As a direct sales manager, your relationship with your sales team is characterised by direct employment which affords you a high degree of control, authority, and oversight. In contrast, channel partners function as independent entities with their own interests and priorities and therefore, your role as a manager is more akin to a partnership.
So, while both direct sales managers and channel partner managers are both responsible for driving revenue, they are managing and leading two completely different entities. Therefore, to be successful at one requires a different (but overlapping) approach and skill set to the other.
Here, we explore why managing channel partners is different to managing direct sales teams and what skills are more important to hone when you have no direct authority over the entity you are employed to lead and manage.
Direct authority: managing direct sales teams
The distinction in relationships between managers and their sales teams versus managers and their channel partners underscores the importance of employing different management strategies. For direct sales teams, the relationship is direct and hierarchical allowing for a more hands-on management style. You can set clear expectations, closely monitor performance, and provide immediate feedback, ensuring alignment with the company's culture and goals.
A direct sales manager typically has established company processes and structures at their disposal, such as appraisals, reviews, salary, commissions, bonuses, and benefits. You can decide how to use these processes and incentives to motivate, reward and feedback to your sales team. Additionally, you afford a high degree of visibility – such as of the sales funnel and company strategy – that help to inform your decision-making processes.
Finally, but no less importantly, direct sales managers often have full control over who they hire. You can decide whether your salesperson needs a PhD, a background in organic chemistry or an extensive knowledge of PCR to perform the role successfully. You can evaluate their soft skills and provide comprehensive training that aligns with how you expect your sales team to operate.
No authority: managing channel partners
Managing channel partners is a completely different kettle of fish. You have no authority over hiring, training, or onboarding processes. While you may agree a compensation strategy for the channel partner organisation as a whole, it is more difficult to motivate salespeople through appraisals and reviews or influence with incentives. Furthermore, you may have no or limited visibility of information or data such as sales funnels or business strategy.
Fundamentally, you are expected to lead and manage an organisation with no authority, limited control, and restricted visibility. So how do you even get started?
The essential skills of a channel partner manager
Because you don’t hold any authority over your channel partners, your ability to influence, motivate and inspire people become hugely important. For example, by honing your influencing skills, you may be able to command more sway over the way your channel partners’ sales representatives operate or persuade your channel partners to be transparent with data and information. And by refining your ability to motivate and inspire, you can better create a passion, excitement, and preference for your product – which is essential since channel partners represent multiple brands.
But before you get ahead of yourself, you must first build trust. If your channel partners don’t trust you, you can’t influence what they do! So how do you build trust? Trustworthiness is the foundation upon which trust is initially built; this involves being honest, reliable and transparent in actions and communications. If you are consistently trustworthy, you will see this reciprocated.
Finally, managing a sales funnel is hard enough. Managing multiple sales funnels is even harder. Managing multiple sales funnels where channel partners may be recalcitrant to sharing there’s with you is neigh on impossible. And so, it becomes clear that having the ability to build trust and then influence your channel partners to be transparent is essential to being a successful channel partner manager. It also becomes clear that channel partner managers must possess another crucial skill… time management!
Channelling your skills
With limited visibility, restricted control, and no authority, channel partner management and leadership can be a tough gig. Often, sales representatives are expected to take on the role of management for channel partners in their territory – and with no formal training. Our channel partner training programs are designed to help sales representatives managing channel partners as well as channel partner managers get the most out of their networks by learning effective communication, management, and leadership skills.
Explore our Channel Partner Open Programs
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