High Tech's Toughest Job

We are only a few weeks into the new year and already there have been several channel chiefs exit their positions and new ones come aboard.

I don’t generally keep a scorecard on these things, but if I did I’m certain we would see on average nearly two changes a month across the top- and second-tier companies in high-tech and many more if we included smaller companies. All in all, without checking the data I’d guess as much as 20 percent of the channel chiefs in high-tech change each year. At the very least, there is more movement here than in other high-profile sales and marketing roles.

It happens so often because it’s one of the toughest jobs in high-tech. When things are running like clockwork and a company is experiencing growth in sales through partners, everyone inside an organization is taking credit. Product development, corporate marketing, sales, executive management -- they all want credit when things are going well.

But when sales are waning, perhaps because the product set is subpar, the channel marketing budget isn’t what it should be, or management hasn’t completely bought into a channel commitment, then things are different.

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Suddenly, not funding the heads in channel marketing that are required to actually meet aggressive targets is forgotten. The fact that the product lineup is below par is ignored. The lack of funding for channel support and operations doesn’t matter. Going completely dark on the channel advertising front isn’t mentioned.

I’ve sat across the table from hundreds of channel chiefs over the years and watched them try to put a positive spin on a corporate decision that we both knew was detrimental to the partners, but which they had to follow through on without showing disagreement. They knew it and I knew it.

I’ve also sat across from a bunch of channel chiefs that were not capable or were merely passing through the channel and had no deep understanding of the indirect nuances necessary to move the needle. They actually agreed with the stupidity.

But regardless, when things go south and it’s time to find a fall guy to deflect the overall corporate responsibility, more times than not the channel organization gets fingered.

Working in the indirect channel is hard. Unlike running a direct sales organization, you can’t slam your fist on the table and say do it. You have to build a program, make it profitable for both sides, advertise the benefits to drive awareness before you can close the deal -- all while supporting the partner. If the benefit isn’t there, or the channel partner isn’t aware of it, you are not going to get the sale.

To be successful in the long run, you need to be very good at internal politics. Maneuvering the hallways to get adequate budget is critical. Being able to educate senior-level executives on necessary investments is paramount. The ability to hire talent and get on the road constantly, press the flesh in the market, is necessary. Dealing with the press and longtime channel watchguards like me that are looking for flaws in your strategy all while staying close to the numbers is flat-out difficult. The scrutiny and grind of it all is comparable to a presidential campaign that never ends.

But once you figure it out, it’s rewarding and fun. Channel chiefs who truly have the channel in their blood wouldn’t have it any other way. But from where I sit and for as long as I’ve been watching this play, there’s no doubt it’s the toughest job in high-tech.

BACKTALK: Make something happen. Robert Faletra is CEO of UBM Channel. You can contact him via e-mail at [email protected].