Why a deal registration system matters at Hybrid Sales organizations

Let’s start this with a simple statement that “trust is earned, deal by deal.” Also, there are a few downsides to consider. Let’s skim over both sides here.

While trying to figure out whether you should have a deal-registration process at your company, you’re worried that:

1)    You’re giving away margin dollars for no good reason

2)    You’ve heard that Channel Partners feel that Deal Reg systems make their customer information available to your direct salesforce, and in turn, they’ll subsequently try to “steal the deal”

3)    The longer their line card, the more Partner Portals they have to manage, and each one is different and you want people to use yours

An example of this last point; one of my partners at a previous employer mentioned to me that they have a line card of over 275 items from over 75 different vendors.

And these are all valid concerns by all parties. Stealing of deals has been goingistock_laptop-thief-200x200 on since the dawn of time (OK, since the dawn of the centralized CRM system that also tracks deal registrations).

To add more intrigue, each deal registration system from each vendor has different rules and methods for payouts. This has forced some larger resellers to actually hire people to do nothing more than manage Partner Portals, Co-op/MDF programs and dollars, and to understand or research each vendor’s rules of engagement.

What does that mean to you?

Yikes. Now you’ve got to figure out where you fit into this puzzle with so many pieces.

If you are going to create a new Partner Portal, please, in the interest of the sanity of your channel partners, make it drop-dead easy to navigate and search. Make your deal reg system easy as well, and make it a part of your portal. Make the logins auto-fill some fields, if you can.

And make your rules and regulations easy to read, understand and follow.

compliance-wall-hole-and-puzzle-piece-to-help-you-finish-complying-with-important-laws-guidelineIn other words, use the “Golden Rule” in these efforts – treat your resellers in the method you’d like to be treated. In fact, I’ve begun thinking about the “Platinum Rule.” Treat people as they like to be treated. And this takes good Channel Managers to do so, effectively. Direct sales reps simply don’t have the time to do this type of work (nor do you want them doing this work).

It is incumbent on you the vendor to have clear Rules of Engagement – especially because your sales methodology is hybrid. If you don’t, then your resellers will be less likely to register deals with you.

Figure out your lowest margin proposition, and make sure you pay each party appropriately with the remaining margin – and make it clear to your direct reps that they are there to support the reseller, not steal the deal.

Commission overlays can be a good thing.

Of course, no one can make a customer purchase from any one specific reseller or other party – that’s illegal – but the vendor company is responsible for making it make sense to support its reseller partners. If it does not, there are tons of deals you will no longer see or know anything about. Your competitor with a “good enough” product and portal will win that battle – and possibly the war – for new customers. Not to mention the hearts and minds of your reseller community.

Think of it this way. If they sell more of your products and services, you are acquiring more and more new customers and new revenues. It has always amazed me to hear how some manufacturers feel strange that they are paying out so much in reseller commission… If you are paying out so much in margin, you are making more money, and growing share, right – and isn’t that the whole idea?

So what benefits do deal reg systems provide?

There are many benefits to deal reg systems beyond reseller protection and margin reduction:

1)    They help measure partner engagement (e.g. partner interest in your product). Better-engaged partners sell more

2)    They provide product marketing information (new use cases in existing markets) you can gather no other way

3)    You learn of new market verticals your product serves

4)    Associate deal reg with a promotion, and you can better gauge the success of your promotionsadmission_ticket3

There are many other good reasons to implement a deal reg system, but I submit that the product marketing information you gain is worth the price of admission.

The evolution of an idea

OK. Have you ever been sitting around with your friends or work mates, and say “wouldn’t it be a great idea if we could…?”.brain

Or, you’ve already come up with the seeds of a great idea on your own. How do you make it come to fruition? How long will it take? How much work is involved? Who is involved?

In many cases, there is already a “similar” concept in place, already working “well enough.” How do you stop that very strong inertial force, and get your idea noticed?

The evolution of an idea takes about 2 years

I contend that the evolution of an idea can easily take about 18-24 months to come to fruition, and begin gaining traction in its market space. Which market space depends on the idea’s makeup. If it’s a sales program, it’ll be closer to the 18-month figure. If it’s an actual, physical product, it’s probably going to take at least 24 months to get up and running.

“18-24 months?” you say… Why?calendar

Remember that in some cases it may even be longer – especially where regulations and safety standards must be met.

But let’s just stick with an idea for a sales program for now, since I’m a channel sales guy after all.

The evolution of an idea for a sales program then

Since I’m already busy doing my day job, it’s going to take me some time to think my idea all the way through (hopefully), do some research to see whether my idea has any merit at all. I’m going to say this process takes me about 1-3 months to completely complete and document.

And now I have to sell my idea to my boss

Now, it turns out that my boss is already busy, too. And she’s got several people on the team that have other issues to resolve, not to mention that she’s got to handle messaging upwards and downwards within the organization.

So let’s say it takes her 1-3 months to really grok my idea, and to buy into it. Now, unless she’s the CEO, she has to sell her boss too. Another 3-6 months can go by.

Now we’re 5 to 12 months into the ideation stage already, and we’re not even inside the walls of marketing and sales programs yet. But let’s say we’re successful, and the marketing department buys into the idea, and likes the research I’ve done, and believes that they can make an effective program out of it. Another 4-6 months to do all that work.


And now I have to sell it to my business partners (did I mention I’m a Channel Sales guy?)

And the channel partners already have a line card of a specific length, and they’ve already built up a knowledge base on their existing products. I have to stop them for a moment and let them know why my idea is so much better than what they are doing today. And then train them on my product, then they have to go out looking for customers to sell the idea to.

How long is your sales cycle now? With a new program, how long will it become?

Looks like even a good idea can take over 2 years to implement, doesn’t it?

Marketing and sales teams should be better integrated

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have worked with some of the best marketing talent in the tech industry over the length of my career – starting with 16 years at Apple, three years at Zebra, one at Lextech, and almost one year at LiveAction, for instance. I’ve also worked with some of the most-dedicated salespeople in the world as well at these same companies.

Both of these departments have a commonality – they are all comprised of highly engaged, highly intelligent people. In the marketing realm, there were people that did their research, and were creative in the tools they created and in the way they should be deployed. On the sales side, those folks were just plain old hard-working, enthusiastic evangelists for the company’s products.

Another commonality, this time at the different companies was that sometimes, we folks in the sales department didn’t always make best use of the marketing programs and tools.

Why is this, you may ask?

Today’s realities

In the marketplace today, there are many choices that an end-customer has in regards to purchasing something they feel they need. And that’s a key concept – a person must feel a need, or better yet a want – before they purchase something. It’s human nature. In fact, those are the only two reasons people buy anything today – they either want it, or they need it.

It has also become a lot busier around the water-cooler these days, with one person doing the work of 2, 3, or even 4 people these days. Some statistics would say that up to 85% of all working people today are looking for a new job right now. These researchers posit that this is due to some level of dissatisfaction with their current position; mostly due to being overwhelmed with work and feeling underappreciated. The “do more with less” mantra of late is wearing thin.

Having said all of that, people just don’t have the time to entertain conversations with sales people as much any longer.

There was also this interesting invention a few years back called the internet, whereby people can do a veritable ton of research way before they ever talk to any salesperson from any company. In fact, in some cases, the customer may know more about your product than you do as a direct salesperson.

In this case then, the salesperson needs to become a trusted consultant to help the customer see all possible applications they may have (unintentionally) overlooked during their investigation. It is up to the salesperson to take the “need” aspect of the product sales effort, and turn it into a “want” in the eyes of their customers.

Why would I want to do that – I thought I’m supposed to fulfill customer needs?

In a nutshell, we as humans are more-likely to pay more for things we want (Layers 4 and 5 of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid), more so than those things we simply need (with the exception of medical products, that is).

Look at it this way – if everything were to be based on price, why is there a market for Mercedes, Tesla, or Cadillac? It’s because the car nut in those that can barely afford these products will find a way to purchase them. If price were the only issue in the purchase of a car, then we’d all be driving some small sub-$20,000 econobox that gets 30 miles to the gallon, or more.

But if we’re on the edge, budget-wise of being able to afford something, we’ll find a way to afford that thing that we want.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a 5-pound bag of sugar, does brand name really matter? Not nearly as much, I’d suggest. Sugar is sugar, right? A commodity that most people seem to feel there is little difference between brands. Down in Layer 1 of Maslow’s graphic.

One more example of a “want” – do sports-minded people really need 70” TVs? Of course not – but they want one. They want to enjoy the big game in large screen format and in vivid living color. The action-movie buff wants to replicate the theater experience at home – those explosions need to fill the room with orange and yellow, and the flying debris needs to fill my field of view. Layer 4 of the pyramid.

OK, so what does all this have to do with better integration between marketing and sales?

That’s the big question, isn’t it? Simply put – the marketing department at larger companies is usually full of very smart people that know how to create a compelling message and set of sales tools about a new product, or a new use case for an existing product. After that work is done, the usual workflow is to “toss it over the transom” to the sales department – and expect them to run with it.

Unfortunately, messaging uptake doesn’t always happen overnight. The reality of life is, sales people are already extremely busy, doing the things that have made them successful in the past. They already have a ton of leads to work through the sales process and pipeline, and they already have several demos and meetings set up. Asking them to study yet another marketing program is asking a lot at its very essence – really – it is.

Worse yet, let’s say that the marketing group came up with something a while back that fell short of expectations. The sales folks will remember that, and probably be a tad shy about the next big program due to that one slip. Is that fair, or even warranted? No, not at all.

But it’s human nature.

So what should happen?

It is my contention that working in the above manner (throwing marketing programs over the transom) is only marginally successful, at best. On the other hand, if the marketing team were to be present at the first couple of sales meetings after the new messaging was created and presented, that would help immensely.

Showing the sales team how to best use those new tools and that knowledge at the right time in the sales cyclewould be of great value – to both teams. In fact, the marketing person should be the actual presenter (Subject Matter Expert or “SME”) of the information to a certain set of customers early in the rollout process.

This approach then would ensure that future marketing programs, tools, and knowledge would be appropriate for customer usage, and that the sales people would know how to best exploit future tools. To do that, I would suggest that the marketing people get some windshield time with the sales team to try out the new messaging or program – to see how it’s received by actual customers. With this experience, the marketing team will be better equipped to create more appropriate messaging and tools later, and the sales team will see just how successful they can be with the information and tools we receive for our future customer engagements.

This will also expose the marketing group to how customers receive their new messages – they’ll see first-hand what works and what doesn’t – and most importantly whysomething may (or may not) work as expected.

But what does happen?

Unfortunately, many times, there is a disconnect between the sales team and the marketing team. Within some organizations, there is even a distrust between the two groups.

The net effect of that disconnect can cost a large company literally millions of dollars in “sunk costs.” Examples of this include the R&D for the new product, the engineering effort to create it, the marketing research performed to support the launch, and so on.

And then the sales team does not take full advantage of the message. In the defense of many sales teams, they may simply not know of new projects, messages, promotions, etc. Like I said earlier, the sales team is already very busy, and may have missed the memo.

So what should we do? (Context is king here.)

At each company in which I’m hired, I try to make contact with the marketing group early in my tenure, usually during the 2-4 week training period when I’m at corporate HQ anyway. This is not always possible in larger organizations, but in smaller startups and in smaller companies, this is much more attainable.

If I can get a couple of hours from some of the marketing people to ask how they are currently approaching marketing efforts, how they position my product, and how they derived that messaging, I’ll be miles ahead more quickly – I will better know the ins-and-outs of my product from some very smart people. I’ll get help in finding how to position the product during discovery, during the demo phase, during the negotiation phase, and during the closing stage. I’ll hear about questions they’ve asked customers to derive their answers and their messaging.

And since I’m a senior channel manager, I’ll be better able to help my channel partner reps better understand where my product fits into their portfolios and line cards. I’ll know which partner needs to know about which message/feature/function, and which I should not expose to the messaging (not all partners are created equal).

I’ll ask to be put on all appropriate email lists, so I know when email blasts go out to my territory. I’ll see what the marketing group is changing in terms of messaging and in terms of possible promotions and new competitive information.

If I can use my past experience to help them build/edit new messages, that’s good too. Both parties win.

Actually, all 4 parties win. My company’s two teams (sales and marketing), my channel/alliance partners, and the customers we call on together.

Is there a difference between selling TO someone versus selling THOUGH someone?

Firstly, understand that there are many go-to-market (GTM) strategies that companies can use when they are considering their sales effort. The main two are:

  1.   hiring a direct sales force
  2.   create a channel-focused model
  3.   put up a website and advertise all over the web

All of these models have their strong points, and all have their weaknesses. If you’ve hired good direct salespeople, then you should have great, unquestioned advocacy for your product and your company on every customer engagement. It’s also fairly expensive, and only marginally scalable. And good sales people do not come cheap.

Full disclosure – I’m an experienced CAM, and I prefer that model over the direct-only model. There are many reasons for this, some I’ll touch on here, but others belong in their own post. I’ll get to those later.

Understand that, if you choose the channel model, you’ll only get a portion of that sales force’s attention span, and so only a part of their loyalty and advocacy. This is where an effective Channel Sales Manager (or CAM, or Alliance Manager) comes in. They help build loyalty and advocacy inside channel partner organizations to leverage a greater population of sales resources for the CAM’s employer and product set.

In a nutshell, you leverage and multiply the efforts of a single employee’s efforts across a number of others that can become advocates for your company and products over time. In other words, your company enjoys more “feet on the street.”

Much of a CAM’s success depends on how easy you make it to understand and sell your product, and whether you’ve got a margin-rich environment whereby the channel partner can apply a resource to a customer’s problem, and then, due to the value of the product’s margin, to make a decent living selling, installing, supporting, training on it, etc. Good VARs and SIs hold strong relationships with their customers, and know their environments holistically. Given that, they will be better suited to identify deals for your company that you’d have found no other way.

Would you rather have 10% of the attention of a few people in 30 companies with multiple salespeople, or 10 direct salespeople? I’m not the world’s smartest guy, so I’ll quote J. Paul Getty here:

 “I’d rather have 1% of the efforts of 100 people than 100% of my own.”

–J. Paul Getty, the world’s first billionaire

How many accounts can an Enterprise Account Executive handle effectively? 10? 20? 30? Remember, I said “effectively.” The “whales” require a lot of attention, and attention equals time. It’s not unheard of to have an Enterprise-level product have a sales cycle in the 10-12 month range. Some may be longer, some may be shorter, depending on the product. Of course there will always be outliers in the graph that have very short or very long sales cycles as well.

More than ever before, at the customer level, the watchword is “reduce risk.” Now a team makes the decision on larger purchases, rather than an individual. There needs to be quite a bit of consensus built before a major sale occurs. Just the simple logistics of getting 5-8 people in the same room at the same time for a presentation or demo has become quite a challenge. Not to mention the fact that the salesperson must handshakenow appease the preferences of 5 to 8 different people, possibly from 2 or 3 different departments inside that company. And each will have their own viewpoint on how to solve the problem at hand. The influence a rep has on this sale needs to increase to show value to other people than those that invited him/her in. And attention equals time.

On the other hand, a single effective CAM can handle 20-30 “Focus Accounts” which, let’s say, each handle 10-20 end-user accounts. That is 200-600 accounts out there that may hear about your product that never would have heard of you before. The CAM can then work internally with the appropriate Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to help the VAR sell their first few deals, until the VARs will naturally become more comfortable selling on their own, allowing the SMEs to move on to other deals.

It’s simple math, really.

All that has exactly what do to with sales approach?

I’ve been both a direct salesperson (for a total of about 2 years), and a Channel Account Manager (also called an Alliance Manager) for around 20 years, and I can say definitively that there is a fundamental difference in the skill set required to approach and sell to someone directly, successfully, versus selling through someone that sells to customers directly, successfully.

Understand that this is an opinion piece – know that I’m happy to hear from others that have similar or varying degrees of similar experience, and especially varying opinions. I’m wide open for discussion, rather than me just rambling on.

So, what’s the difference?

Many skills are indeed similar, but many are also very different. I’m not judging whether one position is harder or easier than the other, just pointing out the differences, so that business managers make the right decision regarding GTM approach and customer pursuit, and then sales hiring managers can make the right hiring decisions.

Both sales models are similar in the sense that both types of sales people need to be able to create a relationship with their end customer – either a channel partner or an end-user organization. This is the similarity.

And in many companies, it’s also where the similarity ends. Many times, the length of the relationship is the major difference. In most direct sales positions, the salesperson must create a sense of trust very quickly, and must be able to divine the end-user’s needs in a hurry. With that information, he or she makes a sale, and then moves on.

In many companies today (at least in high tech), the “Customer Success” team handles the customer’s needs after the original sale is made (training, supplies, upgrades, cross-selling/upselling, etc.), because the salesperson has moved on to the next large deal. In some cases, there are even separate renewal teams that handle each successive year’s maintenance and support (M&S) subscriptions, for example.

The direct salesperson’s job is quite difficult in that he or she needs to figure out who may be interested in their offering in the first place, then find a way to contact the right person in the right company to tell that story to, and then show and tell to get the sale.

A marketing research project that I was involved in a few years back found out that we Americans are “touched” by about 3,300 marketing messages a day. And that was over 10 years ago. Look around your desk right now – there’s probably a logo on your pen, a logo on your coffee cup, a logo on your PC, and on your keyboard. When you drove to work this morning, how many ads did you hear on the radio? How many billboards did you see? When you watch TV, how many ads do you see per hour?

With banner ads, pop-up ads, linked ads and so on, I’m sure that number has only increased.

Think about that a moment. How does one get through the noise of all that to get my message through? We have all (had to) become pretty adept at ignoring sales messages, or we’d never get anything else done. But that’s what the direct salesperson’s job is, and to then move on gracefully after the deal is done.

The role of the CAM or AM

On the other hand, the CAM (or AM) must be able to create – and here’s the secret sauce – maintain – a partner relationship for a very long period of time. Through good times and bad.

There are many deals that a CAM works on with the channel partner, and many deals they will hand off to the direct sales force (as appropriate). Remember that the main duty of a direct salesperson is to close a deal and move on. And there are a lot of people that are good at that, and should be rewarded for that appropriately.

Given this hand-off process, the Rules of Engagement (RoE) have to be very clear on compensation for the channel partner that registers a deal, when the direct rep assists in the closure of that sale. In many companies, this is where the channel relationship side of the house falls down. Clear RoE helps immensely. Finder’s fees help immensely. Trust is critical.

As well as understanding the company’s own product, the CAM also:

1)    Defines the optimal composition of partner organizations – demographically, technically, and by sales abilities

2)    Maps and recruits new partners appropriately

3)    Performs business planning exercises and customer pursuit plans

4)    On-boards and enables those partner sales and support teams

5)    Maintains and manages partner program policies

6)    Performs QBRs and defines two-way KPIs

7)    Finds a way to retain partner loyalty in the face of competitive offerings

8)    Discovers and understands the business model of the partner to find mutually-beneficial cross-over points

9)    Understands where the vendor’s product fits into the partner’s line card (helping drive loyalty)

10)  Enhances the advocacy level of the partner’s sales force through constant, relevant communications

And, very importantly:

11)  Just as importantly as good communications from the company, a good CAM doesn’t over-communicate to the partners

12)  Creates and drives interesting co-marketing programs, contests, events, etc.

13)  Reminds the company about how the channel impacts the company’s overall success

14)  Distributes in-bound leads that best fit the specific partner strong points

15)  Handles channel conflict

This is by no means a complete list, but it represents the “Top 10” (OK – Top 15) issues that a CAM handles on a daily basis, that a direct rep has little or no exposure to. Of course, there are many tasks that a direct rep undertakes that a CAM has no clue about.

Again, neither job is easy, nor does a CAM necessarily make a good direct rep. I’ve had conversations with direct reps that feel a direct rep can jump into a CAM role more easily than a CAM can jump into a direct rep’s role. I’m not saying either of us is correct, and this person’s comments may be totally on-point.

If you have opinions, please share them – I’d be more than happy to entertain a conversation here, rather than just a one-way communications path.

Thanks for reading.

A short treatise on operations employees and salespeople; and, who’s in sales anyway? (AKA, nothing happens until something gets sold.)

OK – by show of hands – how many people feel comfortable being sold something – even something you want?

How many of you like salespeople?

How many of you get a good feeling knowing someone with the title “Account Manager,” “Regional Sales Manager,” and so on, calls you on the phone or is coming in for a meeting?

How many of you feel that salespeople are lying, manipulative, low-integrity self-centered jerks, only interested in cheating you, or taking your (or your employer’s) money?

I completely understand all the above emotions. There are a lot of those out there that have foisted that opinion into the marketplace at large.

But there are also many that are simply trying to help new customers understand the value of their product in the environment of their target market. Because the good ones have to ask so many questions, sometimes it’s hard to see the difference.

Now, how many of you have ever tried to be a professional salesperson?

That’s what I thought. Walk a mile before you judge. (Salespeople, you know what I mean, and you probably don’t need to read any further, although I’d be interested in your thoughts).

Remember this – people like to buy from other people they know, like, and trust. And trust is earned.

But first…

Before we get too deep into this, let’s take a quick step backwards. Let’s understand one very important thing: nothing happens until something gets sold.

Without sales, there is no need for marketing, manufacturing, engineering, programmers (if it’s a software/hybrid tech firm), financial departments, shipping/receiving, warehousing, customer service, or whatever. If you are not in sales, you are not part of the solution in growing (or protecting) revenues at your company.

But you should also understand that, if you talk to the public (ie: any customer interaction at any level – receptionist, customer service, etc.) in the name of your company in any sense and at any time, then you are in sales, whether or not you like salespeople, or whether or not you have “sales” as part of your title.

Wait… What? I’m in SALES?

Think of it this way. The last time you had a complaint about a product, you called the company that made that product, right? Now, did you talk to a person that gave you their name, and actually helped you out, and did the job quickly? Or did you get a rather faceless, nameless corporate person that didn’t seem to care a whit about you or your issue?

If the former, congratulations to that company – their management understands what it means to take care of their customers, and that person helped sell you on your next purchase with that company.

If you experienced the latter, then they don’t, and they may have lost a renewal or a future sale. Worse yet, if you become really angry, you’re likely to tell 7 of your friends about how poorly you were treated by that company. Now there are 7 more people that won’t buy from your company.

I’ll use a personal experience to back up my contention here. When my son was about 12, he scrimped and saved his allowance, odd-job money, and birthday money, and so on, until he had roughly $79. He wanted to buy himself a boombox from a major manufacturer. He was very proud he’d earned that boombox.

When the boombox was about 4 months old (just a tad out of the 90-day warranty), the radio portion broke. The cassette player still worked, but the radio was broken. I said, “let’s try to call the help line, to see if they’ll make an exception for you, since it’s just a bit out of warranty.” So, he found the number in the manual, and he called. The (very nice) woman that answered told him that he was out of luck. Next, I got on the phone and tried to explain that the warranty had only expired about 2 weeks earlier (which she verified by serial number), and told her about how he scrimped and saved and was very excited about the product when he purchased it – are you sure there’s nothing you can do for this young man?

She still told us “no.”

Feeling beaten, we hung up.

Now, that woman – again, she was very nice about the whole thing – was probably following a script that her management team had created. “Lines are lines.” I’m sure they said. “We cannot give away the store!” I’m sure they said.

The upshot is, my son is now close to 30, and has never purchased another product of that brand. Nor have I. A few friends we shared the story with tell us they’ve stopped purchasing their products as well.

So – the woman won the battle – she did her job. But the company lost some formerly (at least my son and myself) loyal customers. Being a former employee of a consumer-electronics firm myself, let’s say it would have cost that company about $25 to fix the boombox for my son (and probably much less).

Again – they saved themselves $25 and only spent some time of a customer service rep. But they lost at least 5 customers, who may have purchased how many thousands of dollars worth of devices from them over the course of their lifetimes?

Back to some “research…” and observations

Since we’re tossing about research (anecdotal and real) topics and the number 7, some marketing research says it costs 7 times as much to sell something to a new customer than it does to sell something new to an existing customer.

How professional are your customer service reps? Your installers? Your “Customer Success” reps? Your trainers?

If these teams are not successful, you won’t be successful over the long haul.

Do the math. It’s as simple as that. People have long memories.

My point is simple – everyone at your company is in sales at some level.

BARS Partner Suitability and Stack Ranking: Process and Tools Background and Overview Pt. 3

Implementing the BARS exercise

The BARS process ranks each partner on a scale of 1-5, across 3 objective and 1 subjective ranking weighted measurements. The average of these four categories informs the final analysis.

If you’ve not read Parts 1 and 2, I invite you to do that first. These two sections discuss the background of the exercise, and also provide some details as to why you’d want to consider implementing the BARS process with your channel management team in the first place.

The CAMs/AAMs and their partners will thank you for doing this – because the right partners will receive the most/best attention from your CAMs/AAMs. This will in term result in closer partnership with your business partners, which will grow sales for both organizations, and make for happier customers.

targetThe upshot is, the CAM/AAM will know their business partner population better, so they will communicate with them more effectively. There will lead to a lot more of “just-in-time, just-for-me” discussion going on, and less general, “shotgun-type” communications. In other words, your team won’t waste the valuable time of the partner, and will therefore have earned their appreciation, which strengthens the relationship overall.

To reiterate the process discussion, “BARS” stands for:

B: Bandwidth

A: Advocacy

R: Revenue history

S: Subjectivity

The Bandwidth ranking is fairly simple to derive. During conversations with partner’s executive management team, we need to ask whether they are in a position to take on new customers. If the answer is “yes,” we ask how many. The answer will certainly be different for the 1-person company versus mid-sized organizations and of course different again for larger reseller/partner/alliance companies. question-marks

Some of the questions to help you figure out your partners’ business profile, leading to their Bandwidth ranking, are (choose appropriate questions here, based on your product lineup):

1)    What is the competitive landscape regarding our product in your MSA?

2)    How long have you been in business? How long with us?

3)    How is your business broken down, percentage-wise:

a.    hardware sales

b.    software sales

c.     consulting sales

d.    break/fix activity

4)    If you carry hardware – which brands?

a.    Which do you focus on?

b.    Which do you prefer?

c.     Why?

5)    What competing products do you carry, if any?

a.    Product 1:

b.    Product 2:

c.     Product 3:

d.    Product 4:

6)    Regarding staffing:

a.    How many salespeople do you have on-staff?

b.    How many consulting resources?

c.     Break/fix technicians?

d.    Post-sales tech support resources (help desk)?

e.    Marketing resources?

f.     External contractor relationships?

g.    Outsourcing partnerships?

7)    How many offices/locations do you have today? What are your plans for growth?

8)    How many customers do you have today?

9)    How long have you had your customers, on average?

10)  What is the demographic profile of your best and worst customers?

a.    Why is that your best customer?

b.    Why is that your worst customer?

11)  Do you offer (and successfully sell) service contracts?

12)  Do you focus on a niche market, or are they generalists?

13)  How much of your business do we represent?

14)  Are you interested in growing their business overall, or are you happy with your current revenue and activity levels?

15)  What is your sales “approach?”

a.    Do you “do” proactive marketing?

b.    Referral-only?

c.     Outbound sales?

d.    Inbound sales efforts only?

e.    How do you advertise, if at all?

Marry this discussion with our knowledge of their level of advocacy for our products versus other competing products they may carry, and we can see how to best balance these two main points of suitability judgment.

The Advocacy discussion point attempts to provide an objective view of their subjective preferences for our product in the markets in which we participate. Some of the related questions may be:

1)    How do you speak of us, both with us, and to our customers?

2)    Do you run your business on our technology?

a.    If not, why not?

3)    Do you take our tests?

4)    Do you read our emails?

5)    Do you attend training days?

a.    Multiple training days?

b.    Does that lead to sales?

6)    Do you read our newsletters?

7)    Do you participate in beta programs?

8)    Do you participate in our forums?

9)    Do you participate/take advantage of MDF with your other vendors?

a.    What do those activities look like?

b.    What type(s) of activity(ies) are more successful than others?

c.     Are you interested in our MDF program?

10)  Do you engage with marketing for case study/PR activity?

a.    If not, are you willing to be?

11)  Do you call us back when we call them?

12)  Do you take our meetings?

13)  Do you have our logo on their website, and is it the right one?

14)  Do you lead with our products when in customer discussions?

15)  How many of our products do you proactively sell today?

a.    Are you willing to add our other products to your efforts?

b.    Will you even entertain the possibility?

c.     Do/did you represent a competing product that you’d consider replacing with our product?

16)  What other products do you champion, outside of ours? Advocacy – at large – do you focus on other products:

a.    Do you run (or participate in) a user group of any kind?

b.    Do you attend vendor/technology conferences?

c.    If so: which ones _____________________________________

d.     Are you a member of any professional VAR group?

e.    What product certifications do you or your staff members hold?

17)  What distribution relationships do you have?

The Revenue data point is the most-objective data point in the exercise. Depending on how long they’ve been a partner of ours, we can look back at – and graph – the last 3 years, if possible, of their revenue attainment. Is it growing? Staying the same? Declining? Do they know why there were those inflection points?

1)    What target markets do you approach?

a.    Commercial

i.    Architecture/engineering/Aeronautics

ii.    Arts/sports/entertainment

iii.    Traditional entrepreneurial

iv.    Public affairs

v.    Financial/insurance

vi.    Legal

vii.    Marketing/PR/Advertising

viii.    Medical/health care

ix.    Real estate

x.    Technology/Aeronautics

xi.    Retail/merchandising

xii.    OGAS

xiii.    Manufacturing

b.    Government (SLG or other “non-profits”)?

c.     Educational

i.    K-12

ii.    HiEd

iii.    Private

2)    Ideal customer size for your organization?

3)    What is your retention rate for your customer base:

a.    How many do you gain over the course of a year?

b.    How many do you lose over the course of a year?

4)    How has your customer demographic (size) changed over the years in other ways?

a.    Are you taking on larger customers, based on employee adds?

5)    Are you renewal-based, or new-product (new sales) based?

6)    How often do you contact Tech Support?

7)    Do your customers contact our tech support directly?

8)    How often do you refresh your customers’ technology?

a.    Based on your recommendation?

b.    What do your customers do as a result of your recommendation(s)?

9)    What is your average number of our product sales per quarter per product?

a.    Product 1

b.    Product 2

c.     Product 3

d.    Product 4

Finally, the Subjectivity rating is just that – it is our subjective ranking on a scale of 1-5, based on our own professional experience. It is our own “gut reaction” to the partner and his or her staff members. It also has the lightest weighting of all 4 points in the BARS matrix for the obvious reasons (with the exception of white-space coverage partners).

1)    Do we feel that they have the “right stuff” to carry our products, based on our time


2)    Do we enjoy spending time with them?

3)    Are the conversations we have positive in nature, or do they challenge us unnecessarily?

The final analysis

By gathering and considering the information derived from the answers to these and other questions, the Channel Manager can assign a ranking from 1-5 for each of the 4 categories. The available spreadsheet will automatically average each partner’s score, and shade the cell containing their final average in an appropriate color – green, yellow, or red.

1)    Green of course if “great partner,” and one that objectively deserves our time, attention, MDF dollars and so on

2)    Yellow denotes an organization that is either on the way up, or on the way down – keep watch over the next couple of quarters

3)    Red, or course, is a partner that is probably not appropriate to retain in the Focus Account Program, or is too new to the program to rank effectively

Other related tools

There are also spreadsheet tools to help rate existing partners that can be used for this exercise. Please contact me for availability. (The names in this graphic have all been BARS spreadsheet.jpgchanged – they do not represent any company – at least not intentionally.)

There is also a Profile Spreadsheet for new partners or recruits available as well. This can be used to assist the CAM/AAM in deciding whether to promote new partners to the next level, or to recruit this partner, as well.

The end of the series

Thank you for reviewing these thoughts – I look forward to hearing from you. If you have any ideas concerning BARS or Channel/Alliance Management in general, please leave a comment!

Happy partnering.

BARS Partner Suitability and Stack Ranking: Process and Tools Background and Overview: Part 2

Introduction: the BARS “what”

The job of an Alliance or Channel Manager is many-faceted. There are many tasks that need to be accomplished during the day/week/month for the CAM or AAM be truly successful. The AAM or CAM must find a balance that works for their population of partners, and for their employer.

BARS stands for:

B: Bandwidth
A: Advocacy
R: Revenue history
S: Subjectivity

This document and the BARS process begins by positing these three basic tenets:woman-juggling-time

  • All partners are not created equal
  • Some long-term customers/partners have become friends, possibly affecting our objectivity
  • There are only 24 hours in a day

OK – actually, there are four tenets. The forth is “there is a balance.”

It’s all about Time Management and ROI

The BARS process and tool set were created several years ago to help me personally find that balance, by getting a better handle on my own time-management challenges, and do it in as objective a manner as possible.

To be an effective time manager, one must choose to become effective at prioritizing time and effort spent on all the many and various activities that present themselves to us each hour of every day.


covey-quadrantsSteven Covey’s “Quadrants of Urgency

Time-management expert Steven Covey points out that most – if not all – professional activities can be categorized into one of four major quadrants. The trick is to strike the appropriate balance between the four, based on our professional positions and responsibilities, and future growth plans and desires.

It should go without saying that some time must be spent in all four quadrants. But to become most effective, Covey says we need to balance amongst them, so to best focus on those activities that provide us the greatest long-term payouts (both financial and emotional) that coincidentally provide us the widest impact. Alternatively, we can spend our time with efforts that provide momentary payoff, classified as those activities we find in Quadrants 1, 3 and 4.

As humans with emotional strengths and weaknesses that can drive our thinking both positively and negatively, we may be better served by making these decisions rationally, using objective data points and intentional thought, leading to more impactful actions based on those data points. But how best do we derive those data points? There are many ways, of course. Bandwidth, Advocacy, Revenue History and Subjectivity (BARS) is just one set of possible tools that can help in the process.

But first, here’s an overview of Covey’s four “Quadrants of Urgency.”

Quick Quadrant Review

So, how does Steven Covey’s original work, “The Quadrant’s of Urgency” relate to the BARS process?

1) Quadrant 1

This is where, many times, we find ourselves inadvertently spending a disproportionate amount of our time. We do so, because when we’re “in the zone” in this quadrant, we find that we’ve fixed a problem for someone reactively, and we derive satisfaction from that.

Maybe we’ve “responded quickly to an emergency” from a partner when we are operating in this quadrant. And it can feel very good to be considered useful and helpful. It can also feel “expedient” to operate here. The good news is, being good with the systems and technologies available to us can help us operate more quickly here, which can subsequently reduce our time spent here.

fisherman-in-a-boat-fishing-fishing-rod-hooks-bait-boat-fish-anchor-water-beard-chain-compass-vector-stock-vectorThe main (negative) side effect of operating in Quad 1 is, we train our partners to depend on us to fix all their issues – regardless of the severity of any given issue. Consider the proverbial story of feeding a person – “give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Also, Quad 1 activities can almost be considered “enablers” of undesirable activity, if allowed to rule our schedules.

An example of a Quadrant 1 activity is the urgent phone call from the partner asking about why they’ve fallen off the Partner Locator; or they just saw an article on a website where our products were being called into question – and what is our response; etc. Many times, we “fall into” this trap, because emotionally, this partner is our friend, or someone we’re trying to become closer with, and we allow their issue to become ours. It’s human nature for many sales people to desire to become friends with all our partners, and be considered helpful and responsive to all of them, regardless of ROI. After all, positive relationships provide positive results, right?

But our Partner Program Marketing Manager has created an extensive (and if well done) useful Partner Portal on-line that has the ability to fix many issues, and supply answers (or brandable literature, sales tools, price lists, etc.) to many of these reactive questions. And it’s available when the CAM or AAM is asleep…

2) Quadrants 3 and 4

I’ll treat these two quadrants together, because as successful professionals, we have a tendency not to spend much time in either of these quadrants, anyway. Some time is of course spent here, but it is normally managed quite well, or we wouldn’t find ourselves in the positions we’re in today. Examples of Quad 3 and Quad 4 activities are:

  • water-cooler chat (Quad 4) about the local baseball team, etc. (gotta do some of this as co-worker personal relationship-building)
  • web “research-for-the-sake-of-research” instead of based on the needs of a current or future project
  • updating our FaceBook status on company time
  • watching mindless television – even on personal time; and the like

Quad 3 is also where we receive phone calls from our colleagues and partners about topics unrelated to our current activity, possibly representing “emergencies” for their situation, but not really for us, and the like.

3) Quadrant 2

To be most successful over the longest term, Covey states that effective managers and individual contributors should spend the preponderance of their time operating inside Quadrant 2 – labeled “Important Activities that are Not Urgent.”

This is where we find Strategic Planning activities; self-improvement training; executing Training Days; providing proactive, leveraged presentations to partner sales forces; possibly “Channel Chat” webinars; planning and executing MDF activities; meaningful 1-to-many activities, in other words. As Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, these are “sharpen the axe” activities.

Because this quadrant focuses on activities that are considered non-urgent, we often find ourselves treating these activities as “second-class-citizens,” which can actually harm our professional growth and, therefore, our future perfosixtyfour-thousand-dollarrmance.

But how do you figure out what activity belongs in which quadrant?

That’s the $64,000 question.

And we’ll talk about how to divine the answers in Part 3 of this series. That will be published soon.