What Makes the Ultimate Partner Business Manager?

What Makes the Ultimate Partner Business Manager?

Building a top-tier channel organization? One of the most important steps is finding the right people to fill the roles on your team. In our experience, the Partner Business Manager (also known as a Partner Manager, Channel Account Manager, Channel Manager… the list goes on) is one of the most invaluable roles.

So, what makes a successful channel partner manager? Of course, delivering over quota is one of the easiest metrics to measure. But, there are many other factors to look at, as well. Here are the top ten traits of the best channel managers.

The Ultimate Partner Business Manager Provides Data, Not Donuts

How many channel managers have you seen carrying donuts over to their partners, thinking their visit is complete? This is fine to do occasionally, but relationship activities must be balanced with adding true value to the partner.  

What do partners prefer over donuts?  

Information such as: “Customers who purchase product X need these 3 services that increase the partner’s margin,” or, “When a customer buys X, they have a high propensity to buy Y in 2 months.”  

The best PBMs regularly bring valuable information to your partners, and the data they provide should help their partner increase revenue and margin.

The Ultimate Partner Business Manager Knows Their Partner Reps and How They Are Paid

The best partner managers know their partner sales teams inside and out. Just as in any other organization, there is a bell curve of performers. They need to know which partner sales reps are the key players, which can improve with the right care and feeding, and which will most likely not be around for very long.

While it may sound callous, spending time with the first two categories of partner sellers is a much more effective time management strategy, and one that will lead to higher results.

It’s also essential channel account managers are aware of their partner reps’ compensation. We’ve seen partner managers push certain products without paying attention to how that solution would impact the partner’s compensation. This is a mistake.  

If a partner has a minimum margin of 10% and your product only delivers 5%, you are never going to succeed, unless you can show how their services or add-ons get to a profit margin that is over their 10% target.

The top PBMs demonstrate that they understand their partners’ compensation plans and show how their solutions will optimize them.

The Ultimate Partner Business Manager Doesn’t Stop at the Sales Team

The best channel account managers understand and make it a point to work with all stakeholders at their channel partners. True, sales is a critical group, but so are the technical teams, the marketing team, and the partner executives. In fact, leaving out one of these key groups is a critical mistake.  

You most likely have leaders within your own company to map to your partner. For example, when a partner marketing VP can sit down and talk with your company’s marketing leadership, the conversation takes on a new meaning.

You should be not only mapping your executives to your partners, but should also ensure there are regular check-ins and checkpoints.

Best-in-class PBMs actively plan and strategize with key partner executives, and are invited to the table to have strategic discussions.

The Ultimate Partner Business Manager Has Empathy Toward Partners

The best channel managers don’t just manage their own agendas, but are also sensitive to their partner’s priorities, both in general and for each month and quarter.  Partners want to feel like their channel manager is in their corner, not just spouting their own company’s lines. 

One example is when companies launch new products or programs. The top partner managers will put products and programs in the context of the partners’ priorities and initiatives, and position them in relation to the impact on the partner’s resources:  

  • How many people will need to be trained or certified?

  • What are implications for the services team?

  • What is the upfront marketing investment required for success?

  • How will this impact cash flow?

  • When is break even, and what is the ROI?

This might also mean that a channel account manager will advise a partner not to take on a new solution or technology.

Another example is when a partner is struggling with cash flow, service bench availability, or their contract team’s vacation schedule. We’ve seen partners with these issues hold orders, resulting in a missed forecast and missed quota. 

A good channel manager knows this information ahead of time, and has created a contingency plan that will meet both the needs of their own company as well as their partner’s.

Top-tier PBMs know their partner’s priorities and challenges, and present their company’s information in terms of partner resources and impact.

The Ultimate Partner Business Manager Has Mastered Financial Acumen  

Partners have choices, and there are several factors that go into their decisions about which manufacturers to work with:

  • Is there high customer demand?

  • Is the company simple to work with?

  • Are their products best-in-class? 

Most importantly, they want to know they’ll hit their financial targets with the vendor. If you don’t have the buy in from the partner executive team based on their economic analysis, nothing else matters.

This does not mean that the best channel account managers necessarily have MBAs. It does mean that a partner manager needs to be able to position their solutions in terms of how much they will need to invest, how soon they will get to break even, what the ROI will be on their investment, and what is the ongoing impact to their top and bottom line.

The most effective PBMs are comfortable holding financial-based conversations with their partners.

The Ultimate Partner Business Manager Gives Their Partner Opportunities to Provide Input

Partners are an extension of a company’s sales team and are on front line of the sales process. They can provide valuable insights from their customers that vendors would be wise to listen to. In addition to hearing what’s on the end customer’s mind, partners also have input regarding their experiences. 

Channel account managers can and should orchestrate ways for the partner to provide input. A few effective paths to do this are by hosting executive visits or meetings at headquarters, and sending invitations to participate in partner advisory councils.  

Equally important is demonstrating you’ve heard what your partners are saying. Document their feedback, let them know which items you will follow up on, and provide regular updates. They took the time to communicate to you, so you should show them that  you’re taking their input seriously.

The best PBMs give their partners opportunities to be heard, and make sure they know they’re listening.

The Ultimate Partner Business Manager Knows When to Push (And When to Pull Back)

We’ve worked with channel managers who never push boundaries. They bend over backwards to give their partners everything they ask for. You may be surprised to learn that partner executives often do not respect this behavior.

The best partner managers don’t jump through hoops because a partner asks them to. They are challengers who understand when constructive contention is required.  

In fact, partner executives have told us that they appreciate channel account managers who push them. They respect those who challenge their assumptions, open their eyes to new perspectives, and are not afraid of respectful debate.

Of course, to be an effective challenger, a partner manager has to have earned the right to have a seat at the table, by putting in the hard work and thought leadership to understand how to best guide their partner.  

Perhaps most importantly, an effective PBM has to have the emotional intelligence to know when to push their agenda, and when to let things go.

The Ultimate Partner Business Manager Drives a Sense of Shared Responsibility

The best partnerships and relationships are bi-directional. Neither party can (or should) drive a plan on behalf of the other party.

We’ve seen partner managers sign partner business plans their partners have never seen! Likewise, we’ve seen partners who are puzzled over why they didn’t meet goals they neglected to share with their channel account managers. It’s no surprise when either of these fizzle out.

The ideal partnership is built on a shared business agenda, where plans, commitments, and investments are co-developed. Each item on your plan should have a milestone, an owner, and a date. Then, the plan should be co-signed.  

A regular review process should be established with representation from both the vendor and partner leaders. This enables both sides to identify where things are going well and where they have strayed off track. It provides a structured conversation to create “get well” plans if needed, and equally important, to celebrate successes. 

Expert PBMs drive a shared business plan and a disciplined review process.

The Ultimate Partner Business Manager Has a Growth Mindset

As with most of these characteristics, the importance of having a growth mindset is not exclusive to partner managers. The most effective, successful, and interesting people we meet have a growth (vs. fixed) mindset. They are constantly learning, reading, exploring, and questioning.

Channel account managers should make time to study technology and business trends that could impact them personally or professionally, and those that might impact their partner.

They don’t wait for their manager to tell them what to do. Instead, they proactively propose ideas and make suggestions to their leadership team and to their partner that have wide ranging impact on the business.  

They are reflective about their own skills required to be better at their job starting with a self assessment on the items above such as: Am I able to position my company’s solutions in terms that are relevant to my partner? Am I comfortable in constructive contention? A few other sample skills questions are:

  • Do I start each partner meeting with an agenda?

  • Do I follow up on each action item?

  • Do I show up on time?

  • Am I effectively communicating?

The most powerful PBMs are self-reflective, make time time for personal development, and bring forth new and valuable ideas that benefit both their partner and their organization.

The True Measure of the Ultimate Partner Business Manager

So, how do you know if a channel account manager has all of these qualities? It often comes down to this one simple factor.

A best-in-class partner business manager will be asked questions by their partner’s executive team that have nothing to do with their own company or products, and that are instead about the partner’s business strategy. This could be anything from mergers and acquisitions to compensation plans, or hiring strategies to technology investments.

They are sought out as experts who can give strategic advice and valuable insight. Partner executives ask them strategic questions because the channel manager is viewed as a trusted advisor and thought leader.

This is the true measure of the ultimate PBM.

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