Great Partner Engagement Begins With The Channel Manager

By Seth Jacobsen Posted on 8/9/16, 5:30 PM

For any organization focused on an indirect sales model, one of the single most important roles is that of the Channel Manager - the direct link between themselves and all their partner channels. In a sufficiently large ecosystem, they may actually be directly responsible for more departments and workers than anyone else below the COO!

A company selling through an indirect channel cannot build partner engagement without having a great channel manager actively engaging those partners. That's why it's so important to recognize just how vital the Channel Manager role is, and to ensure they have the right tools and resources they need to do their job.

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A Channel Manager wears many hats at once. They include...

...salesperson

...relationship builder

...psychologist

...organizer

...marketer

...teacher

...roubleshooter

...technical liaison

The list can go on.

It Starts With The Right Person

A good Channel Manager, like other key roles such as the CMO or VP of Sales, must be able to maintain good relationships in order to be successful. They should be enthusiastic, outgoing, flexible, creative, and ready for a job whose demands can shift radically every day.

It requires a very diverse skillset. From being able to deploy complex training initiatives alongside a new product launch, to handling disputes between partners and the direct sales team, every day for a Channel Manager may bring a new challenge. That takes a special kind of person, and it's not a job which should be assigned without plenty of forethought.

And of course, they need be seeking out new partners and pushing sales growth throughout all of this.

Having An Ideal Partner Profile

For companies in the "emerging growth" phase of building partner relationships, there's a strong urge to sign up any and all partners. It's understandable enough. They want more sales, and aren't too picky about who delivers.

The problem is, this is a good way to end up with partners who drastically underperform. Focusing on quantity over quality is one of the most common pitfalls around building a successful channel.

READ MORE: Emerging Growth Companies - Building a Successful Indirect Sales Channel

This can be prevented simply by starting with your channel revenue goals. From there, work backwards to determine how many of your ideal partners it would take to achieve those goals. It might slow your growth at first, but it means laying a much stronger foundation for future success. 

Create Clear And Realistic Goals - But Be Flexible

Another good way to end up with a stressed-out Channel Manager is to leave them wondering what exactly they're expected to be doing. They should always have clear expectations and goals for a particular month\quarter\year. Setting clear KPIs - Key Performance Indicators - in collaboration with your Channel Manager is a great way to accomplish this. These should be based in past performance, with achievable growth factored in.

However, always keep in mind that managing partners -much less keeping them engaged- is often a "herding cats" style problem. The greater autonomy of sales partners, compared to in-house sales teams, means that a Channel Manager will sometimes have very real practical limitations on their power. Be willing to listen if they're having difficulties, and look to help where possible.

Maintain Clear Lines Of Communication

We talk quite a bit about the importance of maintaining information flow and communication between partners, but that line of communication shouldn't stop at the Channel Manager. They, too, need plenty of access to both the CXO level, as well as to various other department heads.

They could need:

  • Access to engineers to build tech support documents
  • Input to R&D when reporting troubles end customers have
  • Collaboration with marketing to create cross-partner campaigns
  • Additional funding, since as the ecosystem grows, so too with their staff demands
  • Early knowledge of initiatives started at top levels, to begin preparing partners
  • Promotional materials, such as videos of production facilities, for training tools or outreach
  • Additional software tools and support from IT

Looking for more ways to empower your Channel Manager and engage your partners more effectively? A Partner Relationship Management (PRM) system could help. Contact us today to learn more or schedule your own guided demonstration now.

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