Channel Manager: The Tip of the Spear
By Dave Wallace
As agents, we have hundreds of options of products to sell. We can be generalists and carry everything under the sun in our portfolio, so that we never miss out on a deal. Or we can specialize, picking a niche product or vertical that we do better than anyone else. When you developed the supplier strategy for your agency? Why did you choose the direction you went? As your business has evolved, what factors have helped shape who you have done business with? Is it because the product installed quickly? Or because the price is always right? Or because a product does something that no other carrier can offer (at least yet)?
If you have been in business more than a couple of years, I am going to guess your strategy has changed over time. But your most solid partnerships tend to stay the same when the tip of the spear is sharp. What is the tip of the spear? It is the point of the partnership where the real work gets done — at the point of sale, where the agent is joined with and supported by the channel manager.
The primary reason I see carrier partnerships succeeding (or failing)is because of the sharpness of this tip of the spear. If that relationship is solid, then those carriers usually get more business. I have seen carriers with marginal product and feature sets have great success as a result of a dedicated and responsive channel manager. When my sales team or subagents develop a tight working relationship with a channel manager that makes it easier to sell a product or solve a customer’s problem (and quickly), that carrier is not the one calling and begging for business. That supplier is getting the business because of the channel manager relationships at the point of action, the tip of the spear. The channel manager gets pricing and sales engineering requests handled more quickly than anyone else. They ask questions that go deeper than bandwidth, number of lines and price requirements to slap on a quote. They are thinking outside of the box and know how to engage engineers to make their product do something the competing carriers can’t do. The successful channel managers are making orders stickier — and larger. The channel managers that are winning are the ones that are making the agent look good to the customer both before and after the sale.
The natural result of this extra effort by the channel manager at the point of the selling spear, is more money being made for the agent, the channel manager, the carrier and, ultimately, the customer is happier because they have a smoother sales cycle and a more comprehensively designed solution, not just a cheaper circuit.
I have spent countless hours poring over and negotiating carrier contracts, vetting suppliers and their products with existing agents and customers before bringing them into the portfolio, building strategy around new carrier rollouts to employees and subagents and plumbing internal processes to make for smooth order flows. But all of that is moot if the tip of the spear isn’t sharp. If the channel manager that is going to do all the work with your team isn’t solid, all the other work you’ve done, breaks down. Conversely, when you get a good channel manager, hiccups in your best laid plans don’t derail the hard work. In fact, the best channel managers find a way to turn those bumps in the road into relationship strengthening occurrences by the way they respond and show you how they care about your customer and your business.
How are the tips of your spears?
Dave Wallace is president of Aligned Communications, a full-service telecommunications consulting firm, brokerage and master agency that specializes in auditing cloud computing, telephone, Internet and wireless usage.