Where The Rubber Meets The Road: How To Fix Field Engagement

There are very few issues that are a universal problem across the channel. Generally there always seems to be some vendors that have figured an issue out while others struggle with fixing the problem.

But there is one issue that the more I dive into it, the more I realize no vendor would get more than a passable grade, and most flat-out would fail the test. I'm talking about field engagement and what happens where the rubber meets the road.

The big issue is that vendors push their partner account managers (PAMs), or what some call channel account managers (CAMs), to do exactly what they shouldn't be doing—that is, manage the partners. By managing, I mean treating them as though they report to them, and it's their job to report back what they have in the pipeline, what they expect to close before quarter's end and other meaningless details that clearly help the vendor but do nothing to advance the ball in the market.

[Related: BoB Conference Keynote: HP CEO Meg Whitman ]

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I don't believe this is the fault of the field level players. The blame belongs much higher up in the channel management food chain and most squarely on the head of sales, which often is someone that has both the direct and indirect sales execs reporting to him or her.

There are many reasons why this happens, and none of them are a complicated fix. That doesn't make it easy, however, and that's why it's such a mess out there. I believe there are two guiding principles in understanding how to fix field engagement. First, everyone has an agenda. People may say they don't, but everyone has something they are trying to get to, and the best thing you can do is know what that is because if there is alignment on agendas, business gets easy.

Second, people act in their own self interest. When this self interest aligns with their company's interest the first principle and this go hand in hand. Trouble is they don't always align. For instance, a vendor may want a salesperson to push certain products, but the salesperson may want to sell something else because it is easier or carries a larger commission. In that case, the salesperson's agenda wins over the company's. There are ways to manage this, but it's not easy.

When it comes to what happens in the field, solution providers need engagement with PAMs that are focused on helping partners go to market together. This, of course, is driven by PAM/ CAM compensation plans and general channel sales management techniques, which, in turn, are devised at high levels of any organization. This most often does not align with, nor help, in building and executing a plan to go to market with the partners in the field.

When I talk to solution providers and ask about field-level engagement, the feedback is generally more along the lines of things that need to improve, and it's really more of a pipeline visibility discussion than driving new business.

Fixing this issue takes determination and a focus that needs to start at the top of any organization. While I wouldn't give any vendor an "A" in building a field level structure that promotes the perfect field engagement, there are some that are making progress here.

One vendor I believe is making real progress is Hewlett-Packard. Changes that have been driven by Meg Whitman's focus on betting its future on the channel are making their way to the field and are sowing the seeds of change. It's still early on, and we will talk more about the importance of field engagement in future columns, but there is hope here, and the formula for success isn't all that complicated, but it does require commitment.

Robert Faletra, CEO of The Channel Company, writes a monthly column on CRN.com. You can contact him via email at [email protected].