• Channel account managers aren’t traditional account managers.
  • Channel account managers take on partner management for the supplier organization.
  • Channel account managers are partners’ single point of contact.
  • Channel account managers educate partners on vendor solutions.
  • Channel account managers serve as partner advocates.
  • Channel account managers create strategic revenue-generating partner relationships.

What is a Channel Account Manager & Why Do Channel Partner Programs Need Them?

Channel partner programs frequently employ channel account managers (CAMs) to manage sales partnerships. While those familiar with channel sales already know this role and how it fits into a program, any company starting a partner program needs to learn what CAMs are responsible for and why they’re critical to your indirect sales initiative.

So, why do partner programs need CAMs? To answer this question, we spoke with seven industry experts. Our panelists include:

Want to skip ahead? Check out six reasons channel partner programs need channel account managers:

  1. Channel Account Managers Aren’t Traditional Account Managers 
  2. Channel Account Managers Take On Partner Management for the Supplier Organization 
  3. Channel Account Managers Are Partners’ Single Point of Contact
  4. Channel Account Managers Educate Partners on Vendor Solutions 
  5. Channel Account Managers Serve as Partner Advocates
  6. Channel Account Managers Create Strategic Revenue-Generating Partner Relationships 

What is a Channel Account Manager?

TechTarget defines a channel account manager or partner account manager (PAM) as a liaison between a vendor and its channel partners who builds, maintains and manages long-term relationships with current and

prospective partners for the vendor’s partner program. 

We surveyed our panel to get their input on how they define a channel account manager:

  • “A CAM is a channel manager responsible [for] educating, engaging, empowering, advocating affiliate partners, and helping [to] maintain or exceed companies’ channel partners’ sales growth,” says Technology Source’s Cook.
  • TPx’s Conrad defines the role as: “A CAM is the main point of contact for the agents, VARs and MSPs when dealing with the provider.”
  • Sophos’ Whitley says defining CAM isn’t so simple anymore. She says, “There are many different names and roles now [such as];
    • Channel Account Managers
    • Territory Account Managers
    • Channel Account Executives
    • Channel Program Lead

“They do not mean the same within different companies. Some have different titles for inside sale CAMs and outside sale CAMs. There doesn’t seem to be an exact industry standard for these roles and titles.”

What are Channel Account Manager Responsibilities?

By any title, CAMs are in charge of channel partner management, but what are their job responsibilities?

The role responsibilities vary from company to company, says Sophos’ Whitley. “Almost all are responsible for financial goals and sales enablement; some are responsible for recruiting new partners, [and] others are responsible [for managing] the accounts to help partners train, become educated on their products and upsell or cross-sell.

“Although this varies from company to company, typically, the CAM recruits, onboards, and trains partners,” adds TPx’s Conrad. “They frequently assist in quoting and selling opportunities, handling escalations, and helping them overall navigate within the provider’s organization. They might also assist with commissions.” 

Technology Source’s Cook says CAMs have three main goals:

  • “[The] first goal [is to] generate sales revenue for partners and the company you represent.
  • [The] second goal [is to] develop and educate new partners, uncover opportunities, and identify potential breakdowns, protect your company by not wasting resources and vetting partners and opportunities carefully.
  • [The] third goal [is to] reward and leverage successful partners to help recruit more partnerships because not everyone continues to sell, and you need others to step up and fill in those gaps. Why? See [the] first goal.”

“They are responsible for managing the relationship between their company and the partner,” says Five9’s Hafterson. “Overall enablement, training, pipeline management, and overall go-to-market strategy.”

RAD-INFO’s Radizeski offers a similar take in his new book, “Secrets of Channel Management.” “The Channel Manager is the conduit for the channel partner to the service provider (SP). All questions, concerns, complaints and education come through the [channel manager]. The [channel manager] has to have relationships internally with a number of departments to get stuff done. That stuff can include a sales engineer on a customer call (now!); someone in billing to handle an issue; or a way to escalate trouble tickets.”

Keeping the variance between companies in mind, Sophos’ Whitley says CAM responsibilities generally include some or all of the following duties:

  • Articulating the requirements, expectations and benefits of the channel program
  • Processing applications, onboarding and enabling the partner in CRM, PRM and solution platforms 
  • Building and growing relationships with partners to increase sales growth
  • Building relationships with the vendor’s internal sales and sales engineering teams 
  • Aligning company sales resources to support identified opportunities from key partners as needed 
  • Developing and implementing proactive initiatives, in conjunction with other departments like channel marketing, to promote the vendor’s complete range of products and services to partners
  • Ensuring all partner profiles and contact information is kept up to date to ensure business development and effectiveness of program initiatives
  • Meeting sales quotas through partners in assigned territories to achieve supplier growth goals 
  • Forecasting accurate partner revenue 
  • Recruiting net new partners through conference participation, interaction with distributors and other means 
  • Managing partner concerns and issues
  • Negotiating and managing contracts 
  • Communicating with appropriate stakeholders to accurately quote deals 

Where do Channel Account Managers Fit Into a Company’s Organizational Structure?

CAMs predominantly work within the channel sales department and are assigned indirect sales revenue quotas. “CAMs have quotas, so success is ultimately tied to generating revenue for their organization (and their partner),” says TPx’s Conrad.

Five9’s Hafterson agrees that sales results are also how success is measured for a CAM, but she adds that sharing knowledge to partners and educating them is a KPI as well. “Success is key metrics such as lead and revenue growth along with the partner having knowledge of the product or service,” says Hafterson.

However, the focus on revenue growth doesn’t necessarily mean CAMs are always part of the channel sales team. CAMs also may be part of channel marketing or channel operations teams. In those cases, they’re held to different success metrics.

“Instead of looking at the number of partners recruited or the total number of channel sales in a given quarter, CAMs in a marketing role would be measured by the engagement of existing partners in upselling campaigns, use of partner marketing kits and campaigns in a box, marketing qualified leads, ROI on MDF allocation with partners and other metrics typically associated with most marketing departments,” said Zift Solutions’ Tenuto. “CAMs in an operations-based role would be measured on certifications of existing partners, quality of solution deployments and adherence to SLAs for partner deals, partner satisfaction and channel attrition rates and potentially any upsells they were able to make in the installation of a given solution.”

6 Reasons Channel Partner Programs Need Channel Account Managers

Why do partner programs need channel account managers? Our expert panel identified six key reasons programs need CAMs in place.

1. Channel Account Managers Aren’t Like Traditional Account Managers

A common misconception is that CAMs are strictly account managers who develop and maintain customer relationships to promote satisfaction and retention. Instead, Sophos’ Whitely says, “It’s a true sales role for most organizations.”

As a result, she says, companies may end up hiring for CAM roles incorrectly. “Companies need to be very clear in the hiring process [about] what the expectations are,” says Whitley. “The phrase ‘Channel Account Manager’ can be an internal role, external role, etc. Having a full job description will help both parties.” 

TPx’s Conrad also acknowledges the confusion around the CAM role: “I do think some partners feel [CAMs] are order takers and bring little value, but personally, I have not worked for a company when that was the case. In my current role, we would not have a channel if it were not for the CAMs.”

RAD-INFO’s Radizeski agrees, noting that due to the increasing complexity of technology, CAMs increasingly bring deals across the finish line. “Sometimes the [channel manager] has to be the closer, closing the sale, especially on services that the partner is unfamiliar with like security or disaster recovery,” notes Radizeski in his book on channel management. “Both the [channel manager] and partner need the sales; and this is more common than I once thought.”

2. Channel Account Managers Take On Partner Management for the Supplier Organization

Traditional supplier sales organizations aren’t set up to handle the unique needs of partners. Managing partner engagements take time and in-depth knowledge, not only of the channel, but of the specific partners and their business models.

“CAMs take the strain off the organization by handling the partner accounts,” explains Sophos’ Whitley. “[A channel sale is” a very different sale than a direct sale and it takes [the] specialty of knowing your partner and their business. They have different support needs; most technology partners are very savvy and handle Tier 1 support, so [they] don’t need the handholding like an end customer. It also streamlines the sales goals and priorities into one group instead of spread company-wide where quotas and results will be very different than direct.”

The CAM also can help field service inquiries and troubleshoot problems before engaging the resources of the larger support team and make the right call when escalating to the correct tier to solve an issue. “I feel successful when I can support an escalation and provide the partner some value despite the solutions’ breakdown,” says Technology Source’s Cook.

Zift Solutions’ Tenuto adds that CAMs can deliver peace of mind to the partners they manage. “In a partner engagement, CAMs don’t receive support calls or trouble tickets from an end user,” explains Tenuto. “They get calls from a partner technical expert who has already tried normal troubleshooting pathways, so the vendor ends up solving truly complicated problems. Usually, these tense situations stress test the vendor-partner relationship. The trust built between the CAM and the partner will keep the partner at ease while the issue is being resolved.”

3. Channel Account Managers Are Partners’ Single Point of Contact

CAMs serve as the single point of contact for partner organizations and the needs of the vendor company.

“The CAM is the traffic cop for everything the selling partner needs, from quoting, proposals, demos, order processing, etc.,” says TPx’s Conrad. “I have never seen a successful channel program without CAMs unless they are selling a noncomplex commodity product.”

Sophos’ Whitley echoes these sentiments. “Most channels are relationship driven,” says Whitley. “By providing a hands-on expert to your partners, they receive the best partner experience.” 

Whitley cautions against using standard support protocols to handle partner needs. “In larger organizations, it can become very frustrating to rely on a generic support email or a large group of people that constantly changes, so your issue takes one week to solve instead of a quick phone call or email to their dedicated account manager,” explains Whitley. “Equate account managers to expert multi-taskers and the folks that can quickly bring in the right people for a solution.“ 

Five9’s Hafterson notes that CAMs also serve a consultative role that affects the bottom line for partners. “CAMs’ biggest benefit to the partner is one point of contact that helps drive strategy and revenue,” says Hafterson.

4. Channel Account Managers Educate Partners on Vendor Solutions

Since CAMs are the primary conduit between partners and the supplier company, they’re responsible for ensuring partners are educated on the vendor’s solution set.

“They are the liaison for the partner, [and] they are 100 percent focused to make sure the partner is aware of their value proposition and ensure the partner can successfully sell that company’s solution,” says TPx’s Conrad.

An increasingly complex selling environment is increasing the demand for CAMs. “I added six new positions in 2022,” says Conrad. “I see the increase because our portfolio has complex products, and those products require more attention. The qualifying process is more detailed, the quoting has more revisions, [and] the need for technical resources has increased significantly. All of these mean more CAMs, not less, in my company.”

Sophos’ Whitley notes that CAMs have evolved to encompass multiple functions, including training and education, as a holistic resource for partners. “The role has changed over the years to be more of a self-sustaining expert in your territory,” says Whitley. “Companies now rely on CAMs to accurately forecast, take on the largest partner accounts and lead them and be technical enough to do bite-size demos before bringing in a [sales engineer]. In my mind, CAMs are running their own small business unit themselves. In the past, it was much more a team effort with VPs/managers taking on forecasting and the larger accounts.”

5. Channel Account Managers Serve as Partner Advocates

CAMs are beginning to shed their reputation for calling up at month-end, asking partners for a list of opportunities. Now, the smart and savvy CAMs are becoming partner advocates inside their organizations.

“For partners, your CAM is an advocate and evangelist for you within the vendor company,” says Appgate’s Prazak.

Zift Solutions’ Tenuto agrees, adding that partner advocacy plays a critical role for CAMs, especially those serving smaller partners. “A CAM serves as a critical link between the supplier company and the partner organization, often being the voice for the needs of the partner,” says Tenuto. “A partner that’s a one-person shop with a unique opportunity in hand will take that deal to the CAM that is responsive and routinely making their life easier.”

6. Channel Account Managers Create Strategic Revenue-Generating Partner Relationships

The adage, “people buy from people,” is one of the cornerstones of the indirect sales channel, and CAMs are one of the key reasons partners choose one vendor over another.

“Although technology [(e.g., partner portals, PRMs, etc.)] is essential for scaling, it must be managed by people that the channel can hold accountable,” says Technology Source’s Cook. “If you want your partner program to go from transactional to consultative, there needs to be someone partners can strategize with.

Cook adds that the close relationship between a partner and a CAM is what leads to the large and complex sales many providers are after. “The transactional opportunities are door openers to developing trust and once that is established, channel partners will bring new solutions to their larger accounts,” says Cook. “CAMs are needed to navigate those complex opportunities. …Strategic relationships create prosperity.”

Appgate’s Prazak says CAMs also find alternative routes to market with partners for their organization. “Due to the increase in the rise of marketplace transactions, it’s key for CAMs to focus not only on traditional channels but also emerging and disruptive channels to ensure their company is ready to meet their customers where and how they want to transact today and into the future,” says Prazak.

Companies new to channel programs or looking to engage their partners more effectively, win more complex deals and deploy channel management solutions should consider employing channel account managers.