All in a day’s work

Channel Middle East looks at what it takes to be an effective channel chief in the Middle East and asks resellers what they really want from their local go-to guys

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By  Andrew Seymour Published  March 16, 2009

Multiple countries to cover, partner conflicts to resolve and internal sales quotas to reach. The life of a channel manager can be a hectic and complicated affair. Channel Middle East looks at what it takes to be an effective channel chief in the Middle East and asks resellers what they really want from their local go-to guys.

There used to be a time when the channel manager’s job amounted to little more than convincing partners to increase orders and meet those all-important quarterly target thresholds.

While customary sales principles still underpin much of what the modern-day channel manager does, resellers in the Middle East have grown to anticipate a whole lot more from their local partner representative. The message from dealers is that managing a channel is no longer about giving a quotation and signing off orders, but hands-on business development.

“I genuinely believe a channel manager has to be about more than just the sales numbers,” said TN Rajan, division manager for enterprise computing systems at UAE-based systems integrator Alpha Data. “He has to look after channel conflicts, the partner’s engagement with the vendor and its participation in each channel programme that it operates.”

Rajan expects a channel manager to act as a ‘single face’ for the vendor so that the partner has one point of contact for all its queries. “The channel manager should be interacting with each business unit in the organisation — including services — to make sure that the channel is compliant and its problems are addressed,” he commented.

Anil Gupta, managing director at security and storage reseller StoreTech, believes man-management is a vital component of the role. He says an accomplished channel manager is able to distinguish between ordinary partners and those that really influence its business.

“If 80% of the business comes from 20% of companies, it is important that the channel manager targets the main accounts and focuses on serving them well,” explained Gupta.

Although the channel management function is often an after-thought for vendors — particularly when resources are limited and sales and support staff become first priority — there is a growing consensus that, to be effective, the role must occupy a high degree of visibility in an organisation.

Given that is true of established names such as Sun, Oracle and Cisco, it is not unreasonable to foresee other vendors looking upon the channel organisation as a strategic element of their business as they expand their indirect presence in the region.

One aspect that all vendors will need to give careful consideration to is their commission structures. Resellers argue that the policy of paying channel managers based on partner-revenue is not conducive to a trusting relationship.

“The problem you’ve got is that if a guy is getting to the end of his quarter and is going to miss his bonus cheque or get fired his first priority is to screw his customers by stuffing the channel,” warned one source.

Rajan at Alpha Data admits it is an issue that needs addressing. He says there is no incentive for a channel manager to sort out channel problems or put a partner’s interests first if key performance indicators (KPIs) are exclusively sales-driven.

“I am recommending to HP and other vendors that only 50% should be measured on numbers and the other 50% on channel engagement or satisfaction,” he said. “There is no reason why you can’t have multiple guidelines on channel satisfaction, it doesn’t have to be ambiguous.”

HP claims it has already acted in lieu of such criticism by revising its payment formula. “We have been totally revenue-driven, but we have also received this feedback and changed things for the coming period in the sense that we now have two quality aspects to measure our channel managers besides revenue,” explained Bernhard Isemann, solutions partner organisation manager at HP Middle East.

According to Isemann, the vendor’s 41 channel managers in the Middle East are now judged on the outcome of regular partner satisfaction surveys and their ability to facilitate end-user ‘verifications’, which encourages them to assist resellers and ensure that processes for customer auditing are correctly followed.

Other vendors are also waking up to the fact that a revenue-based commission model drives certain detrimental behaviour, reworking their payment schemes so that a percentage of the bonus is linked to factors such as partner certifications, sales training and workshop delivery.

While resellers and VARs welcome these developments, it would be unwise to expect radical reform as many vendors in the region simply lack the spare capacity to measure a channel manager’s performance on anything more than partner revenue.

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