Table of contents:
- Best practices for selecting a channel management platform
- Consideration #1: External usability
- Consideration #2: Integrations
- Consideration #3: X factor
- When is a solution necessary for channel management?
- Which organizations should adopt a channel management tool?
- Large organizations
- Smaller organizations
- Top challenges alleviated by a stellar channel management platform
- A learning management system (LMS) for channel partner training
- Visibility to opportunities
- How channel management platforms increase partner engagement
- Efficient, on-demand training
- Event management
- Gamification: rewards and redemption
- Standing out among other vendors
- Document management & co-branding
- Top 3 benefits of an excellent channel management platform
- Instant access to data
- Scalable channel partner training
- Lead and opportunity management
- Using fact-based data to make strategic decisions
- Pitfalls of not having a channel management platform
- Risking revenue and time to market
- Partners not adequately representing your solution
- Look for a channel management platform that benefits other parts of your organization
- Closing comments
- Jonathan Deveaux’s background in channel sales
Whether it’s a tech stack involving multiple technologies or just a single platform, having tools to manage your channel sales with is a part of forming a channel strategy not to be overlooked.
The right tools can produce significant ROI as they help with:
- streamlining your current channel management structure and operations
- saving you a considerable amount of time previously spent on these activities
- and ultimately, closing more deals – equipping your channel partners with some of the best technologies out there can really advance them towards achieving the goals you’ve set for them.
There are a number of things to consider when selecting the tools you should use for managing your channel sales. You want to make sure the tools you select are suitable for the job and provide the performance and functionality you expect.
And once you’ve figured that out, you’ve got to decide which tools or technologies to actually utilize – no easy feat considering the multitude of options out there.
Our guest today, Jonathan Deveaux, has had a successful career driving business growth through partnerships for nearly a decade.
From developing strategic partnerships to roles focusing on partner enablement and partner marketing, today he is the VP of Global Alliances and Partnerships at Comforte AG – a data security company.
He’s here with us to discuss: How to Select the Right Platform to Manage Your Channel Sales.
Best practices for selecting a channel management platform
Paul Bird: What best practices did you employ when considering the types of platforms that you should implement?
Was there a methodology that you followed? What kind of research did you do? Where did you go to get the idea of where you would start your tech stack?
Consideration #1: External usability
Jonathan Deveaux: There were a couple of different routes we went while exploring this. But what I did was, I looked at external usability. What did I want my channel partners to be able to do?
Then I looked to see which solution providers in the channel management space were able to do that easily or represented that they did that component easily.
The main thing with channel is partner engagement. You want the partner to access that portal, get virtual training or get documents or assets that they need if they're pricing, whatever it is, and then go to their market and produce results.
That needed to be a seamless process or it needed to be easily performed by my channels, and we're talking about global channels. So, any company from around the world needs to be able to access that.
Consideration #2: Integrations
Jonathan Deveaux: Another consideration was integration.
At Comforte, not only were we looking at moving from the spreadsheet management style or the ragtag management style of channel management, but also looking at a tool set or a platform to consolidate that effort.
Other departments within Comforte were also looking at tool stacks. So we had to make sure what we were doing with our channel platform was compatible.
"The integration capabilities of our channel management solution had to be compatible with what was going on in other departments."
We had our marketing department. I've come from companies that have used things from Marketo and HubSpot. Whatever companies choose, there needs to be some sort of integration or potential integration with that.
We also have a business development, a SDR group, and they're looking at additional sales tools that reach their market and goals that they have.
So integration was another key aspect. The channel management solution that we selected needed to have excellent capabilities for integration.
Consideration #3: X factor
Jonathan Deveaux: During the search for a solution, I put on there: X factor. On the tin when you read what things do, they all sound the same.
I wanted a channel solution to identify some different things that they brought, that they added value, that I thought would be compatible with our channel management business as an X factor. Things that I'd love to be able to do. And I included that in my selection as well.
So those are the things to consider. Always look at:
1. External usability
- Who's going to be using it?
- And if it's easy for your partner network
- Even internal integration with what the other departments are doing
3. Any X Factor capabilities that the platform can bring
When is a solution necessary for channel management?
Paul Bird: You have gone from ad hoc now to structured. You have laid out what you're going to look for, the integration points.
You mentioned spreadsheets, and I think everyone that has ever been in a channel management role has had to use spreadsheets at one point in time.
But was there a point where you said, we really need a tool to manage this as opposed to doing it manually?
Jonathan Deveaux: You're right exactly on the spreadsheets. And there are probably still people using spreadsheets and Google Docs to do some aspect of their business management.
It wasn't even about taking what's in the spreadsheet and moving it to a channel platform. For us it was really the feel and I don't know how to describe it anywhere beyond that.
Did it feel like me or my team would have to do a lot of administration in order to get this channel management platform up and running and to manage it every day?
If you look back at all of the technology we're accessing today, just think about even the video platforms many of us use today. There are six or seven different ones.
"We didn't want to spend a lot of time in a channel management solution where we would have to configure and I'd have to scan through things and figure out how to do it."
It needed to be presented simply where we can achieve what we wanted to or we can find what we wanted to do in a knowledge base.
And a lot of that was based on feel. I highly recommend doing some sort of test drive where you can point and click and you can view how things are ergonomically set up in a dashboard or where things are available.
That was a major tipping point for us because there's a lot of quality products out there. There's great vendors out there that are doing a lot of really good things.
So it's a tough choice. But at the end of the day, it was: look and feel was compatible for us, giving us a good notion that we didn't have to spend a lot of time in the solution.
Which organizations should adopt a channel management tool?
Paul Bird: You mentioned that you're running a global channel.
Do you think that there is a certain size of organization that you need to be in order to adopt these tools or a certain focus from a market perspective?
Or do you think that anyone that wants to accelerate their program should start looking into tools to help manage their channel?
Jonathan Deveaux: I can answer it in a couple of ways.
Jonathan Deveaux: What are other companies doing?
I know some of the large partners that we engage with, the larger resellers, their last annual reported revenue is over 1.5 billion.
They actually have departments where all they do is deal registration through some sort of platform, a portal and they manage that between the hundreds of vendors they have. A lot of these large organizations have this.
Jonathan Deveaux: So, what about the smaller organizations?
I actually think it benefits the smaller organizations as well. That's where we fit in.
Our goal isn't to have hundreds or even thousands of partners. And there's some organizations that have tens of thousands of partners. We want to have dozens and dozens of partners based on our revenue objectives.
But I think we're ideal for a platform because:
- We want to scale
- We want to look big like the big partners that we interface with
"We need to look official to our partners who are going to represent us in the field."
So, it works for all company sizes in my opinion. Whether it's somebody like us, with over 130 employees, or companies that have 10,000 employees, you better have some sort of channel solution.
Paul Bird: I use the example, when it comes to technology and having a good technology stack, imagine if you went to a bank and opened up an account and asked, “what's your online banking address?” And they said, “we don't have one.” “What about telephone banking?” And they said, “no, we don't have one.”
Would you even consider them to be a real bank? The answer is probably no. So that's one of the challenges of not having a channel management platform.
Top challenges alleviated by a stellar channel management platform
Paul Bird: What about the top challenges that the partner management system has been able to solve? Are there any that you can see where the pain has been alleviated by having a good platform in place?
A learning management system (LMS) for channel partner training
Jonathan Deveaux: One that stands out is a channel management platform that has a learning management system (LMS) built-in.
What are the top one, two or three things that channel partners ask for? It's training, they want training of some sort.
For us, when we're scaling that business up, what didn't scale was people. I didn't have enough people to train the number of partners I was bringing on board.
And as a global company, I’ve had the problem of needing to do a training session in India, which is a 12 and a half hour time difference from California where I am. And then asking the same training person to do that same training for a partner in Germany. The timing doesn't work for anybody.
My people didn't scale. But being able to:
- record them,
- put most of their training in a virtual setting,
- letting the partners come in and consume it when they're ready, when they want to, during their time frame
- then just handle the questions and exceptions with the regional partner managers.
Really fixed a lot of the scalability issues.
And it made my training plug in capable:
- “That's old” or “we've added something new”
- We can re-record that video and insert it right back into the course.
"The learning management system was a top deliverable that helped reduce some of the problems that we had in our channel."
Visibility to opportunities
Jonathan Deveaux: I would also say overall visibility to opportunities.
I suspect many other sales organizations or organizations with channel sales have a problem with the quality of data that the different salespeople enter into a system.
So, when our regional channel teams work with the sales teams, we're able to ensure the channel management system has quality data in it.
It's hard for people that are in a revenue position to forecast what they may or may not sell. Many of them don't want to do it because sales leaders will pin them to it.
But having a solution that provided a consistent look and feel that our management can go to and rely on, also helped reduce stress a little bit with the sales aspect of channel management.
Paul Bird: So, you're saving some costs with the reduced headcount but also having accurate data helps you to forecast better and ideally make more revenue.
How channel management platforms increase partner engagement
Paul Bird: One of the challenges that I think a lot of people struggle with is keeping partners engaged.
Any recommendations that you could share about using these channel management platforms and how that relates to partner engagement?
Efficient, on-demand training
Jonathan Deveaux: Like I said initially, it's consuming the learning aspect, the training of what we as a vendor have to offer.
And as we go on, we come up with new interfaces - we came up with a new interface last month. We were able to quickly move that video and the supporting resources for it into a course and then put it up for our partners, which was really special. So, that's really key.
I am early in the expansion of this channel program, so I haven't been able to fully utilize a lot of the other capabilities that many channel management solutions have.
Jonathan Deveaux: They do event management really well, and I'm fortunate that I'm able to work with our marketing team that does that.
They do it manually today. There are some tools that are helping them in that regard, so there is a level of automation that's happening there. But I am looking forward to being able to do event management and tracking from within the same tool, without having to use a separate tool to do that.
Gamification: rewards and redemption
Jonathan Deveaux: Then there's also gamification. The rewards and redemption aspect of that.
I want to be able to challenge my teams but then also challenge my external partners to meet goals.
I know there are some sales organizations that we partner with that do that for themselves. And those programs have been received really well with those organizations. So we want to do that as well, I just haven't had a chance.
Standing out among other vendors
Jonathan Deveaux: These are some things that will help keep partners engaged and also help us stick out from other partners.
We try to put ourselves in our partners shoes. We're not the only vendor they're signing on to. They have other channel management systems that they're also signing onto with other vendors. So we have to stick out a little bit more.
And I don't always want to give points a way to do that. You get more of a discount, we receive less revenue, and we have to hedge all that.
Jonathan Deveaux: It is valuable to see what else we can do from an engagement point of view, even as simple as certifications.
There's some benefit of having a really nice learning path for partners. And at the end, they get a quality certificate that many of them promote. You see it on LinkedIn.
We're going to follow the Amazon's of the world, the AWS's where everybody is looking to achieve those certifications.
Document management & co-branding
Jonathan Deveaux: One more thing is asset availability. Having a library of documents has been a top two or top three request that we get as well.
It's like, “I want to get all of the documents that you have.” Okay, that's easy. Put them up in folders.
Now, “I want to put our logo on it and do some joint marketing, so it looks like it's coming from one company.” That has a lot of potential to keep partners engaged with our solutions because it's co-branded.
That's another key factor: it helps reduce the need for them to do additional work outside. They can put their own logo on it. It's all done from the solution, it's already delivered - that's invaluable.
Those are some of the things that I see that help keep our partners engaged.
Paul Bird: When I was managing channel, almost a decade ago, I guarantee you every single channel manager had different sales and marketing collateral.
Nothing was consistent. There wasn't a single repository unless you went to marketing and asked them for the latest and greatest. So having that in one place.
But then you mentioned certifications. I used to list all of my VMware sales and technical certifications on my LinkedIn profile, my IBM, Top Gun, all of them. It was a badge of honor because that VM technical sales certification was a difficult one to get.
But when it comes to the co-branding element, I can say that I co-branded a number of documents. I am not a graphic designer. I shouldn't be allowed near anything that allows me to manipulate what your platform looks like or maybe even try to recreate your logo.
So, these are some of the controls you get when having those in place. And, absolutely help drive engagement.
Top 3 benefits of an excellent channel management platform
Paul Bird: Let's start looking at results.
When it comes to your organization, what are the top three benefits of having a good platform, in general?
Instant access to data
Jonathan Deveaux: I would say, initially, instant access to data benefits our organization.
Why? I had access to the spreadsheets, I could instantly see it.
But collectively, at scale, we're a small company but we have over $25 million in pipeline and over 70 opportunities identified already in under a year in getting everything established.
Which is great hockey stick growth for us, for pipeline. Closing events are a little bit different.
But having access to that data helps us make fact-based decisions. I don't have to manipulate the data or look at it or process it and then start to do it. I still do a little bit of that, but I do less of that.
So having access to data and being able to make fact-based decisions is valuable. I'm looking forward to being able to do more of that.
Jonathan Deveaux: One example is a closed-lost analysis. I want to know where an opportunity was and what sales stage it was and I want to compare that to the lost reasons.
And those are facts based on those opportunities that I can do analysis on and understand: where are we losing?
- Before proof of concepts?
- Are we losing because we didn't do proof of concepts?
- Are we losing after it?
- Are we losing because XYZ group was not involved?
- And what was the reason?
- Budget - could we have pre-qualified those things better?
So instant access to that data and being able to make those decisions, is one of the top three.
Scalable channel partner training
Jonathan Deveaux: Another one, as I mentioned earlier, is the ability to scale training.
Why? Because I don't have to queue up people in order to train partners, which means the partners are waiting in the queue to be trained.
I can scale that training so they can hit the streets sooner, at the same time rather than be in a queue and wait for that training. They could miss opportunities.
So that's a top benefit: the sooner you get them on the ground selling or representing your solutions, that is immensely beneficial.
Lead and opportunity management
Jonathan Deveaux: The third would be lead and opportunity management.
"As we scale, there's a risk that I'm going to have multiple partners trying for the same thing. I'm going to have channel conflict."
You want partners talking to prospects. But I also don't want prospects to play that against us or play that against each other in order to drive potential revenue down.
Nor do I want to turn off partners from being partners with us. Because in the partner recruiting process, we've had partners that say “my top concerns working with vendors is I've had some vendors that don't honor their deal registrations.”
We register for a deal or they promise this or that and it doesn't happen. So, having a confident lead and opportunity management process is a top three benefit as well.
You take it out of the equation, don't worry about it. The lead management system handles it:
- There's an approval process
- It has an expiration date
- You're locked in, boom, done.
Using fact-based data to make strategic decisions
Paul Bird: Your first one, actionable data, I would have to agree with you.
No one likes to lose a deal. But if you do the closed-lost analysis and:
- if you know why you lost it
- if you know when you lost it
Now you can start putting in strategies to make sure that doesn't become a common event.
The end result is: the sales team makes more money, the organization makes more money because you're being more strategic as you engage people.
Training them, quickly getting them to be dangerous, that's always going to be a benefit.
Jonathan Deveaux: If I have it in the same system, the LMS plus the access to fact-based data, I can also determine if that training course or courses were effective or not.
I can move down the line and see if every single one of these sales opportunities did not or did have ABC training course.
I can also make decisions across that. I can see the feedback we were getting about those training courses in the LMS.
The LMS could have a like button or we can add feedback at the end and I can see that closed-lost.
- They lost interest or didn't see the benefit:
- They all did XYZ training
- Or this was not included in the training
Normally you have to scratch your head and wonder: “did your partner get trained on that?” You no longer need to question those things because you can use fact-based data to collect what you need.
Pitfalls of not having a channel management platform
Paul Bird: On the opposite side, what are some of the pitfalls that people potentially fall into if they don't have a platform in place?
Are there limitations? Does it limit growth of an organization? Does it start fueling channel conflict or misrepresentation of your brand in the market?
Risking revenue and time to market
Jonathan Deveaux: At the end of the day, what's really at risk is revenue and time to market.
"If a tool or a solution can help teams, and we're talking multiple people, achieve or exceed revenue goals in a shorter amount of time than they normally would then that's a no brainer."
Or the company accepts that risk. “We understand, without something like this that we're going to have to wait two or three months for this team to be trained up or whatever it is.” That's their acceptable risk.
Each organization is different. I've been fortunate, at Comforte, that the management team there has recognized that this is something we would rather do from the start. Rather than let it get out of hand and then spend more time, energy and effort in order to pull it back into a system.
I'm super happy that our management team made the right decision in that regard.
Partners not adequately representing your solution
Jonathan Deveaux: There is a risk the management of all of it can get out of hand. There is a risk that some revenue won't be achieved. It's a lot of factors. But, at the end of the day, it's also about the people, on both sides, that are responsible for their roles.
"How do you expect a partner to represent your solutions if companies aren't adequately training them?"
There are some solutions where they can go to YouTube and train themselves or they can go to a knowledge base. But they're piecing it together rather than something organized from a company.
So, it can happen without tools, but it just doesn't make sense. If you can come up with a cost effective channel management platform that has a lot of benefits, I think it totally makes sense.
Look for a channel management platform that benefits other parts of your organization
Jonathan Deveaux: To tie in what I mentioned at the beginning with an X Factor capability.
An X factor solution, that's not tied to revenue, that we were able to get from our channel management platform was being able to extend training to internal employees within the company.
At Comforte, we have a global presence. We have employees all over the world. So the need to train employees needed to scale as well.
We have a headquarters and we have to train people in Singapore, different regions in the US, etc. That's also harder to do with internal employees.
So this solution was able to do that. It also blocked out those internal employees who just needed to consume internal onboarding training but didn't need to see the channel side of the organization. They don't need to see what's going on with opportunities.
Having something that does all of that and that we didn’t need research and development teams to code all of it, was a great X factor.
"Think about what else you could do with a channel management platform. What can other people, possibly in a non-channel position, benefit from?"
And if it's there, explore it and see if that's worth bringing it on board.
Jonathan Deveaux’s background in channel sales
Jonathan Deveaux: I'm sure many other people that are leaders in the channel space may have had a similar situation. But at Comforte, we have basically started from scratch.
So it's a bit different in that aspect where we have always had partners and most of those have been tech alliance partners.
We've always engaged with channel partners. Most of those activities occurred on a one-off basis like, “let's close a sales opportunity.”
It was only about a couple of years ago that we decided to go full-on and make it strategic and make channel partnerships part of our revenue objectives.
That happened right when COVID happened. So it was a decision where we were scratching our heads wondering if we were able to meet our objectives for the first year. And sure enough, we were able to do it.
I personally have had multiple roles at the companies I've been at in regards to somehow touching the channel. At Comforte, I've had channel and partnership relationship responsibilities for the past six years.
At my previous company, my last role was both in business development and in product management. I was a global product manager for an IT company and the objective there is built by our partner.
So there's always some aspect of partnership and either selling or getting your products out through a channel. Other leaders in the space probably have that diverse portfolio as well.
Now, many companies that are revenue focused are probably going to focus on: how can we get the most out of our current channels? But they're also looking at: what else can we add to the pie of channel management in order to get more revenue?
Connect with Jonathan Deveaux on LinkedIn.
Connect with Paul Bird on LinkedIn, book a demo with him, or contact him via email firstname.lastname@example.org.