December 2011 Feature

From Novice to Professional — What Skills Are Required To Be a Successful Channel Manager?

by Anna Johnson

If you are recruiting or hiring key positions for your channel organization, there’s no industry blueprint of skill sets that are required to fill the array of unique and very important channel roles. Often the path of a professional channel executive is marked by a winding trail of experiences where no two travelers have walked. Some may have spent time working in sales, others in product marketing, and then unexpectedly found themselves pleasantly or unpleasantly in the role of a channel account or program manager. Imagine there was a blueprint for designing the perfect channel marketer, program manager, or account manager? What skill set would be required? How would you use the blueprint to hone your skills and advance your career or seek out the perfect new recruit?

December 2011 ImageChannel Management Insights sat down with Steve Hammond, Director of Global Partner Marketing at Emerson, a diversified global manufacturing, technology, and data center infrastructure management company, to discuss his framework for identifying and cultivating skills required for professional channel managers in both tactical and strategic roles.

Why is Developing a Skills Framework Important?

In almost every part of the business organization there are avenues for training and professional development. If you are a project manager or marketing or sales professional you can attend conferences, webinars, and trainings to hone your skills, expand your network, and advance your career. But for channel managers, there’s a lack of academic emphasis regarding the channel route to market in business programs and there’s no formal association for professionals. Instead, channel professionals have learned informally on the job for decades. “As the profession matures and the demand for more channel professionals grows, so does the necessity of identifying and cultivating skills required to perform our jobs to the best of our abilities. The skills framework is just the first step to establish the criteria of a channel professional,” says Hammond. This objective blueprint will help hiring managers and employees find and cultivate the right skills to meet the demands of the job.

What is the Channel Professional Skills Framework?

As former chair of the Global Channel Working Group, Steve and his colleagues developed the channel professional skills framework and presented it at one of the Baptie & Company events. The channel professional skills framework is a set of 38 skills broken down into four major categories. The four major categories are:

  1. Marketing
  2. Sales
  3. Tactical
  4. Strategic

Within the four major categories there are four subcategories:

  1. Account Management
  2. Marketing Management
  3. Program Management
  4. Segment/Strategic Management

Core Skills

This diagram shows the complexities and diversity of skill sets required to perform the variety of jobs within a partner sales and marketing organization. “The range of skills is wide because the objectives of the organization are so fluid,” says Hammond. “The role of the channel professional is like that of a football coach. Depending on the objective, the channel professional will pull in technical, field marketing, or sales people with the right skills to complete the play.” As a partner organization grows, so does the demand for specialists within the subcategories to perform the functions of the organization.

The Skills Framework and Your Organization

So how does the skills framework apply to your channel organization? The skills framework is a springboard to create blueprints for:

  • Defining roles and responsibilities
  • Building a professional channel organization where the skills of the staff complement each other and there’s no overlapping
  • Professional development to cultivate new skills and hone existing skills
  • Following an objective path for career advancement

Most importantly, the skills framework helps to facilitate a conversation about expectations and the gap between the existing skills and what’s actually required to meet the goals of the organization. One of the reasons there is such a high turnover within the channel organization is the feeling of being spread too thin, being asked to do more than what can conceivably be done, and a mismatch of expectations between executives and channel managers. The skills framework is an objective tool to help stage the conversation.

The Core Skills and the Professional Skills

The following three diagrams are an attempt to chart the progression of an entry level channel marketing manager and channel sales manager into experienced channel professionals. “It’s rare for people to enter the field as strategic contributors,” says Hammond. “The more likely scenario is that people enter the profession doing a lot of the tactical work and then leverage their experience to make strategic decisions and plans.”

In the first diagram the core skills highlighted are requirements for tactical execution. In the second and third diagrams you see a natural progression toward the skills required for design, planning, and strategy.

“A channel manager’s greatest skill set to hone is to understand the channel economics of their business,” says Hammond. Making decisions on where and how to reach customers through the channel should take into account the costs and opportunities of each channel. “And the best way to begin is to listen to partners and understand their business, not just your own,” concludes Hammond.

Core Skills
Inter Skills
Advanced Skills

Conclusion—Don’t Forget Partners

With all this talk about mapping skills to projects and projects to business objectives, there is one important party to consider—your partners. “Listen to your partners and deliver what they need to be successful,” advises Hammond. “You need to be able to have a c-level conversation with them and determine what skills to leverage in your own organization to help your partners.”

For a PDF of the graphics featured in this article, click here.