Partner Relationship Management (PRM): The Ultimate Channel Sales Podcast

08 - How to Select the Right Platform to Manage Your Channel Sales

March 29, 2022 Magentrix Season 1 Episode 8
Partner Relationship Management (PRM): The Ultimate Channel Sales Podcast
08 - How to Select the Right Platform to Manage Your Channel Sales
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode of The Ultimate Channel Sales Podcast, we bring on Jonathan Deveaux. He has had a successful career driving business growth through partnerships for nearly a decade. From developing strategic partnerships to roles focusing on partner enablement and partner marketing, today he is the VP of Global Alliances and Partnerships at Comforte AG. 

Topic summary: 

Whether it’s a tech stack involving multiple technologies or just a single platform, having tools to manage your channel sales is a part of forming a channel strategy not to be overlooked. 

There are a number of things to consider when selecting the tools you should use for managing your channel sales. You want to make sure the tools you select are suitable for the job and provide the performance and functionality you expect. 

And once you’ve figured that out, you’ve got to decide which tools or technologies to actually utilize – no easy feat considering the multitude of options out there. 

Jonathan discusses how to select the right platform to manage your channel sales including: 

  • Best practices for selecting a channel management platform 
  • When is a solution necessary for channel management? 
  • Which organizations should adopt a channel management tool? 
  • Top challenges alleviated by a stellar channel management platform 
  • How channel management platforms increase partner engagement 

Listen to the episode where we’ll discuss these topics and more. 

Read the blog: https://www.magentrix.com/articles/blog/How-to-Select-the-Right-Platform-to-4-5-2022

(0:00) Introduction 
(1:57) Jonathan Deveaux’s background in channel sales 
(4:09) Best practices for selecting a channel management platform 
(7:30) When is a solution necessary for channel management? 
(9:28 ) Which organizations should adopt a channel management tool? 
(11:46) Top challenges alleviated by a stellar channel management platform 
(14:55) How channel management platforms increase partner engagement 
(20:13) Top 3 benefits of an excellent channel management platform 
(25:57) Pitfalls of not having a channel management platform 
(28:42) Look for a channel management platform that benefits other parts of your organization 
(30:49) Conclusion  

Paul Bird 00:05  

This is Partner Relationship Management: The Ultimate Channel Sales Podcast.

Welcome to another episode of the Ultimate Channel Sales Podcast. I'm your host, Paul Bird.

Whether it’s a tech stack involving multiple technologies or just a single platform, having tools to manage your channel sales with is part of forming a channel strategy and one not to be overlooked. 

The right tools can produce significant ROI as they help with: streamlining your current channel management structure and operations, saving you a considerable amount of time previously spent on doing these things manually and ultimately, closing more deals. 

Equipping your channel partners with some of the best technologies out there can really advance them towards achieving the goals you’ve set for them.

There are a number of things to consider when selecting the tools you should use for managing your channel sales. You want to make sure the tools you select are suitable for the job and provide the performance and functionality you expect. 

And once you’ve figured that out, you’ve got to decide which tools or technologies to actually utilize – no easy feat considering the multitude of options out there. 

We’ll discuss this and more on today’s episode.

Our guest today has had a successful career driving business growth through partnerships for nearly a decade. 

From developing strategic partnerships to roles focusing on partner enablement and partner marketing, today he is the VP of Global Alliances and Partnerships at Comforte AG – a data security company.

He’s here with us today to discuss: How to Select the Right Platform to Manage Your Channel Sales. 

Please welcome, Jonathan Deveaux. 

Welcome to the show Jonathan! Thank you for taking the time. 

Jonathan Deveaux 01:55

You got it, Paul. Thanks for having me.

Paul Bird 01:57

 So let's talk about your career. Some of the highlights as a channel chief so far. What have you seen?

Jonathan Deveaux 02:02 

Wow. Talk about my career. Okay, I started off as a paperboy and then worked my way up. No.

It's been a funny ride. So, I'm sure many other people that are leaders in the channel space maybe have had a similar situation. But at Comforte, we've basically started from scratch.

So it's a bit different in that aspect where we've always had partners and most of those have been tech alliance partners.

We've always engaged with channel partners. Most likely, most of those activities occurred on a one-off basis like, oh, let's close a sales opportunity.

And it was only about a couple of years ago that we decided to go full-on and make it strategic where we have objectives that say, let's make channel partnerships part of our revenue objectives.

So, that happened at Comforte 2 years ago, right when COVID happened.

So it was kind of a decision where we were scratching our heads wondering if we were able to meet our objectives for the first year. And sure enough, we were able to do it. 

So, I think in regards to channel in general, I personally have had multiple roles at the companies I've been at in regards to somehow touching the channel.

At Comforte, I've been having channel and partnership relationship responsibilities for the past six years. 

At my previous company, my last role was both in business development and in product management. So I was a global product manager for an IT company. And the objective there is built by our partner, right?

So there's always some aspect of partnership and either selling or getting your products out through a channel.

So I think other leaders in the space probably have that diverse portfolio as well.

Where probably now many companies that are revenue focused are going to focus on, how can we get the most out of our current channels?

But they're also looking at what else can we add to the pie of channel management in order to get more revenue.

So yeah, it's been a pretty decent ride.

Paul Bird 04:03

Yeah. Great timing starting right during a global pandemic. That really puts you to the test, that's for sure.

So here's a question, now that you've kind of started from scratch, you've gone from ad hoc to more strategic. Obviously, strategy comes into that.

A big thing that I love to talk about is tech stack and channel.

So what best practices did you employ when considering the type of platform you should implement? 

Was there a methodology you followed? Was there any kind of research that you did? Where did you go to get the idea of where you'd start your tech stack?

Jonathan Deveaux 04:36 

Yes, so, that's pretty interesting.

The technique that we chose, and there were a couple of different routes we went while exploring this. But what I did was, one approach was I looked at external usability.

What did I want my channel partners to be able to do? And then I looked to see which solution providers in the channel management space were able to do that easily or represented that they did that component easily.

So, the main thing with channel, right, like anybody that's managing channel, is partner engagement.

You want the partner to access that portal, get virtual training or get documents or assets that they need if they're pricing whatever it is, and then go to their market and produce results.

That needed to be a seamless process or it needed to be easily performed by my channels. And we're talking global channels, by the way. So, any company from around the world needs to be able to access that.

So external usability was one consideration. Another one was integration.

Not only, at Comforte, were we looking at moving from the spreadsheet management style or the ragtag management style of channel management, but to look at a tool set, if you will, or a platform to consolidate that effort.

But other departments within Comforte were also looking at tool stacks. So we had to make sure what we were doing with our channel platform was compatible. The integration capabilities of our channel management solution had to be compatible with other departments that were going on.

We had our marketing and I've come from companies that have used things from Marketo and HubSpot. Whatever companies choose, there needs to be some sort of integration or potential integration with that.

We also have a business development, our SDR group, and they're looking at additional sales tools that reach their market and goals that they have.

So integration was another big, key aspect that the channel management solution that we selected needed to consider and have excellent capabilities for integration.

And I'll tell you this, during the search for a solution, I put on there: X factor. It was like, what else? On the tin, you read what things do, they all sound the same. 

So I wanted a channel solution to identify some different things that they brought, that they added value, that I thought would be compatible with our channel management business as an X factor. Like, I'd love to be able to do that. And I included that in my selection as well.

So I think those are the things. Always look at: external usability, who's going to be using it? And if it's easy for your partner network. Integration for the reasons I stated, even internal integration with what the other departments are doing. And then any X factor capabilities that the platform can bring, I think are super important.

Paul Bird 07:30

What was the tipping point? You've gone from ad hoc now to structured. You've kind of laid out what you're going to look for, the integration points.

But what was that tipping point?

You talk about spreadsheets and I think everyone that has ever been in a channel management role, they've all had to use spreadsheets at one point in time.

But was there a point where you said, we really need a tool to manage this as opposed to being able to do it manually?

Jonathan Deveaux 07:56 

You're right exactly on the spreadsheets.

And probably still people using spreadsheets and Google Docs to do some aspect of their business management.

I think it wasn't even, oh, I can take what's in the spreadsheet and move it to a channel platform. It wasn't even that.

I think for us it was really the feel and I don't know how to describe it anywhere beyond that.

Did it feel like me or my team would have to do a lot of administration in order to get this channel management platform up and running and to manage it every day?

If you look back at all of the technology we're accessing today, just think about even the video platforms many of us use today. Six or seven different ones, right?

So we didn't want to spend a lot of time in a channel management solution where we'd have to configure and I'd have to scan through things and figure out how to do it. It needed to be presented simply where we can achieve what we wanted to or find what we wanted to do in a knowledge base.

And to be honest with you, a lot of that was based on feel, which I highly recommend doing some sort of test drive where you can point and click and you can view how things are ergonomically, set up in a dashboard or where are things available?

So that was a major tipping point for us because, like I said, there's a lot of quality products out there. There's great vendors out there that are doing a lot of really good things. 

So it's a tough choice. But I think at the end of the day, it was: look and feel was compatible for us, giving us a good notion that we didn't have to spend a lot of time in the solution.

Paul Bird 09:28

Now, you mentioned that you're running a global channel, right?

Do you think that there is a certain size of organization that you need to be in order to adopt these tools or a certain focus from a market perspective?

Or do you really think that anyone that wants to accelerate their program should start looking into tools to help manage their channel?

Jonathan Deveaux 09:51 

I mean, I can answer it in a couple of ways.

What are other companies doing? The large partners that we engage with, the larger resellers. 

I mean, I know some of the large resellers that their annual, last annual reported revenue is over 1.5 billion.

They actually have departments that all they do is deal registration, right? Through some sort of platform, a portal and they manage that between the hundreds of vendors they have. So a lot of these large organizations, many of them, have this.

So, what about the smaller organizations?

I actually think it benefits the smaller organizations as well. And that's where we fit in. 

Our goal isn't to have hundreds or even thousands and there's some organizations that have tens of thousands of partners. Our goal isn't to have that. We want to have dozens and dozens of partners based on our revenue objectives.

But I think we're ideal for a platform because we want to scale and we also want to look big like the big partners that we interface with. We need to look official to our partners who are going to represent us in the field.

So, I do think it works for a range of companies in size. Whether it's somebody like us, we've got over 130 employees, or companies that have 10,000 employees, you better have some sort of channel solution.

But it works for all company sizes in my opinion.

Paul Bird 11:20

Yeah, I actually use the example that when it comes to technology and things like having a good technology stack, imagine if you went to a bank and opened up an account, and you ask, well, okay, what's your online banking address? And they're like, we don't have one. 

What about telephone banking? It's like, no, we don't have one.

Would you even consider them to be a real bank? And the answer is probably no, right? So that's one of the challenges.

What about the top challenges that the partner management system has been able to solve?

Are there any top one or two that you can see where the pain has been alleviated by having a good platform in place?

Jonathan Deveaux 12:01 

I think one that stands out is a channel management platform that has an LMS. A learning management system built in.

What are the top one, two or three things that partners ask for, that channel partners ask for? It's training, right? They want training of some sort.

So for us, when we're scaling that business up, what didn't scale was people. I didn't have enough people to train the number of partners I was bringing on board.

And with a global company, imagine, I mean, I literally had this problem with doing a training session in India, which is a 12 and a half hour time difference from California, where I am.

So imagine, you're screwed, right? The timing doesn't work for anybody there.

And then asking that same training person to do that same training for a partner in Germany.

So my people didn't scale. But being able to record them, put most of their training in a virtual setting, letting the partners come in and consume it when they're ready, when they want to, during their time frame and then just handle the questions and exceptions with the regional partner managers.

Really, really fixed a lot of the scalability issues. And then it made my training plug in capable.

That's old or we've added something new. We can re-record that video, insert it right back into the course.

The learning management system was a top deliverable, in my opinion, that helped reduce some of the problems that we had in our channel.

I would say just visibility, overall visibility to opportunities.

I don't know. I kind of suspect many other sales organizations or organizations with channel sales has a problem with the quality of data that the different salespeople would enter into a system.

So, I was able to ensure that our regional channel teams, when they work with the sales teams, we're able to ensure the data put into the channel management system had quality data in it.

And I think that was also another point, right?

It's hard for people that are in a revenue position to forecast what they may or may not sell. Many of them don't want to do it, right? Because sales leaders will pin them to it.

But having a solution that provided that consistent look and feel that our management can go to and rely on, I think also helped reduce that stress a little bit with the sales aspect of channel management.

Paul Bird 14:44

So you talk about the reduced headcount. So you're saving some costs, but also having the good, accurate data helps you to forecast better and ideally make you some more revenue.

One of the challenges that I think a lot of people struggle with is engagement. So keeping partners engaged. 

So any recommendations that you could share to talk about, using these channel management platforms and how that relates to partner engagement?

Jonathan Deveaux 15:13 

Yeah, I think that's a tough one. I think, like I said initially, it's consuming the learning aspect, the training of what we as a vendor have to offer and as we go on, as we come up with new interfaces, we came up with a new interface last month.

We were able to quickly move that video and the supporting resources for it into a course like that and then put it up for our partners, which I think was really special. So that's really key.

I am early in the expansion of this channel program that I've got, so I haven't been able to fully utilize a lot of the other capabilities that many channel management solutions have.

They do event management really well, and I'm fortunate that I'm able to work with our marketing team that does that. They do it manually today. 

There are some tools that are helping them in that regard. So there's a level of automation that's happening there. But I am looking forward to being able to do a level of event management and tracking from within the same tool, right? Without having to use a separate tool to do that.

And then there's also, we talk about I think the term is gamification, right? The rewards and redemption aspect of that.

So I want to be able to challenge my teams but then also challenge my external partners to meet goals.

And I think - I know there are some sales organizations that we partner with that do that for themselves. And those programs have been received really well with those organizations. So I think we want to do that as well. And I just haven't had a chance.

So I think these are some things that will help keep partners engaged, help us stick out from other partners because we try to put ourselves in our partners shoes.

We're not the only vendor they're signing on to. So, they've got other channel management systems that they're also signing onto with other vendors. So we've got to stick out a little bit more. 

And I don't always want to give points a way to do that, right? You get more of a discount. We receive less revenue, and we've got to hedge all that.

So I think it is valuable to look to see what else we can do from an engagement point of view, even as simple as certifications.

There's some benefit of having a really nice learning path for partners. And at the end, they get a quality certificate that many of them promote and say look, here's what I got. You see it on LinkedIn, right? Here's something I received. 

So we're going to follow the Amazon's of the world, the AWS's that everybody is looking to achieve those certifications. So that's something we're going to do.

And then one more thing is, asset availability. Having a library of documents, I think has been, that's like a top two or top three request that we get as well is like, hey, I want to get all of the documents that you have. Okay, that's easy. Put them up in folders.

Now, hey, I want to merge, I want to put our logo on it and do some joint marketing of that. So it looks like it's coming from one company.

And I think that has a lot of potential to keep partners engaged with our solutions because it's co-branded, right?

So I think that's also another key factor is it helps reduce the need for them to do additional work outside, you know, put their own stamp and their own logo on it. It's all done from it. It's already delivered. I mean, that's invaluable.

So I think those are some of the things that I see that help expand engagement and keep our partners engaged.

Paul Bird 19:01

I think of when I was managing channel almost a decade ago, I guarantee you every single channel manager had different sales and marketing collateral.

You know, nothing was consistent. There wasn't a single repository unless you went to marketing and asked them for the latest and greatest. So having that in one place.

But then you talk about certifications. I used to list all of my VMware sales and technical certifications on my LinkedIn profile, my IBM, Top Gun, all of this. It was a badge of honor because that VM technical sales cert was a difficult one to get. 

But going through all of that, you're right, being able to have that promotion. 

But then it comes to, you talk about that co-branding element. And I can say that I did co-brand a number of documents. I am not a graphic designer. I shouldn't be allowed near anything that allows me to manipulate what your platform looks like or maybe even try to recreate your logo. 

So, these are some of the controls of having those in place that really kind of come into play and yeah, for sure, absolutely help drive engagement.

So let's start looking at results, right? Everyone wants to look at benefits, results.

If you were to think of the top three when it comes to your organization on the benefits of having a good platform in general, what kind of three would you pick?

Jonathan Deveaux 20:33 

So, top 3 benefits. I would say that initially it would be instant access to data. And that's for our organization, benefit for our organization.

Why? So instant access to data, I had access to the spreadsheets, right? I could instantly see it. 

But I think collectively, and I'm thinking at scale, now I have whatever today's date is, I've got - we're a small company but we have over $25 million in pipeline and over 70 opportunities identified already in the let's just say under a year in getting everything established.

Which is great hockey stick growth for us, right? For pipeline and closing events are a little bit different.

But having access to that data helps us make fact-based decisions, right? I don't have to manipulate the data or look at it or process it and then start to do it. I still do a little bit of that, but I do less of that.

So I think having access to data helps me make fact-based decisions and I think that is valuable. I'm looking forward to being able to do more of that. 

And one example is a closed-lost analysis. So I want to know where an opportunity was and what sales stage it was. And I want to compare that to the lost reasons.

And those are facts based on those opportunities that I can do analysis on and understand: where are we losing? 

Before proof of concepts? Are we losing because we didn't do proof of concepts? Are we losing after it? Are we losing because XYZ group was not involved? And what was the reason? Budget - could we have pre-qualified those things better?

So instant access to that data and being able to make those decisions, I think is one of the top three.

Another one, as I mentioned earlier, is the ability to scale training. And why?

Because I don't have to queue up people in order to train partners, which means the partners are waiting in the queue to be trained.

I can scale that training so they can hit the streets sooner at the same time rather than be in a queue and wait for that training.

They could miss opportunities. So I think that's a top benefit is, the sooner you get them on the ground selling or representing our solutions or your solutions, I think that is immensely beneficial.

I think the third would be lead and opportunity management.

As we scale, there's risk that I'm going to have multiple partners trying for the same thing. I'm going to have channel conflict, right? So I worry. It's a good worry, right? 

You want people talking to, you want partners talking to prospects. But I also don't want prospects to play that against us or play that against each other in order to drive potential revenue down. 

Nor do I want to turn off partners from being partners with us. Because I have had, in the partner recruiting process, we've had partners that say my top concerns working with vendors is I've had some vendors that don't honor their deal registrations.

We register for a deal or they promise this or that and it doesn't happen. So, I think having a confident lead and opportunity management process is very beneficial, is a top three benefit as well.

So that you don't have to - you take it out of the equation, don't worry about it.

The lead management system, there's an approval process, it's got an expiration date, you're locked in, boom, done.

So, I think that's where the three would be for me.

Paul Bird 24:15

Perfect. And, your actionable data, your first one, I would have to agree with you.

That closed-lost analysis. No one likes to lose a deal, right? But if you know why you lost it, if you know when you lost it, now you can start putting in strategies to make sure that doesn't become a common event, right?

And the end result is the sales team makes more money, the organization makes more money because you're being more strategic as you engage people. Training, getting them quick to being dangerous, that's always going to be a benefit.

Jonathan Deveaux 24:52 

Yeah, and just to key off of that is, because if I have it in the same system, the LMS plus the access to fact based data.

So imagine this, I can also see if that data or determine if that training course or courses were effective or not.

So I can move all down the line of like, every single one of these sales opportunities did not have ABC training course or it did.

And I can also make decisions across that. I can determine if the feedback we were getting about those training courses, right? In the LMS.

The LMS could have a like button, right? This is a great course or we can add feedback at the end and I could see that closed-lost. They lost interest or didn't see the benefit. Huh, they all did XYZ training. Or, huh, this was not included in the training.

Normally you have to - you scratch your head. You got to - did that - your partner get trained on that? No longer need to question those things because you can use fact-based data to collect what you need.

So I think it's very important for the reasons that you said as well. Yeah.

Paul Bird 25:57

So now the opposite side, what are the big pitfalls if you don't have a system in place, right? Are there limitations? Does it limit growth of an organization? Does it start fueling channel conflict or just misrepresentation of your brand in the market?

Can you think of some of the pitfalls that people potentially fall into if they don't have a platform in place?

Jonathan Deveaux 26:24 

I mean, look, I'm a realist, right?

We think we can't live without our mobile phones. But, people were making phone calls and communicating and doing what we did when we did it. So it kind of puts me in that age category, right? 

But, look, at the end of the day, I think what's at risk really is revenue and time to market.

So if a tool or - I hate to call it a tool, a solution can help teams, and we're talking multiple people, achieve or exceed revenue goals in a shorter amount of time than they normally would then that's a no brainer.

Or the company accepts that risk. We understand, without something like this that we're going to have to wait two or three months for this team to be trained up or whatever it is.That's their acceptable risk as well. 

So each organization is different. I've been fortunate, at Comforte, that the management team there, they've recognized that this is something we'd rather do from the start rather than let it get out of hand and then spend more time and energy and people's effort in order to pull it back into a system.

So, I'm super happy that our management team made the right decision in that regard.

So there is a risk that it can get out of hand. There is a risk the management of all of it can get out of hand. There is a risk that some revenue won't be achieved. 

It's a lot of factors. But, at the end of the day, it's also about the people that are responsible for, on both sides, responsible for their roles.

I mean, how do you expect a partner to represent your solutions if companies aren't adequately training them? 

I mean, there are some solutions that they can go to YouTube and train themselves or they can go to a knowledge base, but they're piecing it together rather than something organized from a company.

So, it can happen. It can happen without tools, but it just doesn't make sense. And if you can come up with a cost effective channel management platform that has a lot of benefit, I think it totally makes sense. 

Paul Bird 28:42

Perfect. This has actually been great.

Any final thoughts as we start to wrap up?

Jonathan Deveaux 28:47 

I'd love to hear how your audience feels about channel management platforms and some of the benefits that they're also reaping from these tools.

I'm looking forward to being able to do more with our solution and just really also measuring the value that we get from it and whatnot.

I'll tell you this, just to tie in what I mentioned at the beginning with an X factor capability.

Something that's not tied to revenue, I hate to always sound like everything's tied to revenue, although, obviously channel management or channel platforms, that's what you're looking at.

An X factor solution that we were able to get from our channel management platform was also being able to extend training to internal employees within the company.

So at Comforte, we've got a global presence. So we have employees all over the world. So that need to train employees needed to scale as well, right?

So we've got a headquarters and we've got to train people in Singapore, different regions in the US, blah, blah, blah.

So that's also harder to do that with internal employees.

So this solution was able to do that and it also blocked out those internal employees who just needed to consume internal onboarding training but didn't need to see the channel side of the organization, right? They don't need to see what's going on with opportunities.

So having something that does all of that, right? And like I said, in a simple manner that we don't need research and development teams to code all this stuff to happen. I think that was immensely available. So that was a great X factor.

So my departing shot would be, also think about what else you could do with a channel management platform.

What other benefit can other people, possibly in a non-channel position, what could they benefit from?

And if it's there, explore it and see if that's worth bringing it on board.

So yeah, I'll leave with that.

Paul Bird 30:49

So, look for the X factor. Alright.

So if somebody wants to find you, they want to connect with you, where are your coordinates pointing?

Jonathan Deveaux 30:55 

I'm in San Diego, California.

So we've been work-from-home, prior to pandemic, for years. So, who knows where I'll be in the next five years.

But, look, I'd love to hear from other professionals in the channel and partnership space so feel free to reach out to me at JD@comforte.com. That's comfort with an E .com. 

Or look us up if you have a data security need for your enterprise. We're at comforte.com. So it's really simple. 

You can look me up there or look me up on LinkedIn as well.

Paul Bird 31:24

Perfect. Well, hey, JD, it has been fantastic talking to you.

You have yourself a great afternoon and enjoy that sunny Southern California weather and we'll be in touch again real soon.

Jonathan Deveaux 31:34 

Thanks, Paul. Always good to talk to you. Take care.

Paul Bird 31:40

All right guys, thank you for listening to The Ultimate Channel Sales Podcast and please don’t forget to join us next time. For more information, please visit channelsalespodcast.com.

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See you next time on The Ultimate Channel Sales Podcast!

Introduction
Jonathan Deveaux’s background in channel sales
Best practices for selecting a channel management platform
When is a solution necessary for channel management?
Which organizations should adopt a channel management tool?
Top challenges alleviated by a stellar channel management platform
How channel management platforms increase partner engagement
Top 3 benefits of an excellent channel management platform
Pitfalls of not having a channel management platform
Look for a channel management platform that benefits other parts of your organization
Conclusion