Working with your IT channel account manager

Get partner and vendor insight on the relationship between your company and your IT vendor's channel account manager.

The role of a vendor's channel account managers, or partner account managers, is to manage the relationship with channel partners, including growing revenue and negotiating contracts. Depending on the vendor, that work could be tasked to a single individual or to a team of people. Yet sometimes those relationships don't work as smoothly as they should and channel partners find themselves having to strike a delicate balance.

Melanie Gass, president of CenterPoint Solution LLC, a Microsoft training and consulting firm based in South Orange, N.J., is the point person for the vendor's channel account managers and said she's grateful for the relationship. "I say that because I know not everyone feels this way," she noted. Gass characterizes the partnership as very good and attributes that to the fact that "I only bother them when I really need them," otherwise finding the information she needs on her own.

I only bother them when I really need them.

Melanie Gass,
on her company's relationship with Microsoft's channel account managers

Another factor that makes it successful is that "I know their language," she said, which is helpful in getting answers faster and "not having to fish around for information." In Microsoft's world, she said, terms like open value and open business are used, "but if I come to the table and just say the word open, it could go in different directions. So, I need to think preemptively." She also makes a point of learning who the players are and what they are responsible for and matching her needs to the right people.

Gass recalled a recent licensing deal she was involved with (involving Microsoft software, which was distributed by Tech Data), in which a question came up about how the customer should bundle its licensing to make it cost-effective in the long term. "I don't know 100% of the ins and outs, but I know enough to be dangerous and understand the basics." That, she said, was her saving grace. Gass said that if she hadn't done her homework ahead of time by asking questions of Tech Data's sales support desk, "the customer would have paid a higher rate, and in the end wouldn't have received the best value for their money."

Another tactical strategy Gass takes is to try to help the vendor as much as she can. "For a lot of people when dealing with vendors, and Microsoft in particular, it's 'What can you do for me?' I consider it a give-and-take relationship, so if there's something I can do that will be beneficial for them, I'm more than happy to help."

In terms of areas that could use improvement, Gass suggested making time to develop the vendor relationship -- even just making a point of saying a quick hello to her vendor contact at a conference.

Cisco Systems Inc., which has roughly 40,000 partners in the U.S. alone, has two pillars it operates on when it comes to what its partner account managers (PAMs) can bring to the channel: trust and value, according to Ricardo Moreno, vice president of Cisco's Field Partner Organization for U.S. and Latin America. To enable that, PAMs provide partners with enablement capabilities, access to their connections at Cisco, and knowledge about Cisco's offerings as well as the market, Moreno said.

The only issues he said he has heard about related to the channel relationship are in some partners' ability to adjust to market transitions, such as moving to the cloud. "They're big, they're fast, and we're seeing partners that have already adopted and moved ahead with the transition, and then we're seeing partners who are not there and are asking for help with the transition."

But Moreno acknowledges that most of the time his PAMs don't call him to say they are having an issue with a partner. "More often the calls are 'I want to develop my partner and drive partner success and I can't do that alone and can you help me?'"

He said he has PAMs that engage with Cisco's partners in areas beyond the traditional channel role and will help them in areas like deciding whether to make an acquisition or how to prepare for an IPO, he said. "There's lot of transition going on now in the market, and our partners are asking us to help them navigate [that] and help make decisions."

This was first published in January 2014

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