Channel Sales Professionals Must Be Sales Professionals First

SalesBy Scott Strubel, Vice President, Americas Partner Organization, NetApp


Why This Matters to Both Technology OEMs and their Partners

My three decades of selling in the tech sector have been divided between leading direct sales and technical teams and leading channel or partner sales and technical teams.  In that time, spent on both sides of a fence between direct and partner sales, I’ve seen a wide range of expectations and beliefs of what a channel or partner rep does for a living.  I’ve seen channel reps derided as relationship managers, event planners, overlays, or hangers-on.  And I’ve seen partner sales professionals fully respected by their direct sales peers as part of the selling team.  How they are seen is, in part, a function of how they approach their role. 


I earned my first channel leadership role after authoring a note to leaders above me critiquing what the channel team was doing for my direct sales teams.  And I was then humbled by how much I learned in that first channel leadership role.  I learned from highly skilled channel sales professionals how to best navigate that tough balance between the needs and demands of current or prospective partners and those of their employer or direct sales teams.  Through leading partner sales teams for technology OEMs these past 13 years, I’ve observed several common denominators to successful channel sales professionals. 


First and foremost, the most successful channel sales professionals understand that they are sales professionals first and they work with partners second.  Trying to resolve whether one’s priority is to serve a partner or your own sales force is less relevant if the basics of growth of market share in any chosen market is not tackled well and first.  Channel sales reps that know they are sales professionals first put a priority on what solutions for their employer they must grow via their partners, and use external measures to inspect and act on priorities leading to growth. 


The best channel sales reps have many of the same attributes as the best end-user sales reps.  They know the difference between hunting and farming, and sharpen their skills at both.  Recently, I met with a principal of a partner company that will resell an 8-figure amount of my company’s products this year.  He said, “The only reason we are now a partner and investing in your solutions is because of the relentless pursuit by your channel sales rep in getting us recruited, committed, and enabled….” 


Great partner sales professionals show up, and are a known and sought-after resource for both customers and partners.  They are knowledgeable about the business and the technical reasons why customers buy solutions from partners and technology OEMs.  They know the status of their top deals.  They know who is growing and who is declining and why.  And what they will do about both.  They are driven by a desire to over-achieve on goals and be paid well for that over-achievement, and are willing to risk a high percentage of on-target earnings as incentive pay for results.  


Successful partner sales professionals working within technology OEMs are very good at the financials for both the partner and for their employer.  They know how priorities will be set by partners in any market around GP dollars that can be created, not just GP percentages.  They reflexively know gross margin math, and how to negotiate deals to maximize wins for both parties - but first, to have a win.  Too many less successful channel sales professionals will negotiate endlessly between partners and account sales teams on deals that never happen.    


Great sales reps that choose to be partner sales professionals can help both technology OEMs and their partners secure growth, share of wallet, and share of addressable markets being pursued. 


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