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It’s easy to get your channel partners to exile your channel account managers (CAM) and not deal with them. Just keep them playing the “Pipeline Police.” When your CAM focuses on truly being a “manager” proactively helping their partners manage their businesses, that’s when they become true trusted partners. It really IS lonely at the top, and partner managers often have nobody to help them plan for their future. Advisor to the partner’s CEO is a great place for your CAMs to find themselves.


Several years ago, a major IT manufacturer went beyond the usual Bronze/Silver/Gold levels in their partner program and introduced the concept of a “field-managed” partner, as opposed to a phone-managed one. The idea was that these partners, identified as strategically important, would receive additional attention from someone who would visit them in-person regularly.

After running this program for some time there came a point where literally all the partners that had been identified as managed partners asked to be removed from the program and go back to working through a person on the phone. It would seem to be a great advantage to have someone work with you personally representing your key vendors. Who would give up such a great advantage?

The Pipeline Police

Consistently, every partner asking to leave the managed program cited a specific lack of value coupled with an overarching burden. They explained that all the field-manager ever did was to come in and make them report on the current state of their sales pipeline. Nothing more. Some even explained that they had been threatened with removal from the program if they didn’t have the pipeline information ready when the field-manager visited.

Clearly, this indicated that the fault was with the vendor, not the partner manager. To have that much consistency across the program meant that these partner managers were being pressured to report regularly on their partners’ sales pipelines. They also seemed to have no other responsibilities beyond that. A very shallow, ineffective approach to deploying partner managers.

What’s in a Name?

Most vendors at that time referred to their partner liaisons either as Channel Account Managers (CAM) or Partner Account Managers (PAM). To hear the departing field-managed partners talk about it, this particular vendor would have been more accurate had they titled their people Partner Account Reporters, or even Partner Account Tormentors.

Some PAMs were trained to sell to their partners. On visits they would extol the virtues of their products, ask how sales were going, and perhaps take the sales managers out to lunch while other PAMs simply did “drive-bys”, stopping in to ask, “how are things going?” and “do you need anything from me?” They constituted little more than a face for their employer.

The breed of PAM that enjoyed the most success understood and embraced the imperative created by the last word in their title, “manager!” They came to help the MSP, SI, or other partner manage their business more effectively. Certainly, they furnished product information as necessary, pricing assistance, and other pragmatic activities. But their primary strategy was driven by their commitment to the concept of mutual benefit and the idea that if they helped their partner run their business better “all boats rise” including their own. In other words, “I succeed when you succeed.”

Insights from the Field

Those PAMs intending to truly become a partner in managing the business began by understanding the need to gain trust. “What is terribly difficult,” explains veteran PAM Debra Pfundstein, “is to quickly prove to a partner that you are trustworthy, you have their best interests in mind. The recognition that if they win, you win, and therefore you want them to win, because that’s a win for you, too.”

While others in the industry were busy trying to become “trusted technology advisors,” successful PAMs strive to be their partners’ trusted business partner. How do great PAMs earn that trust? Channel partners often express resentment that its very clear that all the PAM seems to care about is what’s in it for themselves. Explains Pfundstein, “It is way more important to recognize what’s in it for the partner!”

“I know what my goals are,” she explains. “I know what I will be held accountable to, I know what I need to do to succeed in my role. What I don’t know,” continues Debra, “is I don’t know those things about them. And so, first meetings, really, it’s getting to know the people, what are their styles? How do they like to communicate? What is their culture? That’s probably the first thing I spend a lot of time doing is recognizing what is truly important to them.”

Once you’ve addressed building trust and deeply learning about the partner, the next step is to align your needs and interests with theirs. “You have to spend the time, invest the time as the manager to recognize where the alignments are, and where they aren’t,” explains Pfundstein “And how do you work together to build the alignments where they don’t exist? Where do you build that synergy?”

She’s also quick to add, “And if the intent is to simply shoehorn a partner into a programmed relationship? That is not a partnership, that’s template management.”

What Have I Done for You Lately?

While many channel partners bristle at being repeatedly asked what they’ve done for their vendors, smart PAMs stay focused on what they can do to help their partners improve and increase their business. “You have to understand the partner,” says Debra Pfundstein. “You have to understand their needs, where their strengths are, and their weaknesses.”

“Then,” she continues, “what are the resources and tools you bring to the table as their manager on the vendor side, to improve that relationship? Help enable them to recognize who they are and what’s unique about them and their business. Then you can help them build those key differentiators that drive the business forward.”

Being the objective outsider consulting to the leadership team is also critical. Says Pfundstein, “A big part of managing is path clearing. How do I help you fix the things that are holding you back so that you can go forward? Maybe there’s a way I can help you mature your processes or document your workflow so things are such that not every step of the way is an emergency, a fire drill.”

Know When to Fold, Know When to Hold Them

Knowing where to make wise investments of their time is key to PAM success. “It’s a combination of receptivity, and the recognition of potential,” explains Debra Pfundstein. “You could have somebody seem super-excited, but they don’t stay engaged. They don’t participate. They don’t take advantage of anything you have to offer them. Unless it’s a problem, you never hear from them.”

The highest praise a PAM can receive from a partner executive is that they are considered part of the senior leadership team. Help your channel partners reach their goals, and they will surely help you achieve yours.

Key Takeaways

CAMs, PAMs, or the executives they report to should come away from this article with several actionable ideas to follow up:

    • Do an honest evaluation of how much you really know about each of your partners. If trust is there you will know plenty, at least enough to enable you to help them.
    • Review the completeness of the data you’ve collected about each partner in your PRM system.
    • Next list everything you’ve done recently for each partner. Frankly evaluate how strategic each of those actions really were.
    • Now list as many deals as you can think of that you’ve helped each partner close. How did you help?
    • How much revenue and gross profit did those deals generate for the partner? For your company?
    • Consult your calendar and count how many times you’ve visited with each partner. Compare that list to the revenue/GP list. Are you going with momentum and visiting your most active partners most, or placing bets on those who may potential come up the scale with some attention from you?
    • Identify those partners whose senior leadership teams have invited you to attend one or more of their meetings. If the answer is none, you’ve got some trust-building to do.
    • Review the business plans you’ve written with each of your partners. Are they strategic, or more tactical? Are you in “do” mode or “help plan” mode?
    • Do you have a verbal agreement with leadership at each partner that they welcome and appreciate your help managing their business?

As you go through each of these action items, you will very likely learn a lot about your relationships and how well they contribute to your own overall success!

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