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The delicate position

What makes channel account managers tick?

What makes channel account managers tick? What makes channel account managers tick?

Channel account managers – they’re often lynchpins in channel relationships, needing to balance the interests of two sides. But what makes them tick?

At the centre of all the hustle and bustle of forming channel partnerships and ensuring the relationships remain healthy while both parties get a return is the channel account manager – responsible for identifying, developing, and expanding relationships with distributors, resellers, and retailers.

The Margin took a look at the role of the channel account manager to get a better understanding of what makes them tick, what keeps them awake at night, and what attributes they need to be successful.

Key role

Lisa Strydom, channel manager lead at Veeam, says for organisations that have a channel-driven business and strategy, the role of the channel account manager is key.

She defines these individuals as having a focus on driving their organisation’s strategy effectively by enabling their partners to be an extended arm of their organisation. “Enablement is key to drive business and so is a true understanding of how the solution will complement a customer’s environment and show value to their business needs.”

Describing the most important skills that the channel account manager must have, Strydom lists good people skills, an overall understanding of technology in their field, excellent presentation skills, an outgoing personality, a great multi-tasker, and the ability to negotiate. She also recommends that they have a good understanding of the overall channel sphere – resellers, system integrators, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and distribution and education centres.

From a distributor point of view, Andrew Potgieter, director of security solutions at Westcon-Comstor Southern Africa, says the role of the channel account manager may vary from distributor to distributor. Nonetheless, he notes that in essence, the channel account manager is the individual who manages both vendor and distributor activity within a select base of resellers or partners.

“This would be a single touch person who’s able to articulate the channel partner’s requirements as they pertain to the vendor set that the distributor represents. This person is a ‘relationship’ person whose value is proportional to the complexity of the vendor – that complexity is defined by technology, programmes and requirements.”

For Potgieter, from the specific value to the distributor, these individuals provide the IP around market demands as seen from a selection of resellers.

“Through relationships, they also attract a greater wallet share of the reseller based on the value of the distributor and when within the vendor they are able to articulate this to their customers.”

He believes that good interpersonal skills are essential in the management of the various players inside each partner, as is the ability to represent the distributor and brands in a professional manner. “As these people normally represent more complex technologies, they need a foundational understanding of technology and must be able to understand the vendors ‘go to market’ and value offering. They must also have the ability to multi-task and accumulate information from multiple partners into a single view of the market. All of this provides the ability to accurately forecast business through the depth of knowledge around customer deals and IP that validates transactions.”

Understanding needs

From an OEM perspective, Steven Kramer, channel and marketing manager for Fujitsu South Africa, says: “The channel account manager is the interface to the channel partner business. They must understand the partners' needs and, of course, ultimately the end customers’ business requirements.”

Kramer says they must have the ability to listen to and understand the customer requirements and articulate this back into the OEM. This will enable the OEM to assist the channel partner to put a comprehensive value-added solution to the customer. “Gone are the days of just a ‘me too’ quotation, channel partners need to be inventive, creative and ultimately to prove value when providing a solution.”

Matthew Kibby, regional director at VMware sub-Saharan Africa, says first and foremost, the channel account manager must possess a diversity of skills, but a customer focus is key. “We need to ensure that every day we go to work we remind ourselves that our job is to deliver value to customers though our channel partnerships.”

Financial drive

There’s been some confusion between the roles of the channel account manager and product manager. According to Veeam's Strydom, product managers have similar functions to channel account managers. “Although to my understanding, the product manager role is seen more in distribution and the channel account manager role is seen more at the vendor. So the product manager role is more financially driven,” she says.

Conversely, Westcon-Comstor's Potgieter says that where the product manager is more focused on vendor programmes incentives and targets, the channel manager needs to be able to articulate the elevator pitch version of these and understand the measurements required by the distributor as well as ultimately the partner.

“As an example, where a channel manager will drive brand growth through a vendor’s partner programme and its requirements, the channel manager acts out the requirements to the relevant individuals at the partner.”

Asked what keeps channel account managers awake at night, Strydom says the amount of competition in the IT industry is the stuff of nightmares. “Our resellers sell more than one of the same or similar solutions in the market, so differentiating ourselves from our competitors is important.”

“I think the channel account managers sit in quite a delicate position in that they have customer expectation they need to fulfil as well as the expectations of the OEM, and managing these can be daunting,” says Kramer.

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