I am about to commit blasphemy in the eyes of channel model purists who tend to be suspicious of any (and I mean ANY) interaction between vendor salespeople and prospective/existing customers. Here goes: The concept that a company, ANY company, can be 100 percent channel-driven is a myth.
No, before you go rallying the lynch mobs, let me explain.
Over the past few years, there’s been a lot of talk about the role of VARs as “trusted advisors” to their customers. (More on that in a future blog; a great VAR/solution provider executive that I know is actually publishing a book on this subject.) Let me suggest that we take the role of trusted advisor one step further: the job of any vendor channel account manager (CAM) is to be a trusted advisor to his or her partners. That means helping communicate the overall vision of the company they represent (this is a two-way dialogue by the way, since CAMs really should be feeding partner perspective back into their companies). It also means helping partners engage better with the person who REALLY matters the most: that would be the person who ultimately will use whatever stuff it is that’s being sold.
How can a CAM possible represent the customer’s point of view if they never call on existing or prospective customers?
Wendy Petty, vice president of North America sales for storage virtualization company Falconstor, says that in the current economy it’s more important than ever for VARs, CAMs and vendor sales teams to talk to potential buyers so that they can understand the same paint points that Falconstor and its partners are collectively trying to address. She personally spends half her time with partners and half her time with customer accounts. (You’ll notice that there is no “channel” in Wendy’s title.) “I believe that I need to understand what’s going. The heart of our business is the end user,” she says.
Sure, she gets plenty of other feedback via her partners, but this is straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Mind you, many of the calls she makes to customers are WITH Falconstor partners, which makes all the difference from a trust perspective. By the way, Falconstor just hired 7 new sales people to support its field engagement efforts (there are about 30 or so total).
The key to making this work is transparency, some well-established ground rules about account ownership, and a little blind faith. It also helps if you have a discrete number of partners to manage. (Falconstor is focused on about 120 or so).
Personally speaking, especially in the existing economic climate, the vendors and partner ecosystems that will do the best are the ones that keep sniping and subterfuge to a minimum and keep focused on what the buyer needs. In that sense, you can’t just rely on either a vendor sales person OR a channel partner to get things done. This environment will test the notion of partnership and I’m betting we’ll come out the other side with a vastly reconstructed view of what it means to be “channel-centric.”