Never Marry for Money! Know your Channel Partnership

3 min read MSPs

A good partnership is like a healthy open marriage. I know that sounds like an oxymoron but for such a marriage to survive the rules need to be agreed up front, both partners need to be clear, specific and certain about the terms; there needs to be mutual agreement, acceptance and understanding and there needs to be mutual comfort and commitment to the relationship and to each other. Without any of these conditions, the marriage probably won’t last. In this piece Marcus Cauchi, Sales Trainer and Author, explains why.

As an MSP, VAR or IT Service Provider you have many relationships with a variety of vendors, several, probably competing. You don’t lie awake at night thinking about selling a specific vendor’s products, whatever they may believe. You are in business for your reasons, not their reasons. But, their behaviour suggests that they don’t understand this. It feels less like a partnership of equals and more like a drive-by shooting with the monthly check-in call “What have you got for me this month?”

Have you ever been bowled over by the high standards and quality of the channel manager assigned to you? If you said yes, is this the norm? Or do you see them turnover faster than a lover with an uneasy conscience? It won’t surprise you that the average life expectancy of a channel manager is 2.1 years - 6 months to find the loo, 6 months to wave their hands in the air complaining about how bad things were before them, 6 months to make (unwelcome and irrelevant) changes and 7 months to get their CV out and find another job.

Before you get into bed together, are you taking time to make sure that you are giving this marriage the best chance of success? Do these terms help you achieve what you want from the partnership or do they feel a tad one sided and not in your favour?

Did the vendor channel manager sit down with you as the leader of your business and discuss your plans, your objectives? Did they seek to understand why you are in business, what choices you want your business to enable you to make, the lifestyle you want to enjoy, when you want to exit and how they can help you achieve your personal goals? I already know the answer. Probably never.

Let me suggest something that old school vendors will struggle to comprehend.

Sit down at the early stages of your courtship and talk about why you are in business and who you are trying to serve. Are you compatible? Establish if you share common values and if you like and trust each other. Co-develop a sales plan that allows you to identify opportunities that will help you get both your needs met. Map out your market in terms of their accounts and prospects using the KARE model:





Work out which accounts show the greatest promise to serve your client and will help you win your second deal in the first 90 days, because experience shows that unless you make a second sale by then, you will lose interest and all that effort will be for nothing. Establish the ground rules for engaging those prospects. Create a joint pursuit plan. Agree when and how they will train your salespeople to sell their products. I know you have veteran salespeople but if you look at those partnerships that failed, I’d put money on it that their emphasis was on providing you with product knowledge not helping put money into your bank account. Am I wrong?

If they aren’t willing to train your salespeople as if they are their own, that speaks volumes about their level of commitment to this marriage. And if they can’t establish enough trust for you to be open about your client’s pains, allow them to coach you on how to win this deal and for them to stay out of your way and never upset your client or your salespeople by selling selfishly, this relationship is doomed to disappoint.

If your vendors don’t have a clear roadmap to channel excellence, ask them why not? Demand more from your partners. After all, they need you. Expect more from your vendors. For a partnership to work over time, both sides need to get better. It is time vendors respected their partners and stopped treating you like the ugly step sister of their direct sales force.