Narrator: Welcome to Channel Journeys, the podcast for channel professionals that will enable and inspire you to create your best channel journey ever. Meet and learn from channel experts who share authentic stories of their channel victories, defeats, and lessons learned along the way. Here's your host, Rob Spee, a channel chief on a never ending quest for channel knowledge and adventure.
Rob Spee: Hello channel pros, welcome to Channel Journeys. This is Rob Spee, your host and channel enthusiast. Thanks so much for listening. It is almost Halloween but I promise you won't have any tricks, only treats on today's episode.
As I mentioned in my last episode, I'm super excited to have a new sponsor for Channel Journeys, Magentrix. They are a specialist in creating web portals with full integration with Salesforce. What really impresses me is how quickly they can stand up a super rich PRM for all the key elements that you need to automate a robust partner program.
Things like deal registration, pricing and quoting, dynamic content delivery, incentive tracking, for both referral commissions and reseller discounts. They can do training and certifications, gamification and really a ton more so you can check them out at magentrix.com or go to the Salesforce AppExchange and there you'll see they have a five-star rating review. If you're looking to build or replace your PRM or partner portal, I highly recommend that you go check them out. I have a special offer for you to share at the end of today's show.
Well, today's guest just happens to be Paul Bird, who is the Salesforce enthusiast and portal wizard at Magentrix. Paul and I talk about the top channel management mistakes that many vendors make and he shares some big opportunities for you in partner automation. Are you ready for a great show? Let's go!
Rob Spee: Well, first off, Paul, maybe you can just give us a quick overview. Who is Magentrix and what is your role? What are you working on there?
Paul Bird: Sure. I lead sales operations at Magentrix. They've given me the name: the 'portal wizard.’ Essentially, in a nutshell, what Magentrix does is, it allows companies to extend their system of record, their CRM system, to create portals for their partner network.
Whether these are your traditional value added partners and distributors, or affiliates, or even non-transacting partners that we see, like influencers. We give them that environment where they can quickly stand up a portal and start collaborating with their channel partners.
Rob Spee: Interesting. There's been a lot of talk about influencers and influencer programs on this show. Are you seeing more of that?
Paul Bird: I think we're still seeing a lot of organizations trying to make sure that whatever is going on within their partner network, from a transactional perspective - that they have a system that integrates with their CRM system seamlessly. I think that when they start looking at the future and more long-term goals, this is where they start looking at more of those non-transacting type partners and how to best engage them and leverage their expertise to promote their brand.
Rob Spee: Yeah, I was just talking about that today on a team call that we had and looking at building out an influencer program next year and we haven't even got to thinking about what kind of portal would we even provide for those guys. So that's an interesting topic.
Paul Bird: This is all about creating a safe collaboration space where people have one place to go to communicate, to be able to review information or collateral that's being produced by the brand, and really give some feedback. Start looking from a strategy perspective, what they can do to really be an influencer and subject matter expert in the market.
Rob Spee: Interesting. So, with your role, what is the title wizard? Portal wizard?
Paul Bird: Yeah, I'm the portal wizard for Magentrix.
Rob Spee: [Laughs]
You must be speaking to a lot of different vendors then in your position?
Paul Bird: We do, we talk to a lot of different vendors across multiple industries. Technology is really our core, but we have fintech companies, manufacturing, healthcare, that have all adopted Magentrix for their indirect go-to-market strategies.
Connecting with your partner channel and end users
Rob Spee: What are you seeing - in maybe a post COVID - or I guess we are still in COVID - in this new normal, what are you seeing as some of the biggest challenges that the companies you're talking to are facing?
Paul Bird: Well, I think the biggest challenge they're facing is how to connect with their partner channel and their end users.
"All of our events have dissipated, we're not doing those trade shows or in person events anymore. So now they have to start finding creative ways to reach and connect with their audience,"
and it's been a challenge. I know a lot of people have diverted funds that would typically go to events and moved it into creating these self-service portals for their partner network.
Rob Spee: Yeah, that is a huge challenge. I guess I hadn't even thought about it - we talk a lot about webinars, digital events, and what can we do, digital selling, social selling, but I haven't thought so much about the role of your portal, and that maybe it plays a different role in this new normal, remote world. Is that what you're saying?
Paul Bird: Yeah, absolutely. I think it really goes beyond that traditional: I need a portal so I can do deal registration and pipeline and MDF and QBRs. Now it's really about: I need a space where I can communicate directly with my channel in an online environment, because I'm not going to their office and having those face to face meetings anymore.
Rob Spee: Is there a chat element to it? Real-time engagement that you're talking about?
Paul Bird: Absolutely. We have a number of ways to be able to communicate and collaborate with channel. Whether it's in a discussion forum, that it's all real-time, using chat functionality. Having almost like a question and answer discussion board that they can leverage - and they can bring this right to the record level.
So they can start having the same communication when they're working a deal and keep it as one, tactical overview of what they're working on. But then, again, in the same environment, they're able to have a social media style feed where they can communicate and collaborate with a greater section of their channel, if need be.
Rob Spee: Interesting. I had a rep approach me on our team not too long ago, and he said, ‘Rob, it would really be easy - really be nice if we had a Slack channel so that I could bring in the partner, bring in my solution architect. We could have a real-time chat.’ Is that really what you're describing there?
Paul Bird: Well, there's a couple different ways. For people that don't already have a collaboration solution like Slack. Then they could use one that's native inside of Magentrix.
However, one of the things that we did earlier this year is really build a robust integration with Zapier.
That allows us to connect to over 2000 different platforms supported within the Zapier marketplace, and Slack is one of them. We can do things like, something's happening in the portal, post it right into the Slack channel, and vice versa.
"Really taking advantage of all the technologies that are available on the market to integrate them within a single platform."
Rob Spee: Interesting. So that's one of the big challenges you're seeing: how to drive more engagement when you can't be out in the field with your partners.
Anything else that you're seeing pop up?
Paul Bird: A lot of it is about channel enablement.
I spent half of my career working in the channel and I'm probably going to have four or five different partner portals that I'm going to have to deal with, within my grouping - vendors that I'm offering.
So it really is about making it as easy as possible for the channel partner to find what they need. And even things like dynamic content targeting. Being able to say: alright, you're in this industry, you're in this stage of the opportunity. Bring the content to the partner, don't make them go through your environment looking for the content they need.
"You know how to sell your product the best, so bring them what they need, when they're going to need it the most."
Rob Spee: Not just: 'hey, you're at this stage of the sales cycle,' but ‘you're at 40% in a healthcare opportunity, so we're going to spin up this healthcare-specific content for you.’
Paul Bird: That's exactly right. That really is the type of engagement and enablement that brands need to consider to get the most out of their investment into the channel.
Rob Spee: Yeah, I think that vertical element is super important. As companies are looking more and more towards buying on the business side and they want industry specific vertical knowledge. That's what we look for in our partners.
Paul Bird: 100%. Absolutely.
Having a portal strategy
Rob Spee: Excellent. What about some of the mistakes that you see folks making out there? What are some of the biggest channel mistakes that you see vendors making?
Paul Bird: Well, I think at least when it comes to partner portals, this idea or mentality that ‘build it, they'll come.’ If we stand up a portal, all of a sudden, we're gonna get all these people logging in and engaging with our content and engaging with our people and that's not really the case.
"What it really takes is a great strategy around how to build that mindshare and wallet share within the partner community."
I think the biggest mistake I see from a portal perspective, is the fact that they simply don't have an engagement strategy with treating their partner network as a community and really consistently engaging with them.
Rob Spee: That's kind of funny, Paul, because I talk a lot, and I'm a huge advocate of, developing your channel strategy before you build your channel, and I'm probably guilty too of just jumping in and building a portal before having a portal strategy.
Paul Bird: Absolutely. I think the key to having a successful partner portal, a successful partner strategy, is to know: if I'm a partner, and I show up, what am I here to do? Are you making it as easy as possible for me to do business with you? Because that's really what we're all looking for, right? We want to have the partners picking our solution, our offering first over other offerings that are in the market.
Rob Spee: Yeah, I've had multiple partners tell me, when I asked them what makes a great vendor and they say, ease of business. They'll switch vendors if you're not easy to work with.
Paul Bird: I think there's a lot of loyalty that comes into that as well, as far as brand loyalty. If they are true to the channel - you hear about companies that go pure channel, and I tell you, there's nothing easier to lose your channel partners by just taking a deal direct. Because if you're 100% channel, and you build that loyalty with your channel partners, then make sure that you stay on track.
Rob Spee: Yeah, absolutely.
All right. So there's no Field of Dreams, when it comes to portals. If you build it, they're not necessarily going to come. [Paul Bird: No they won't.] So your strategy - you got to think about how they're going to engage in the portal and then design that experience that's just super easy for them.
Having solid, relevant content for channel partners
Paul Bird: For sure. Just looking at some of the other mistakes people make, I think that not having solid, relevant content is really key as well. The hardest thing about creating your channel strategy is to make sure you've got good supporting content. So you can enable those partners to be successful. It's time consuming, and it's difficult. I think that, in addition to that channel strategy,
"the content you're creating and delivering to your channel partners, is really key as well and I don't see everyone hitting the mark with it. Some companies do it really well, some struggle with putting together good, relevant, timely content."
Rob Spee: Do you think that content has to be any different than the content you're developing for your direct Salesforce?
Paul Bird: I don't think so. I think it has to be content that's easy to consume. Producing a 75 page whitepaper is probably not going to really help the partner be successful. I think it's about easy, quick to consume content that is informative, and the same content that you could use for your direct sales team.
You just want to make sure that if you're providing it to your partners, that you're also giving them the ability to brand it with their own logo and add their own information. Co-brandable content is a really another strategy that more brands should adopt.
Rob Spee: Yeah, I was gonna ask you, how important is it that the partners can snap their own brand on it?
Paul Bird: Well, I think it's best for the brand itself. If the vendor is maintaining brand control and enabling the partners to put their logo on it in the place that the vendor is determining, then it's going to prevent the reseller from downloading the PDF file and changing the whole look and feel of it so they can get their logo in there. It's really key that they have these pre-templated, easy to brand documents that they can quickly access and use for their marketing.
Rob Spee: That should be automated or made super easy to do within the portal itself?
Paul Bird: 100%. Should be point and click. We shouldn't have the partners jumping through any hoops at all. Just give me a list of co-brandable content, grab it and go.
Rob Spee: We were talking about spinning up content at the right stage of the sales cycle. Can you jump in there and co-brand that in real time? 'Hey, I need that specific document.'
Paul Bird: Yeah, absolutely. The way that Magentrix handles it is, we start looking for variables within some kind of transactional record or on some kind of page and then we can serve content accordingly. All of that content is identified as which ones can be co branded, and which ones can't be. So if they've got an identified document, they've already added their logo, they just click, download it, and go.
Treating your channel partners like VIPs
Rob Spee: Nice, nice. What other big mistakes are you seeing?
Paul Bird: Well, I think you know, in addition to this build it and they'll come or not having good content, it's really not treating your channel partners like they are your most important VIPs and that they get treated like employees versus the most important customer that they have.
"When you've gone pure channel, your avenue to being able to access the market is through those channel partners. So you have to treat them like they're the most important people in your network."
Rob Spee: So when I tell our sales team, ‘hey, treat these partners like they're your sales reps,’ am I off? Is that a mistake? Because we are kind of treating them like they're our employees.
Paul Bird: Absolutely. You have to treat them like they are a very important customer. If you keep giving them that red carpet, VIP treatment, then I think what you'll find is that you'll get that mindshare and most importantly, that wallet share from them because they're treated so well.
Rob Spee: Uh huh. That's interesting. I don't think I've been pushing that hard enough on all the folks that work with our partners to take that mindset. But, that's an important one.
Paul Bird: I had mentioned that I spent half my career in the channel. But the early part of my career, I spent building channel. One of the greatest ways that I was able to build my channel partner network was anytime I came across a new opportunity, first thing I'd ask that end user prospect: who do you buy hardware and software from?
They would share the information. I'd call them up and say, look, I'm just returning one of the sheep to the flock. And I tell you, they would always answer my call and were definitely the most responsive of channel partners that I had when I returned one of their customers to them.
Rob Spee: That's really cool, Paul. You know, we might tend to give the CEO of the partner company, the sales VP, the red carpet treatment, but probably not their sales reps.
Paul Bird: Those are the guys that are on the front lines fighting every day to get into new accounts. So they're the ones that I want to get their attention and let them know how much I appreciate them.
Rob Spee: Yeah. Yeah, and you're gonna stand out amongst the other vendors. So for building mindshare in that rep, treat him well.
Paul Bird: Absolutely. Couldn't agree more.
Rob Spee: I should say treat him or her well.
Paul Bird: We have to treat all of our channel partners like they are just so important to the business because they are. I mean without their effort, then we don't see new opportunities coming in, we don't see good pipeline from them, and it becomes a challenge to build the channel.
Training and certifying partners
Rob Spee: Yeah, absolutely. Excellent. Any others that you've that you're noticing?
Paul Bird: Well, I think another mistake that I see some people make really comes around training and certification. Making sure that partners are trained and certified. These programs have been going on a long time but unfortunately, a lot of them are disconnected. You have this separate training system that you're using to educate partners, because you can't do in person training anymore, and it's not fully integrated with the whole channel profile, the profile of the user inside of the portal.
"One of the things that Magentrix has done is we have a built in learning management system that fully integrates with the whole platform. What we find is that people that are leveraging that, making sure that partners stay on top and keep renewing their training year after year, end up having a more self-sufficient channel partner because they know the product and service offering so well."
Rob Spee: Have you seen anyone set it up so that the partner could come in, they see the learning path, they do the learning and then there's the direct link to get the actual certification, which is probably another third party certification company?
Paul Bird: Well, for us, the certifications are built right in. As soon as they finish the course or the learning path, and they've earned the certification, it shows up in their email and they could download a PDF of it directly inside of the portal.
Rob Spee: Okay, so if going to Prometric and taking a certification test is part of the learning path, you just build that in.
Paul Bird: Exactly, and we can integrate with third party platforms as well. I think that a good education strategy is one that more companies should be leveraging.
Rob Spee: Yeah, that's a big area of opportunity, I think for vendors to take a lot of friction out of the process, and just have one seamless flow. Sometimes it may require even ordering, because a lot of times partners have to pay for that certification exam. [Paul Bird: For sure.] But if they could just enter their credit card and boom, be done with it.
Paul Bird: And away they go. Exactly.
Taking risks in the channel
Rob Spee: Yeah, very nice. You know, one thing I struggle with is - not so much with my current company, which is fantastic - but in the past, vendors that are so afraid of taking risks in experimenting in the channel.
What are you seeing in the appetite for maybe piloting new approaches and that type of thing?
Paul Bird: Well, I think from a marketing perspective, we've been doing it for years. This concept of A/B, A/B/C/D/E/F/G testing, to see what works best. It's something that we need to adopt when it comes to building and managing our channel as well. You'll never know if there's a better way to do something unless you try it. So as long as it's a calculated risk, and you're not risking the business, then all for giving it a try. That's for sure.
Rob Spee: Yeah, absolutely.
You told me a funny story when we were chatting last time about a road trip, a partner road trip you made. Tell us about that more.
Paul Bird: I did. I was trying to rebuild a channel for a software company out of New Jersey. So I decided to take three weeks and visit every single channel partner between Boston and Miami.
Rob Spee: How many partners are we talking about? Paul Bird We're talking about, like 55 to 60 partners. [Rob Spee: Holy cow!] It was pretty crazy. In fact, one of our vendors in Boston told me I was crazy. [Rob Spee: Laughing].
I went, visited all of them, sat in their office, got an idea of where their business was and how we could be a good partner to help them grow their business. It was a watershed moment for the company I was working for. All of a sudden it started - we started reaping the rewards of having that face-to-face contact in the office.
Then a few years later, the same guy that told me I was crazy for doing it asked me if he could come along. It's an example of:
"we need to be able to do the things that not everyone's going to do in order to get people's attention."
At that time, it was, 'hey, let's do five a day, we could do it,' and then spent a few weeks on the road. It was a lot of fun, that's for sure.
Rob Spee: Did you get an RV to do that?
Paul Bird: Nope, just rented a car. It was an interesting one. There were two of us and I think by the end of it, my colleague was a little sick and tired of seeing me. I know he took a number of rounds of golf off me and that probably made the time a little bit easier.
Rob Spee: [Laughing] I thought you're gonna say ‘yeah, he took a month off after that to recover.’
Paul Bird: [Laughing] We all needed a lot of recovery after that. It was definitely a pretty intense trip that we took.
Rob Spee: Yeah, that's awesome. Maybe when we get through this COVID lockdown, there might be a lot of channel managers who want to take on a project like that and just get on the road and go visit 55 partners.
Paul Bird: Absolutely. I think that when we're in an environment where it's safe to do so, all of us will be yearning for that face-to-face again because it has definitely been a year where a lot of us are working remotely, we're not having that direct interaction with our colleagues, our customers, or our channel partners. I think that the Zoom face-to-face is great, but nothing replaces that in person conversation that you get, that's not behind the screen.
Rob Spee: Yeah, I hear so many fellow channel chiefs saying the exact same thing. They're just dying to get back out there and meet with the partners.
Opportunities in partner automation
Rob Spee: Now, you touched on this a little bit earlier, but what do you think are some of the bigger opportunities for vendors when it comes to partner automation?
Paul Bird: Well, I think that this is a great opportunity right now to be able to connect and have more one-on-one Zoom conversations with partners to see what you can do to enable their business.
"Once you have an understanding of how you can make their lives easier, you can bring that back into your partner strategy and create levels of automation."
Automated proposals and quotes
Maybe it comes down to something where I'd really like to have, let's say, automated proposals, so they can come into their portal, be able to look at an opportunity they're working on, and when it's time, just click a button, and have it automatically generate that proposal that is brand approved, with the latest and greatest information that they can now deliver to their customer, their client.
I think there is an opportunity, since we're not as distracted right now, to call these channel partners or copy them on the zoom meetings and say: ‘what is it that I can do to help your business?’ Then once they gather that feedback, look at how can I make this dead easy for somebody inside of my portal, or however else I'm going to deliver this service. I think it's something that vendors don't do enough, really getting back to their channel partners and finding out - ‘help me understand your business, and what can I do to make it better?’
Rob Spee: Yeah, that makes me think, you said, if some people have the mistaken thought that if you build it, they will come, I think there's also a mistake we make that if you can build it, let's do it. So you start adding too much sometimes to the portal that partners may not even want.
Paul Bird: That's true. Something we hear all the time is that if they try to take on the entire project all at once, it takes a lot longer to deliver something. Where if you stand up something that gives the partners what they need, then collect their feedback and start rolling out more functionality for them, they'll stay engaged and the portal will stay fresh.
Rob Spee: Yeah. You mentioned being able to provide a partner with a custom quote online. That's actually something we were just chatting about and have a need for. How quickly can you stand that up?
Paul Bird: Well, it really comes down to: do you have the content ready? Do you have the quote content ready? If you do, from the Magentrix perspective, you simply upload it into the platform, create a little button, merge any data that you have in your CRM system that's related to the partner along with your content, and it generates a PDF file. If that content is ready to go, it could be done in minutes.
Rob Spee: And if you're using a CPQ tool?
Paul Bird: It just, again, comes down to the system of record. Is it Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics? Whatever that CPQ tool is doing inside of the CRM system or any values that are coming out, at least with Magentrix, we pick it up right away.
Rob Spee: Gotcha, and does that require the happier with Zapier integration? Or is it just straight to Salesforce?
Paul Bird: That's native out of the box. No need for Zapier. If it was a third party CPQ tool, then we'd have to look at what's the easiest way for us to integrate with it and that may require using Zapier.
Rewards & incentives
Rob Spee: Gotcha. Any other big things come to mind in terms of opportunities for partner automation?
Paul Bird: Well, I think one thing we've seen emerging for the last couple years is the ability to provide rewards and incentives to partners.
"Identifying what are the behaviors that I want to see the partners do and then create a reward for it."
Show them a leaderboard - where they stand versus the rest - so they can get their competitive juices going.
What I've seen, probably in the last 12 months, is now allowing partners to redeem some of those points that they gain for gift cards. Whether it's your traditional Vanilla Visa, or maybe a Starbucks card, or Domino's or something like that.
Actually, I was working with a channel organization, very recently, who really put in a point to gift card strategy earlier this year. The level of engagement they saw was three X over not having a system to be able to allow partners to get an Amazon gift card, or something, for the work they're doing. This whole idea of reward, reward redemption, and gamification is definitely something that more brands should embrace.
Rob Spee: That's funny, we were talking about that this morning too, the idea of how we could really easily do that type of thing as a spiff to the partner sales reps.
Paul Bird: For sure and spiffs have been around for a long time, but I think, at least for identifying, what are the behaviors? I'm not just going to put the sheet on your desk that says, 'hey, sell 10 of these and you get x,' but identify what additional behaviors. Maybe it’s content - you want them engaging with your content, maybe you want them sharing your content within their social media feeds. Really identify what behaviors you are trying to see from the partners and then reward them accordingly.
Rob Spee: Yeah, that's awesome. Is that done directly within Magentrix?
Paul Bird: Everything's done within Magentrix. We released earlier this year, rewards (gamification), and gift card redemption. We've tried to provide the core feature set of everything you would need within a partner relationship management platform in one place, so you don't have to go to 10 different vendors, you can get it all in one spot.
Demand generation for your partners
Rob Spee: Very cool. You said something that I wrote down that was in our prior conversation, you said "channel is a monster that you have to feed."
Paul Bird: Yes, it is. Well, here's the thing, you really need to look at: how am I going to get my partner's attention? We talk about that mindshare and the best way to do it is to do demand generation for your partners, and feed the beast.
"The more opportunities you're sending to the partner, the more mindshare you're going to get."
I look at it that I had to keep doing demand generation for my partner channel. So I could feed the monster, and it grows. That's got to be part of the channel strategy which, again, is not only partner generated opportunities, but demand generation for those partners as well.
Rob Spee: Mm hmm. Do you have an opinion on how much the partner should be bringing back to you? I'm feeding him five opportunities this year, should he be feeding me back five that he's finding? What are your thoughts on that?
Paul Bird: Well, I think that changes depending on the vendor, the size of the deal, the size of the market, right? This is why we go through QBRs. Is to be able to really look at our market, put together a SWOT analysis, and see who's contributed.
In some more transactional types of deals, I could expect to see more generated by the partner as opposed to the vendor. In larger opportunities, it could be an equal split. I really think it depends on the sales model, and the type of industry, and going through those QBRs and getting an idea of: what does this market look like and what can it produce?
Rob Spee: Yeah, good point. Very good point.
Paul's channel journey
Rob Spee: So Paul, I always love to learn more about my guests on the personal side. First question I have for you is, how did you land in the channel, what's been your channel journey?
Paul Bird: My first channel position, this goes back to 2000/1999. It was for a small company that had been around for about 30 years. Looking at how they were selling, it really interested me. They were using what was called the Lotus Sametime server. In 2000, we were doing web meetings, like you would use Zoom and GoToMeeting for, but that also introduced me into this reseller network.
It was really interesting because I'd always done direct sales before, but now I had all of these relationships that I could build and all of these partners to sell at scale. I got a little addicted to channel, I have to say.
Rob Spee: [Laughing] It happens to all of us, Paul.
Paul Bird: Even the little kind of deals that I worked on in the past, but then this grew and then I was dealing with CDW as a channel partner and that is a huge monster that needs a lot of feeding. [Rob Spee: a lot of feeding.] Doing the floor walks and talking to all the reps at CDW was fantastic and I really enjoyed that time of building channel. Being completely new to it, with new technology to use, it was really quite interesting and a great part of my career.
Rob Spee: Awesome. What do you love most about what you're doing now?
Paul Bird: This is kind of the culmination of: I spent so much time building channel and then I spent a lot of time working in the channel. So I've seen both sides. Working at Magentrix, I can use the technical skills that I've gained over the years, considered technical enough to be dangerous, but then I also appreciate the business relationships on both sides.
I've been in the channel and had people trying to get me to carry the product and service and then I've been on the other side where I've had to knock on that door, go through, and try to get them to adopt my offering into their portfolio.
Rob Spee: That's awesome. Well, just wrapping up any last minute thoughts, maybe a channel tip for 2021, that's coming around the corner?
Paul Bird: I think 2021 we've got to be prepared. I think that as our economy's rebound and open back up,
"we're really going to need to engage and make sure we built those strong relationships with our partners. Then make sure that we understand how to engage them in the way that they want to be engaged. Make sure we get the right messages to the right people at the right time. So we can all benefit in the future."
Rob Spee: All right, guys. Another fun interview. Thank you so much, Paul, for sharing those valuable insights and tips on how to make it easier for partners to engage with you automatically. I plan on taking advantage of a number of those ideas. As always, you can find highlights of today's show on my website at channeljourneys.com/cj59...