Fresh perspective

Irrespective of market conditions, the channel merry-go-round never stops turning in the Middle East. With that in mind, we recently checked in with a group of channel executives that have taken on new roles this year to find out how they are coping with their responsibilities.

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Fresh perspective Fadi Shami, Juniper.
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By  Andrew Seymour Published  November 12, 2010

Channel management has always been a relationship-based game. But if you think there is nothing more to it than giving partners some extra discount to hit their targets at the end of the quarter or organising the odd social jaunt to reward their efforts, you’re very much mistaken.

As most channel leaders will confess, their role is far more comprehensive and exhaustive than ever before, especially in a region containing so many disparate markets like the Middle East.

Tarek Hassaniyeh, regional channel leader for emerging markets at Avaya, says his role is to make sure the vendor’s overall channel-centric go-to-market strategy is properly executed, which includes the local implementation of the company’s Partner Connect programme.

“Engagement with the partners happens on various levels, from face-to-face meetings with top-level executives to discuss strategy, to continuously engaging with partners’ sales, technical and operations staff and making sure they are up to date on our technology,” explains Hassaniyeh. “Our partners are our route to market.”

Hassaniyeh isn’t alone in his quest to keep Avaya’s partner base happy and motivated. He oversees a network of channel managers across the region, and they work closely with assigned partners to identify areas of growth within the channel.

Another channel executive with a similar remit is Hussein Shehab, channel director for sales and operations in the Middle East at infrastructure vendor Fujitsu Technology Solutions. He also runs his company’s partner scheme — Select Partner Programme — with a clear mantra to optimise channel capability, capacity and coverage.

“My primary focus area is ensuring profitability and low inventory levels at partners,” he explains. “My role is one of total support in which I engage with partners through joint meetings, programmes and training sessions. I work together with in-country enterprise account managers to drive large projects and ensure our customers’ requirements are met.”

In such a target-driven environment, the modern-day channel manager’s role has become defined by the ability to get the most from partners and understand the intricacies of their businesses.

Fadi Shami was appointed as Juniper’s distribution manager earlier this year — a post that requires him to get up close and personal with the company’s wholesale partners. Taj El-Khayat, Juniper’s regional director for channels and general business, says Shami’s job is to manage the “end-to-end” distribution landscape, which includes the recruitment of distributors and the management of their business plans to ensure their alignment with Juniper’s strategy in the Middle East.

“He is responsible for the sales and marketing of the distributors, so he does not get involved in the back-office activities or RMA stuff — there is somebody to support him with those operations,” explains El-Khayat. “Fadi is the ‘front of the house’ ambassador for the Juniper distributors, driving the channel management of those distributors across the business and market segments.”

One channel executive whose day-to-day responsibilities are made a little bit more difficult than most is Amina Zouitane, EMEA channel marketing specialist at Kingston.

Her duty is to produce, document and execute channel marketing operations and plans in line with the company’s regional strategy, but it is a role she carries out from the memory maker’s UK office. Zouitane admits this set-up puts “certain limitations” on the way she interacts with partners, but insists it’s a barrier which is overcome.

“In order to manage partners’ expectations and needs, I rely heavily on the relationship that the field sales team builds with the distribution channel and on the partnership programme we recently launched,” she explains. “It is a very easy web-based interface targeted at all Kingston partners and offers a range of marketing tools and resources to promote and sell our products.”

If there is one drawback to taking on a new channel post during the current period, it is that nobody is guaranteed an easy ride anymore. The fallout from the financial crisis, and lingering concerns over local credit availability, means channel bosses have to consider a variety of factors when balancing channel growth with the corporate policies of their own organisations.

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