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Running A Channel Means Juggling 5 Bosses



In honor of March, CRN is running it’s Channel Chief bracket competition.  I assume everybody is like me and participating, so to help I thought it would be useful to discuss some of the traits of the best channel leaders in today’s market.


Successful channel leaders all recognize 5 truths:

  1. It is all about revenue
  2. They are accountable to many different leaders
  3. Base decisions on data and not purely on gut instinct
  4. Developing relationships is key
  5. Success means relying on others

It is all about revenue

For any sales organization and leader, their measure of success ultimately comes down to revenue.  That doesn’t mean things like share growth in key markets aren’t important, but the long term play has to be revenue.

Focusing on revenue in both the short and long term gives a channel leader a lens to view the rest of their business. 

"Don't mistake Activity for achievement" - John Wooden

From John Wooden to Mark Hurd it’s been said many times, and is true in both sports and business.  

Since revenue is the ultimate accountability of any sales organization, it lets you look at whether a program or incentive is actually valuable or something that is being done because it has been in place for years.  Similarly, they focus their business around the partners that drive the best results and not just lifestyle partners that have been around forever.

The best channel chiefs are able to keep their eye on the ball focused on what matters.

Developing relationships is key

Unlike a direct sales force, a partner channel is based on influence rather than control.  While influence can come from the right business or incentive model and a product set that compliments the partner; you can’t underestimate the value of a relationship.

Today’s market is changing faster than ever.  Successful channel leaders convince their partners to join them on a journey, whether it is the shift to cloud, consumption based pricing or migrating to their next gen product.  And in order to have the partner join, requires trust.  Trust that you know what you have vision, trust that you can execute on it, and trust that you have their interests in mind as well.   The best channel leaders have the empathy to see the world from the partner’s perspective and take the initiative to work with them. 

If you only look at your partner’s business as a short term tool, you will fail at developing an actual relationship.

They are accountable to many different leaders

Building trust and relationships ultimately means that the channel chief has some accountability to their partner executives as well.

Being accountable to your partners means visibility and commitment.  They are transparent about where they are going, give notice to bring them along and are steady in their path.  While it is fine to change course when necessary, you need to be predictable since building a business around another company takes time.

It is important to call out accountability is a two-way street.  Great channel chiefs hold their partner’s accountable for target’s as well.  If a partner meets the agreed targets, they get rewarded with incentives and resources.  If the partner doesn’t, they hold them accountable and reduce the support in the future.

If your partner channel doesn’t feel like you are accountable, you will fail at getting them to bet on your business in the long term.

Base decisions on data and not purely on gut instinct

The traditional approach to decision making of most sales organizations, both direct and indirect has been gut instinct.  That is changing with all of the data and analytics that are out there today. 

The best channel chiefs recognize that using the latest data to understand what partners are the strongest, most committed and providing the best return on things like contra revenue is a critical competitive advantage.  It lets you maneuver today’s market with confidence and build long term plans around long term partners.

Although gut instinct and intuition are important, relying on gut instinct means you are gambling with your business

Success means relying on others

Abraham Lincoln had his team of rivals and the best channel leaders do as well.  That doesn’t mean that they are surrounded by a team competing with them, but that being around and relying on smart people is critical to success. 

Between the rapidly changing market landscape, constant product innovation, and the overabundance of data without insight; only be relying on others can even the best channel chief make the best decisions.

The Spur Group

The Spur Group

Turn customer, partner, and employee experiences into competitive advantages.