Saturday, March 14, 2015

So, you want to be a Channel Chief?

The head of indirect channels for an organization is (by far) the best job an individual could hope for!

Spending your time traveling the world to glorious destinations, hosting parties and galas for partners, spending millions of dollars in marketing funds, and trying to drive more boondoggles than last year.

All this while not being held accountable to senior management.

Perhaps it sounds too good to be true.

But wait, it gets better…

What could be easier than dealing with people who are passionate about your products and want to promote them to the world? How hard could it be recruiting this fan base and keeping them motivated by dozens of expensive programs? Oh, and look at that, another industry magazine just put you on the cover!

Sounds good so far, but how do Chiefs get a free pass internally from management?

Easy. Channels tend to be nebulous – not only hard to measure because of their indirect nature, but time-delayed as you are collecting data through a complicated multi-tier supply chain. Sales in, sales out, end user reporting, return on invested capital…these are metrics that confuse even the best CEO.

The VP of Sales gets the brunt of the pressure because direct sales are easy to measure, forecast and build KPI’s around. And most CEO’s out there didn’t rise through indirect channels. In most cases they were engineers, direct sales leaders or financial people.

So, are you trying to make the case that a Channel Chief is basically a rock star without responsibility or accountability?

Not quite.

These common perceptions actually make the job harder. The average tenure of a Chief is only about 4 years – contrast that to the average CEO at 8.1 years. If the job was that great and liberating – why the short stay?

1. Channels take a very long time to develop. Trying to explain to a CEO who is (very publicly) measured quarterly that developing an effective channel takes years is not a very popular conversation.

2. The indirect organization is usually the red-headed stepchild. Getting access to top people, technology, resources or investments is last in line behind the sales, marketing and product teams.

3. The Rodney Dangerfield Effect. Because it is not understood by other executives, it can be glossed over in senior management and board reviews. While the commitment to channel differs by company, the attention it gets is, in many cases, out of alignment.

The end result is a high pressure job, without adequate support and dubious respect.

A Channel Chief is a part-time sales leader, marketer, finance and operations exec, lawyer, motivator, counsellor, trainer, product manager, strategist, economist, support agent and futurist.

A day in the life looks like an exercise in chaos. From contracts to rules of engagement, portal and PRM management to co-marketing and MDF return of investment. From segmentation to capacity planning, distribution, multi-tier and margin matrix. From managing back-end dollars to conflict. From education, training and certification to solution alignment and communication. From pre- and post-sales and technical support to fraud, partner satisfaction and endless customizations. From community management to motivation, loyalty and partner-friendly value propositions. From deal registrations to running partner advisory councils. From development of battle cards and competitive education to driving co-branding, co-selling and co-marketing initiatives. From controlling global branding to delivering a demo, try-and-buy and loaner program. From producing partner friendly product roadmaps to securing sales in, sales out and end user reporting from dozens of partner segments. From managing industry, geographic and technology verticals to optimizing distribution routes to market. From simplifying growth and new customer programs to making sure that your company is protected from gray and black markets. From administering international rules, regulations and legislation to ensure all collateral, communication and media is translated around the world. From observing pricing and fairness laws and norms to making sure the program is represented across social media, email, web, newsletters, and search engines. From attending dozens of tradeshows to publishing whitepapers, e-books, technical briefs and reference books. From integrating the PRM, portal and other tools into the companies back end to mediating internal conflict and deference. From representing the company in industry associations, peer groups and expert panels to making sure that RMA’s, rebates, MDF and loyalty payments are issued correctly. From engaging the industry media and bloggers to making sure that Channel Account Managers are deployed and managed correctly. From budgeting, forecasting and benchmarking to nurturing, converting and recruiting. From developing and accelerating top partners to developing an MVP program. From educating internal stakeholders to being the external face of the company. From extending floor financing, credit terms to ensuring the appropriate recognition program is in place.

If this is the life of a rock star, perhaps it is not as fun and rewarding as we once thought!

It truly takes a special individual to step into the above chaos day in and day out and maintain a sense of humor.

So, do you still want to be a Channel Chief?