Who Drives Partner Growth: Channel Sales Managers vs. the “Community”

April 29, 2009 at 6:30 pm Leave a comment

Beth Vanni

Beth Vanni

The buzz about the power of social networking is almost inescapable.   At today’s Channel Focus North America conference here in San Diego, Luanne Tierney, the VP of Cisco’s Global Channel marketing function shared a great story about the power of “community collaboration”.  Her company’s CTO recently tailored her technology roadmap presentation within ½ hour before she presented it to a very important group of Cisco’s biggest customers.  But more interesting was that she did that from her hotel room based on feedback she was getting from a dozen loyal Twitter followers.  Talk about tapping into the “community” and responding!

As usual, this Channel Focus conference tries to understand trends in channel development and enablement.  Which partner types are vendors investing in?  How are their channel programs driving growth?  Well, this year’s conference is really conflicted around the topic of how to impact partner growth.   There are two very divided camps – one that is struggling with all the age-old issue of the Channel Sales Manager role and how they drive partner engagement, loyalty and growth.   The other group is focused completely on the stimulating and vendor-independent power of partner “communities”  as a means for partners to expand their associations and grow.

The debate was around how much vendors can impact the partners’ success through good communication, joint marketing and business planning assistance – the kind of stuff that Channel Sales Mangers are typically tasked with managing.  This group was struggling with how to do battle with their CFO’s to  defend their CSM headcount, how to build good metrics and dashboards for CSMs to track, and how to pay their CSMs in a way that makes them even more accountable to drive partner growth.   Their assertion – LinkedIn has become just another way for vendors to “SPAM” partners for mindshare and that on-line communities are good locators, but are not yet having a material impact on partners selling and delivering collaboratively. For this group, their lifeline to their partners  were those CSMs – be they effective or not.

The innovators, however, argued that vendors continue to be too technology-focused and myopic about their own agendas, product messages and revenue goals – that their reps cannot get out of their own way.  They argue that partners with complementary skills and customer sets are finding each other every day and teaming at both the deal and strategic levels.  They find each other at industry networking events, on-line and through bumping into each other within customer engagements.  They communicate with like-minded business people through things like the new Salesforce.com CCAP program (Cloud Computing Acceleration Program).  This camp didn’t say good solid vendor account management wasn’t important in driving growth.  But, they assert that finding vendors that do it effectively was difficult and that it generally paled in comparison to the organic power of P2P community synergy.

As usual, I don’t think these approaches to driving growth are mutually exclusive.   One is an age-old issue of field coverage and role definitions which gets debated in various forms every year.   The second is an emerging communication and technology trend that I’m sure will mature and morph significantly over the next 3-5 years.   Further, there are still vendor agendas even in the “community”  conversation – those with social sites, collaboration tools and networking events of their own.

The trend toward on-line collaboration, “virtual” events and on-line training doesn’t solve the fundamental problem that many partners have with vendor channel programs – one that this conference’s partner panel members on Monday articulated so clearly.  “Frankly, when it comes to training and onboarding partners, most vendors really suck” was the exact quote from more than one panelist.   The feeling that some vendors don’t understand their partners’ business models or program needs isn’t going to be solved through on-line collaboration OR having more channel account managers.

I just hope we don’t stop talking about the real issue here …. that is, studying how people form relationships and build trust – what motivates them to be inspired and invest resources.  The debate about how to answer it will rage on…..

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Entry filed under: Industry Perspective, Live from Events.

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