Ask anyone who works in the channel and you will soon find that two schools of thought exist. One says that channel sales and marketing are merely offshoots of their mainstream brethren and do not require specialist knowledge. The second school asserts that channel business is a discipline in its own right and demands specialist training and certification.
Business training in areas such as channel management and channel marketing has traditionally been provided by employers or consulting companies on an ad hoc basis, leaving a major skills and knowledge gap in the industry. This has been particularly true for new entrants to the profession, who typically come from end-user sales or marketing. These professionals are often recent graduates who are “thrown in at the deep end” of channel management and partner marketing, or simply put through an employer’s own training academy that rarely focuses on industry-wide best practices.
Research was published by the Channel Institute showing the importance to employers of channel management certification for both new hires and career progression. The Channel Institute polled more than 400 Channel VP’s and Directors at large technology companies to learn what they look for when hiring new Channel Account Managers. There were two surprising results: “Innovation & Creativity” and “Commitment to the channel”. These were accompanied by the more commonly expected factors of “Business Acumen”, “Relationship Building” and “Flexible Delivery”.
Innovation and Creativity.
This is not something that was highlighted in previous research by third parties, but innovation and creativity is a skill that appears to have jumped up the rankings. Heads of Channel want to know that new team members can think on their feet and bring new insights that can be shared across the entire channel team. This was mentioned as being particularly important for channel management teams working with channel partners that are still trying to adapt their business to cloud-based models.
Commitment to the Channel.
The second most frequently reported response was that candidates take the channel profession seriously, and do not merely consider it “another type of sales job”. This category covers channel management training topics such as a clear knowledge of how channels work, the channel landscape, and excellent skills in joint business planning. Channel leaders are clearly raising the bar on the profession, recognizing that the subtleties associated with channel management require training skills that can only be acquired through a combination of formal channel training and experience, as opposed to the more ad-hoc learning approaches of the past.
Job candidates could set themselves apart from the crowd through Continuous Professional Development (CPD) with a business training qualification specifically in channel management or channel marketing. This was particularly important for those companies hiring candidates that are relatively new to the channel profession.
The runaway number one sought after skill falls into the general category of “business acumen”. This covered responses such as understanding of new business drivers (AI, Business Transformation, Digital Co-Marketing, Social Selling, etc.) and how these will impact on channel partner profitability. New CAM’s need to quickly grasp the consequences for channel partners of increasingly shifting towards service delivery with recurring revenue models and the impact of this on a business and its profitability. This includes the effective use of tools such as joint business plan templates.
Communication skills, empathy and the ability to develop relationships and trust are obvious skills that any successful Partner Account Manager must possess. These skills were identified as being a basic requirement in channel training and not something that would make a candidate stand out from the crowd.
Finally, many respondents highlighted that Channel Managers operate in a world that is affected by many stakeholders, and many factors are entirely outside of their control. The ability to maintain focus in the face of turbulence, managing unpredictability and still deliver sales results was identified as a key training requirement.
The top 5 factors listed in order of priority are:
- Business Acumen.
- Channel knowledge and commitment.
- Innovation and creativity.
- Relationship building.
- Flexible delivery.
In our opinion at the Channel Institute there are five key takeaways from this research to help channel professionals progress their career:
- Emphasise your channel management training and business acumen.
- Channel-specific CPD and channel-business certification is essential to prove your commitment to the channel profession.
- Demonstrate “outside-the-box” thinking.
- Prove your communication and empathy skills.
- Convince employers that you can deliver in the face of unforeseen disruptions.
Building further on this research, the Channel Institute conducted additional research into what future challenges channel leaders see coming for their channel partners. Although a wide range of challenges were mentioned by respondents, there were three standout challenges that were mentioned most frequently and appeared key to success:
- Data Management.
- Vision and Capabilities
- Proving ROI.
According to Meaghan Sullivan, Head of Global Channels at SAP, “Channel partners that are locked into traditional ways of thinking and marketing are likely to get left behind. There are a variety of new partners coming into the market such as a new brand of ISVs which create an expanded ecosystem. The partners that are able to embrace modern marketing techniques and have greater fluency in digital marketing will have much greater opportunities in 2019 and beyond.”
Michelle Chiantera, VP Global Partner Marketing at Cisco says: “Our channel partners will need data and insights about their customers in order to provide them with personalised touchpoints. Data is the fuel that will help them gain deep insights about their customers, become more personal with them, and further drive loyalty and advocacy.”
The aim of the Channel Institute is to bring a more formal, standardised structure to training for channel business professionals. In particular, the Institute aims to focus on the vastly under-served segment of training and certification for those that are relatively new to the channel management profession.
The Institute provides two certified channel sales training courses for channel sales professionals: The Certificate in Channel Management and the Certificate in Channel Sales. Both courses are 100% online with an exam and lead to Certified Channel Professional status.
The Certificates in Channel Marketing and Digital Co-Marketing are also ideal for those charged with channel partner marketing and channel partner training at technology reseller companies, to help them understand vendor-independent global best practices in co-marketing.