Category Archives: Big Business

The Chief Partner Officer

After selling my technology-focused agency in 2008, I took some time off from IT in order to explore other business ventures.  About a year ago, craving the adrenaline of the technology industry, I returned.  Much to my shock, not much has changed.

Don’t get me wrong, technology clearly advanced while I was away and innovation, a hallmark of our industry, continues stronger than ever.  Oh yes, and there is the ubiquitous “cloud” and all the disruption that’s caused.  But from a channel management perspective–how we engage with, motivate and support channel partners–it’s business as usual.

I believe now is the time for change. After thinking about it for a long while, I declare that I’m running for the office of Chief Partner Officer (CPO).  To change the status quo of channel management, my platform as the CPO within a technology vendor is as follows:

  • I will use my small business skills, expertise and success to help channel partners systematically improve their businesses
  • I will focus on the channel partners’ businesses and not my company and its products/services
  • I will not only suggest changes, but will have an on-going, business relationship with my channel partners to ensure they make change happen
  • I will have my channel partners’ best interest in mind because I know their success means success for my company
  • I will not carry a quote as a measure of my channel partners’ success or value to my company, but rather be evaluated on the year-over-year percentage growth of my channel partners’ businesses
  • I will have a confidential relationship with my channel partners so that honesty and transparency are the cornerstone of our relationship

As it was before my IT hiatus, so it is now:  most channel partners fail or do not grow adequately due to common business challenges.

For many of the mid-sized and smaller channel partners that typically constitute 45% of a vendor’s channel ecosystem, they are but one bad business decision away from disaster.  Or worse yet, they don’t make the investments to improve or grow their businesses for fear of a disaster.

Hiring, firing, marketing, financial discipline and organization, sales, collections, social media, customer management, growth, payroll, cash flow are a lot of any small business owner to navigate.  However, for our channel partners, the stresses of business are further compounded by the rapid change of technology and vendor policies and procedures.  Often channel partners find themselves alone to face these challenges, with little support from the key vendors on which they’ve built a business.

The vendor’s response?  The infamous channel manager.  An individual whose only interest in the partners’ success is tied to his/her quota.  And, more times than not, a person who’s never owned or operated any type of business.  All too often channel managers are fresh out of college, naively trying to impose finance 101 theories on partners.

For those channel partners who commit to a vendor, they deserve more than a channel manager, some airline miles and sporadic MDF.  Partners are the foundation of any technology vendor’s business.  If valued and properly supported, channel partners will grow their businesses and by default that of their top vendors.

Harsh?  Radical?  Some may think so.  As for me, I believe the time of the CPO is now.  Do I have your vote?

Through a Channel Partner’s Eyes

A couple of weeks I had the privilege of leading a workshop at Channel Focus, a premier technology conference organized by my good friends at Baptie and Company (www.baptie.com).   The title of my session was, “Through the Eyes of a Partner – What Do They Want from a Channel Account Manager?”

When I was offered the opportunity to speak, I had to think a bit about the subject matter. While Channel Focus is a technology conference, the topic really lends itself to any industry. Given my business experience in multiple, non-technology industries, I reflected on the topic from a business perspective. What would I want form anyone calling on me?

As a business owner, I’m not asking for too much by expecting my account manager to:

  1. Selectively drink the company Kool-aid
  2. Understand the market
  3. Understand my business
  4. Care about my customers
  5. Fight for me
  6. Have key personal attributes

Selectively Drink the Company Kool-aid

  • Your marketing department is paid to make your company look good–your company is not good at everything
  • Be honest with me and my staff about what your company is good at and what you suck at
  • Help me sell the positive and around the negative
  • I know this business and industry pretty good—don’t insult my intelligence

Understand the Market

  • Provide insights into where the market is headed and how my business can capitalize on those trends
  • Know complimentary vendors and partners and how they can help me make more money and service my customers better
  • The competition: what they do well and areas where I can beat them…the real truth
  • Know the behavior of the customers I target—i.e., what, how, why, when and where do they buy

Understand My Business

  • It’s margin, not revenue, that matters to me
  • Profitability, not selling, is paramount
  • I have limited resources: cash, people and time
  • Don’t tell me what you learned at Stanford Business School, if you never ran a business
  • Do you know what a P&L and balance sheet are?
  • Customize company plans/objectives to match my business model

Care About My Customers

  • Go on joint sales calls with me
  • It’s my customer…let me lead and be supportive
  • Coach me: the good, bad and ugly
  • Always keep me in the loop when communicating directly with my customer…better yet, communicate through me
  • Help educate my customers on the benefits of the technology and not the features
  • Let the customer know that you have my back…and theirs

Fight for Me

  • Have the authority to get things done and use it when needed
  • Help me gain access to your company’s resources and people that can help my business
  • Showcase me and my business
  • Get me special pricing/terms when I really need it
  • Don’t carry a direct quota

Have Key Personal Attributes

  • Be easy to do business with and remove your company-imposed friction
  • Available and responsive
  • Take ownership and responsibility and be truly objective
  • Solve problems just as enthusiastically as you sell
  • Integrity and transparency
  • Be an expert at something that helps me
  • Anticipate next steps, be proactive
  • Lead by example, don’t ask me to do what you can’t or don’t want to do

Bottom line, help me sell and make money by selecting or specifying your products over the other alternatives available to me in the market.

Being a channel manager is not an easy proposition. A good channel manager is a combination of sales, business development, account, alliance, marketing and product manager. But a good channel manager can make all the difference for your company and to your channel partners.

It’s Marketing, Not Magic

My dear friend and mentor, Bruce Cummings, told me a long time ago, “Marketing is 99% percent spreadsheet work and 1% inspiration.” Although Bruce is no longer with us, his words ring true every time I set out to create a marketing campaign or consult with clients on their marketing objectives.

Recently, I took on the role of marketing chair at SCORE, a non-profit that provides free business mentoring to small and medium-sized business. As a volunteer, I lead a group of 11 other volunteers who also graciously give of their time to market the services of the Miami-Dade SCORE Chapter.

The SCORE experience is personally gratifying on many levels, but two reasons standout in particular. First, given that everyone is a volunteer, I can’t be as demanding and critical as I would normally be–yes, patience is a virtue. The second thing is that most of the volunteers have little or no marketing experience, forcing me to spend a lot of time “teaching” marketing.

I’ve always “done” marketing and worked with employees who were hired to do a job, with the corresponding skill set and motivation to carry out the work. Yes, I mentored and taught a bit, but the work product and results is ultimately what mattered. But, of course, the work at SCORE is very different.

Just the other day, the programs group (I organized our team as a marketing department) presented their Q1 marketing plan. I needed the plan in order to secure the corresponding budget. It was a noble effort, but fell way short of my expectations, especially since I had to present the plan to the executive committee. Then it hit me–I failed the programs group! I assumed they knew what to do and how to do it. I was forced to take a step back and start with the basics, which lead to the creation of this Reverse Marketing Pyramid.

With limited time, both on my end and that of the volunteers, I wanted to find a quick way to explain the mechanics of marketing. I wanted them to understand that marketing is systematic, hard, calculated work and not magic. I presented the Reverse Marketing Pyramid to the programs group members, explaining every element in the graphic and how one flows from the other, as you work your way up the pyramid. I happy to report that their response was, “Ah, now I get this.” I’m very optimistic that version two of the Q1 plan will exceed all expectations and get funded.

Alphabet Soup

To this day, I’m a terrible speller. It’s all Campbell Soups’ fault. A spellchecker should have been standard issue in the can. Lucky for us in the channel, we have three-letter acronyms for everything. This makes spelling really easy but not so good when it comes to clarity.

I know most, if not all of these, sound familiar to you: VAR, MSP, ISV, OEM, SI, VAD, SP, LAR, LSP…you get the picture. It’s always easy to “label” something. In this way, we can all agree on what we are talking about. It’s a channel language that no one else speaks except for us clever channel people. Hell, ask my mom what “VAD” means, and she is likely to think it’s some bad word she’s never heard of.

Ah, but therein lies the problem–we can’t agree on anything. We need a meaning checker for channel acronyms. We see the letters. We recognize the letters. We form a mental picture with the letters. But ask channel people for definitions of these acronyms, and likely not many of us would agree. It’s a problem I’ve experienced since day one in the channel business.

When talking with partners, I never ask what they call themselves. It’s like asking my pretentious friend to describe herself–i.e., whatever she says is her opinion and not necessarily what I would say. When engaging a channel partner, I simply ask, “How do you make money? Products? Services? How much of each?”


Taking an MSP, for example, and plot it on this graphic. I bet where I plot an MSP will be very different than where you plot the same MSP, which will likely be different from where the MSP plots itself. But if we specifically asked, “How much of your revenue comes from product vs. services?” we would likely all agree on where to plot MSP.

A few weeks ago, Gary Bixler, an esteemed channel colleague, asked, “Carlos, conceptually, what is the difference between an SI and an MSP?” Even as the channel geek that I am, I’ve never been asked this question. So, I paused and thought for a little bit. My response to Gary was, “It depends”.

I know many SIs that consider themselves MSPs. Conversely, there are MSPs that see themselves as SIs. So my “depends” has to do with how a channel partner makes money and not how its labeled. From a business standpoint this is the most critical factor to consider, particularly when it comes to recruiting partners. If a channel partner’s primary revenue source is from services, for example, what services are provided and how they are delivered is really immaterial. The reality is that a partner’s business model and subsequent structure (organizational, financial, etc.) is based on its primary revenue source.

So next time someone blurts out a channel partner acronym, stop and engage in a conversation about business models. If you don’t, you could end up like my mom.

It’s Not the Problem, It’s the Solution

“It’s not the problem, but how you react to it.” How many times have you heard that? Personally, it’s easier said than done. But it seems just as challenging in business.

I love Hotels.com. The site is easy to navigate, informative and super flexible for bookings and cancellations. I also love their rewards program; it’s simple: stay 10 nights and get one free. That’s it, no points and no fine print. And, as much as I travel, I can almost forecast how many free nights I’ll earn per year and when.

In all my time using Hotels.com, I’ve yet to have an issue. As such, I never had a reason to call customer service. Of course, Murphy was looking over my shoulder the whole time, and the day came when an issue surfaced. Naturally, like a kid going to the dentist, I dreaded making the customer service call.

“Thank you for calling. We value you as a customer. Please input your member number; your booking ID, your birthday; the name of your first cat; and the color of your car. Oops, I did not seem to get that. Please try again. Sorry, there are no agents available…call again. Thank you for calling. We value your business.”

You get the picture. But lo and behold, my love affair with Hotels.com continues!

You see, I made a non-cancelable/non-changeable booking, which I accidently cancelled. With not much hope, I called to see if anything could be done to recover my $600. The fine young man at Hotels.com, John, called the hotel which happened to be in Denmark. No dice; the hotel would not budge on their policy. Just when it looked like all was lost, John proved that it’s the solution that matters. He credited my credit card for $200 and gave me a $100 credit for my next booking. You rock, John!

So here is a policy that really sucks, in my opinion. For bookings through third-party sites, like Hotels.com, the major hotel chains do not credit points to their loyalty program. Blows my mind since you’re still staying at their properties…but that’s another topic. I was not aware of this policy until a few months ago, when I happened to look at my Hilton and Marriott accounts.

By this time, I had multiple stays at Hilton and Marriott properties, booked through Hotels.com. So, I contact Hilton to see what gives and what could be done. The customer service rep politely explained the policy, further telling me there are no exceptions to the policy. However, as a valued customer of Hilton, she felt a credit of 10,000 points to my account was the least Hilton could do. I was in shock!

By now you’re probably wondering, what about Marriott? You know what happened with them? Nothing! No validation of me being a valued customer. No credit. No nothing. That’s cool. I now see where I stand with Marriott.

But the top award for getting the solution wrong goes to Porsche.

I own a Porsche. Now, If you own a Porsche, or any luxury import, you know that the ride does not come cheap. Maintenance on these babies can be expensive and heaven forbid a major mechanical breakdown. My friends often needle me about how much time my car spends in the shop. But that’s OK, small price to pay for the enjoyment of going fast with the top down.

But seriously, with only 80,000 miles, my car’s water pump has been replaced at least four times. Unacceptable according to my car fanatic, former Porsche sales person, friend Eddy. So, Eddy encouraged me to write a letter to the fine folks at Porsche. Naturally, Eddy and I reasoned that such a prestigious brand would be concerned about this issue and their valued customer.

Here is the verbatim response from Porsche customer service:

“Your warranty exists for a specified time and mileage to cover manufacturing defects. Once this period has elapsed we feel it is reasonable that an owner begin to assume responsibility for needed repairs. However, Porsche does review cases outside of warranty for possible financial assistance, considering age, mileage, care of the vehicle, and loyalty to your dealership and the Porsche brand.  

In order to ensure your request is given due consideration, we ask you to contact the Service Manager at your Porsche dealer who, after verifying and reviewing pertinent facts with Porsche Cars North America, can advise what, if any, goodwill assistance is available to you. Thank you for contacting Porsche Cars North America.”

Here is my response back to them:

“The incorrect assumption here is that I want or need any kind of “goodwill assistance”. I’m bringing this issue to the attention of Porsche as a brand promise failure. When one buys a Porsche, it’s clearly understood that the cost of proper maintenance will be high. However, having to replace a water pump at least four times during an 80,000 period is totally unacceptable by any measure.

If Porsche cares to discuss this matter any further, for its benefit and NOT mine, the company can contact me. And if the company does not contact me, you can rest assured I will pay no such visit to the dealer, and I will never buy a Porsche again.”

Can you hear the crickets?

So no more Porsche road trips for a stay at a Marriott property for this fellow. I guess I’ll continue to book Hilton through Hotels.com and ride my bike.

Engaging and Managing Existing Partners

Many companies make the mistake in thinking that channel partner management ends the minute a partner is in the fold.  Recruiting partners is likely the easiest part of the model, which includes:  recruitment, engagement, enablement, management and motivation.  Once recruited, proper engagement and active management, done internally or via an outsourced provider, are critical for the future revenue contribution of those partners to your company.  Click here for the rest of the post.

Recruiting Channel Partners

Recruiting the right types and number of channel partners is critical to the growth of any company in any industry.  Part art and largely hard work, recruiting partners is a systematic process that should be an on-going part of your business.  Why on-going?  Partners fail and change over time.  In addition to this, your company changes and introduces new products.  It all starts with capacity planning in order to determine the number and types of partners needed.  Click here to read the rest of the post