Channel Managers - be the conductor of the orchestra, not the solo performer

When it comes to relationships with your partners, it is important to build a web of relationships at all levels within the partner organisation, not only by yourself, but with many others in your company. Rather than being the star soloist, aim to be the conductor of your own orchestra. 

I am frequently surprised by the number of channel managers who boast to me that they don't let their senior management, or others in their company,  get involved with their partners. The simple fact is, you could be making your life a lot easier. When I ask a Channel Manager why they don't involve more people from their company, reasons generally tend to include 1) My manager is a moron, 2) They don't leave the office, 3) I don't have enough time, and many more excuses. Rather than trying to do all the heavy lifting yourself, once you have a relationship map in full operation, you'll actually be surprised at how much time you have.

You may have heard the term, work on your business, not in, your business. Successful channel managers view their territory as their own business and this is a healthy way to view your partners. By trying to run your business by yourself, you are working IN the business, not ON the business. Sure, you can put a lot of time and effort in and you may boost sales in your business over a period of time. When you work ON your business, you are multiplying what your business can do by being more effective and efficient and thereby not only increasing the business, but also increasing the value of it.

As a channel manager, not only are you having to grow sales, but you are also having to protect sales from other vendors. So you have to have a strategic plan that covers growth AND protection; building walls around your business and strengthening the foundations of what you are building. One of the simplest ways of doing this is by developing a relationship map for each of your partners and then bringing it into action. This will move you from being a solo performer to that of the conductor of your own orchestra. To anyone who has been to a live performance of an orchestra, you will agree that in full flight, it is something much more powerful than the soloist. In building a relationship map, you will be taking on a leadership role that will not only build and protect your business, but make you stand out among your company and your partners. In my experience, this is something that less than 5% of channel managers take the time to do, but it is was separates great channel managers from good, or hard working ones.

The Relationship Map

To build and protect your business, you want to build a spiderweb of relationships between your partners and your company. The benefits of this include building a wall to ward of competitors, allowing business to function when you are away, protection when things go wrong (which they will), and to build a larger business.

To put this into operation, you will need a list of everyone in your partners, and their roles, and the same in your business. You should have this already (!) but surprisingly, some channel managers only focus on sales teams. Now you need to map equivalent roles from your partners to your company. For example, all the people classified as sales at both companies, all classified as marketing etc. This also extends through the management ranks. So sales managers, operations, logistics, finance etc. Your objective here is that every "like" person in your company, knows their equivalent in your partners. It is then up to you to facilitate meetings on a regular basis between everyone. This may sound tough and a lot of work at first, it is, but once you have this running it will create a powerful web of relationships and it will be up to you to keep them going.

Cxx to Cxx

One of the easiest places to start is to facilitate meetings at Cxx level. You want your CEO to know your partner CEO's, your CFO to know your partner CFO's etc. Ideally, if you can get your CEO to spend a day with you as you go from partner to partner or at least just set the meetings up and let them have the meetings on their own. After the meetings, if you are not present, you MUST speak personally to each and get any feedback or action points so that you can monitor any tasks that are derived from the meetings. I would suggest quarterly, or bi-annual meetings between Cxx levels.

Division Heads/Department Managers

At this level, aim for a minimum quarterly meeting. Examples of this include marketing leads, national sales managers and the like. Like the Cxx meetings, make sure you follow up with participants on BOTH sides to capture discussion points and action items. If you need to do anything, put them in your task management system. If someone in your company needs to follow up, make sure you issue them the task and keep an eye on its progress.

Sales Teams

These ones are generally easier to organise and you want to aim for these to happen on a cycle of every two to three months. Ways to do this include "drinks and pizza" after an update to the sales team at each partner. The point here is not to stand still, but to introduce people to each other. If you have a sales person at your company focused on government accounts, make sure you introduce that person to each sales person at your partner who works on government accounts. Same for enterprise, commercial or however else you categorise accounts. This all sounds simple enough, but you need to spend a bit of preparation time sorting out who needs to know who. This is best done when you can sit down with the sales manager of each of your partners and together, go through pairings that need to happen. I've done this on many occasions, and you can almost liken it to speed dating! I have taken part in evens where the partner sales manager and myself had organised 5 x 15 minute rounds with people that we wanted to "matchup" in a business sense. It was great fun, and everyone enjoyed "speed dating". In this format, the people sitting together discuss various accounts, strategies and decide on areas they can work together. Any matches, or opportunities, are written down and handed to you as the channel manager.

Take the time to speak (not email) with everyone from your company and the partner over the next several days to get feedback, capture action items and to get ideas on how they could be improved. You will also uncover opportunities that have shaken out, and agreements that have been made to jointly target particular customers. It is important to capture all of this. In the previous paragraph, the example of speed dating with a running sheet of agreed match-ups can make this easier.

The Next Round

At the end of each meeting, have the date for the next meeting agreed on. Where this is not possible, for example, with CEO's, make sure you have the personal assistants contact each other to establish the next meetings as quickly as possible. For the sales team gatherings, organise this with sales managers within a week of each previous one.

Transitioning to the role of Conductor

By building multiple relationships, at all levels, you are building your business in multiple ways. 

1. People prefer to do business with people they know. If your two sales teams don't know each other, than they are unlikely to pick up the phone and spontaneously start working together. This  relationship mapping will provide the spark for you. 

2. Your competitors will start to find a virtual wall being built in front of them making it harder to generate business. Remember, the vast majority of channel managers do not go to the trouble of relationship mapping and will find it increasingly difficult to climb the wall you have created. 

3. This will give you greater visibility in your partners, and within your own organisation, and you will start to stand out as a channel leader not only in your company, but in your industry. This makes you valuable. 

4. This will start to free up your time so you can get on with the strategic plays you have identified in the partner scorecard (see previous article here). By the way, the actions you have identified from the scorecard are great talking points for your CEO when meeting with your partners.

Once you have your relationship map in full swing, you will no longer be the lone soloist playing to your partners: You will be the conductor of the orchestra that is made up of people from your company and your partners.

Enjoy the music you create, and like any orchestra, keep practising!

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