Channel Champion Plays a Pivotal Role

Business skills are key for person picked as liaison for customer and channel partners.

When a customer enters into a relationship with a VAR or systems integrator and its channel partner, the person who is assigned to be liaison for the three parties plays a key role in the success of the relationship.

In fact, the relationship hinges to a great extent on this persons ability to communicate a shared vision among the organizations and to balance and communicate sometimes- conflicting requirements.

It is a politically sensitive role that requires a unique combination of skills to pull it off, but successful channel champions can reap the rewards of a high profile in the organization.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read about how vendors and channel partners can forge better relationships.

Most often, this liaison is appointed by the integrator. And, according to John Calhoun, director at Mercer Management Consulting, of Toronto, the ideal channel champion needs a business orientation.

"I think organizations need to think of [the channel champion] as a business development manager rather than a salesperson or product person," Calhoun said.

He said he feels a salesperson or technical person may be too focused on the product or deal and fail to make connections that could result in additional opportunities for the company beyond the initial arrangements.

Gerard Kane, regional vice president in charge of channel development at Perimeter Internetworking, in Milford, Conn., a company that provides firewall and security services and works exclusively with channel partners, said he agrees that the channel champion needs business acumen more than superior technical skills.

But Kane said these channel liaisons also need to have good written and verbal communications skills, flexibility to adjust to changing customer demands and enough political backbone to tell it like it is, even when people may not want to hear it.

Each VAR or SI may have its own internal process for dealing with the technology partner.

Michael Wilding, senior vice president for technology solutions and training at Computer Generated Solutions, a New York-based VAR that works with multiple technology partners, said his company tends to divide responsibilities, depending on the task, with a person from IT acting as the technical lead, a person from the sales team acting as sales lead and so forth.

The company assigns a higher-level member of the marketing staff to act as point person for the job.

/zimages/6/28571.gifAs vendors aggressively go after SMB market, many offer VAR partners more flexibility. Click here to read more.

"You need to assign somebody who understands your organization and can bring to bear various points of contact and who also understands the vendors point of view and is good at communicating," Wilding said.

"In our organization, coordinating the relationship with vendor partners is a big role," Wilding said. "Its fairly complex trying to promote integration of two teams. Nobody works for this person—sales and tech staff dont report to them."

As a result, according to Wilding, the channel champion cant necessarily make things happen as a person with supervisory responsibility could. Instead, he or she has to use those communications skills Wilding spoke of to sell the job internally and to the OEM.

According to Calhoun, in addition to coordinating the day-to-day tasks of ordering product, coordinating joint marketing programs, setting up training programs for sales and technical staff, and so forth, the channel champion needs to have one eye on the customers needs and one eye on the partner organization, watching for opportunities that could lead to additional business, such as new products or programs, invitations to solutions conferences, or mentions in the press.

Calhoun said that successful channel champions achieve this status by consistently looking beyond the current project for opportunities that keep the relationship growing and, more likely, to make the vendor more visible to the technology partner.

The high visibility of the channel champion can be both a good thing and a bad thing. When things go wrong, it leaves the individual exposed, Wilding said. But when done well, the job provides lots of exposure for the individual to many people on both sides of the partnership.

Most important, Wilding said the best people impact the bottom line. "You can really shine and bring in directly identifiable revenue to the organization in this job," Wilding said.

"A person who does this well can advance the profile of the organization. That could mean different things in different companies, but it elevates their own profile and makes them a broader player within their organization," Calhoun said.

Ron Miller is a freelance writer based in Amherst, Mass. He can be reached at

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