managers to waste their executive partners’ time or wing it.  Define what “doing it right” for your company means, then make sure your channel staff has the structure, aptitudes, and investment to actually do it right.   You might need expert help, but like many other employee development investments, this one is sure to benefit your business.
 
Last modified on 9/10/2014 12:02:07 PM
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