23/05/2017 | 27:14
Sales Trend: Channel Partners Over Direct Sales
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John Sekevitch, President of CyberSolutions.io, joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss, conflict between direct and indirect sales, making your partners money, customer experience ownership and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast. Jen: Hi, everybody, welcome to The Allbound Podcast. I'm Jen Spencer. And today I'm joined by John Sekevitch, who is President of CyberSolutions.io. Welcome, John. John: Thanks, Jen. It's good to be here. Hi, everybody. Jen: It's great to have you here. And before we dig into sales leadership and channel, tell me a little bit about Cyber Solutions and what that organization is. John: Well, Cyber Solutions is a channel. Right now there's roughly a thousand companies representing about 5,000 different offerings in the cyber security space. And each one of them wants to have access to cheap information, like the security officers of major banks and financial services, organizations, large retailers, and other high tech companies with intellectual property to protect. And as a result of the challenges that these companies are having in going to market and getting access to their targeted executives, they work with channel partners such as I in terms of bringing their products to market. So right now, I'm representing a couple of application security companies, a threat and vulnerability management company, risk management company, one involved with threat intelligence sharing, and finally, another associated with risk scoring and security scoring for cyber insurance purposes. I think what's going on is it's very difficult for new companies to get access to the market. So more and more companies are going right to channel partners rather than trying to field a direct organization first, and then expand into the channels. And I'm sure we'll probably get into some of that later. For the most part right now what I'm doing is helping these companies and representing their offerings to roughly 100 of those types of companies. So I have established strong relationships over the past 20 years, and I can get them into places they wouldn't be able to get into themselves. And I think that's typically why companies are looking for their channel partners. Jen: Well, this is a real treat for us. Typically on the podcast, I'm interviewing channel executives who represent a vendor and they're talking about their best practices, and their triumphs and challenges in engaging a channel of partners to help them achieve their revenue goals. And so, what's so great is you bring the perspective of the channel partner, which is a really powerful voice that many of our listeners need to hear. So I'm excited. This is going to be great. John: Yeah, I've also been on both sides. So I've definitely been that head of sales and marketing who was looking to expand my direct team into places where they weren't able to get into, or to just scale to the market opportunity. So I have recruited and worked with channel partners, and not only in this situation of my own company, but prior to that being a channel partner of IBM and being a channel partner of Oracle, which are two of the biggest that work with channel partners and have a lot of the best practices in the space. So I'm happy to share my perspectives from both sides of the table. Jen: That's exactly what I wanted to dig into next. Looking at your background, you've had these executive leadership positions that you've held over the last 20 years, companies like IBM, like Net SPI. You've worked directly in sales and marketing like you mentioned. So you have a vast amount of business experience, and so I imagine you understand what works and what doesn't when it comes to channel, but also really business in general. Channel is just one aspect of an entire business. I'd love to hear, what are some of the biggest changes that you've seen in channel sales and marketing? John: Well, I think the biggest change I've seen is more and more companies starting with the channel, rather than starting with their own direct sales organization. I think that's just symptomatic of what's happening out in the marketplace, which is, it's very difficult to do direct sales these days without spending a lot of money on marketing. For the most part, in my experience everybody's kind of focused on a handful of executives, and those executives don't answer their phone and they don't respond to emails. They get their insights from their relationships, their trusted relationships. And so more and more, hiring a sales guy just because they have the ability to sell isn't enough anymore. What you're looking for is potentially getting a channel partner who already has those trusted relationships. In the cyber security space for instance, there's a company called Opto, and Opto has relationships with most of the top banks and financial services, organizations and large retailers. So as a result, everybody wants to get their attention so that their products are being represented. What's interesting is that now the channel partner is in power, because of the fact that they have these relationships, and they can try to exact a pound of flesh out of the product or offering provider. So what's interesting is you'll see things like big commission payouts for the direct side being in the 5% to 10% range, and on the channel side being in the 20% to 25% range, regardless of whether or not they're selling at this price or not. So I’m seeing starting with the channel rather than the direct, and also the power of the channel to be able to dictate economic terms, which hasn't been the situation in the past. Jen: Well, working for Allbound, where we believe in the power of selling with partners, I'm definitely biased, but we started our own channel partner program very, very early on. It was one of the first things we did as an organization, and I love my partner leads. I talk frequently about how they're my favorite leads, because like you said, they're coming from a trusted adviser. So when I get a lead from one of my agency partners, that is not just a lead, that is somebody who is coming to us because someone that they trust and work with on a regular basis recommended me to them. So it's the warmest hand-off that you can possibly get in sales. I think that's part of why we're seeing these organizations starting those channel partner programs earlier and earlier on in their business. John: Right. But there's also a lot of challenges in an effective channel program. For instance, you were just mentioning getting those channel leads. Well, one of the things that has to be managed is the channel conflict between the direct organization and the channel. Who has what responsibilities? What account responsibilities? What happens if the channel's not getting the traction that you were hoping to get out of a particular territory? How do you get a channel partner to support all of the sales reps rather than just one or two sales reps? And so these are all things that obviously you need to have executive leadership over. You always need to have somebody who wakes up in the morning caring about whether those deals are being done by the channel or being direct. I've always had situations where I ran sales and marketing and had responsibility for the whole number. However, I always had somebody who was responsible for that channel. To think that that person who has responsibility for the total can also be the person who has responsibility for the channel number, is just not going to work because they can always get their number with the big number, rather than working through the channel. So you need to have deal headquarters, if you will, to make sure that everybody knows what's going on. And you've got to have trust in the partners to be able to share access to your salesforce.com or whatever CRM system that you're using, and also to have content that's relevant to the channel and not just for yourself. So one of the things that companies are struggling with is the fact that they barely have enough content to support their own people, much less what's needed by the channel. At the end of the day, the channel still needs to have content. They might have relationships and that might get them access, but they need to have content to be able to share with their relationships to advance the value propositions that they're trying to represent out there. Jen: Absolutely. They're your volunteer salespeople. They're out there selling on your behalf. They need to be empowered and enabled. So my next question I was going to ask you was, really, how do you determine if and when a company is ready to build a channel partner program? You mentioned a couple of things, you mentioned having a leader who is responsible for that revenue. You mentioned making sure they figured out some of those internal processes to avoid conflict. You mentioned content. So are those really hard and fast signs and if you don't have those three or four things, then you really can't launch a partner program? Is there anything else? What do you think is really the bare minimum for an organization to really start selling through and with channel partners? John: Well, I mean, if you start with a channel partner program, then you don't have to worry about channel conflict. You're just going through the partner. Jen: This is true, yeah. John: So when you hire a person who has that experience, it'd be a different person than you would if you're going to hire the head of an internal sales organization, if you will. The other thing is what are you going to do about leads? Are you going to develop leads for your channel? A lot of companies are looking for both sides. So I remember working as a channel partner for Oracle, and we were a systems integrator for their e-commerce solution, and for a while, that company lived on business given to them by Oracle. But then came to the point where Oracle was expecting them to be bringing business to them. So there's got to be that give and take, if you will. So I would say that, if you're going to start with just a channel, be prepared to use your marketing and inbound resources, and perhaps even some of the inside sales resources to feed the channel, not just looking for the channel to feed you. Jen: That's really great advice. I think about that, and I think about some of the mistakes that I've seen organizations make mostly around being under-resourced. So an organization, maybe that's been selling direct and then decides to build out a channel partner program, that group decides, "All right, we're going to hire this one person to really spearhead this and own it", except that person might be an operations type of individual, or a sales type of person... John: Yeah, typically. Jen: Right. Or maybe marketing but... John: They're moving the paperwork, they're not moving the market. And that's a mistake. I'm glad you mentioned it. Jen: Right. John: I mean, naturally it is important to have somebody who moves the paper because of the fact that these people need to be paid. And if they're not being paid and if it’s not worth their while, they won't put the work into it, and that's bad because sometimes you've given them exclusive territories, and they're not making any money on it, and they decide to walk away from the commitment so then nobody's pursuing these opportunities. So you got to be concerned about whether or not the channel’s making money, because if they're not making money you're eventually going to lose them. Jen: Are there any glaring mistakes that you've seen executives make in the channel? You don't you have to tell us who they are, or what companies they were. Just wondering if in your experience you've seen any like big failures that maybe, our listeners who are either building channel programs or nurturing them can learn from? John: Well, there might be some people on the line that are familiar with this company, IBM for instance. So IBM pays 20% to 25% commission to their channel partners. The caveat is the fact that they pay 20% to 25% based on a deal that sold at list price. So the thing is that when it isn't sold at list price, and those of you on the podcast probably understand that there's never an IBM product that gets sold at list price. So consequently, these channel partners are making 5% to 10% instead of 20% to 25% because of the market realities that these IBM products need to be sold at a discount in order to be competitively priced. So consequently, they lose a lot of the channel traction that they could be getting because even though the 20% to 25% seems like it's a reasonable commission to be paid, it's not actually being paid, and the result is the channel's not making any money, and they eventually lose some of that traction. So that's probably the most glaring example, other than just flat out, taking all the cherry accounts as in-house, and leaving the dogs and cats to the channel. That's again, not paying attention to whether or not the channel's making money. So you may be able to get somebody interested in it to begin with, but when the results don't stand up to their expectations, you eventually lose a channel, and I've seen that happen on a number of occasions. Then the other thing is that you have to be continually diligent about whose account it is. On the one hand, it's the channel's account, but they're buying your product. And so consequently, you have to have a way of being able to stay involved so that they end up being a happy client. Because when they throw you out, you're going to get the black eye, not necessarily the channel partners. So something that needs to be coordinated is how do you maintain some degree of account ownership and ownership of the customer experience when there's a channel partner involved. Jen: That's a really great point. That's something that we're seeing grow in importance, particularly in this as a service subscription economy that we're in, and where buyers have more choice than ever before to move from one product to one solution to another. Gosh, I mean, making sure that if you're a vendor you have the ability to easily collaborate with your channel partners or vice versa, so that you could ultimately take care of the customer, because that's what's most critical to your business. I think that's really, really great advice. John: This is becoming a complication nowadays, because as customers move towards annual subscriptions versus perpetual licenses for many of these solutions, we're talking about paying commissions off of smaller numbers, or you're paying commissions off of just the first year rather than years two and three, type of thing. Again, this is all related to asking “Is my channel making money?” You can imagine if you got a $100,000 deal for a one year deal, and you're getting 25% of it, what do you get? You get a $25,000 doesn't go very far, but if you can pay them up front 25% of a $300,000 deal for instance, now you've got a bigger hit. However, you don't get your money until years two and three. So you just have to figure out how to do that. So maybe instead of offering 25%, you offer 20%, but you pay the full three years upfront, that type of thing. These are all things that, again, focus on is my channel making money? If your channel’s making money, you're going to be successful. If your channel's not making money, you won't be successful. Jen: I couldn't agree more. It's perfect, perfect mic drop. Before I let you go, a lot of listeners of The Allbound Podcast are in their partner program infancy, and they're not the IBMs and the Oracles of the world. They are maybe some smaller mid-market SaaS companies that are really setting out to to build a partner program for the first time. Do you have some tips that you could share with folks like them, maybe the CEOs of those types of organizations? What do you recommend they do to really get started? Maybe it's even things they need to think about. John: Well, I think what you're kind of describing is somebody who's already got a direct sales organization and now they're looking to expand into a channel, because otherwise, if you started with the channel you'd already have it there, so it's a little bit different. So let's assume that there is a direct sales organization, and now you're going to supplement that with the channel. So the first thing I would do is get somebody and invest in that person who is going to worry about the channel. Who's going to work with your inside teams to feed the channel? Who's going to set up the deal center to be able to manage channel conflict? Which accounts are the channel's? Which accounts are the inside team? Who's going to manage that? Who's going to put together the compensation plan that's going to be attractive to the channel, and still help the product company make money? And then the other thing from a customer experience, is how are you going to share ownership of your mutual client? What are the expectations that you're going to have for your clients, for your channel's clients, and what are the expectations? How are you going to be participating in it? So I think if you take care of who's feeding the channel, who's compensating the channel, and how, and then also, how are you going to manage your mutual client? I think those are the three things that are most important to have a successful channel on your hands. Jen: Excellent. Excellent advice. Well, this has been so great getting a chance to talk with you. Gosh, I could probably stay on the line even longer, and just pick your brain, but I won't. But before I really truly let you go, John, at the end of all of our podcasts, I have a little bit of a speed round of more personal questions, just four simple questions that I'd like to ask you. Are you open and ready for it? John: Sure, sure. Jen: All right. All right. John: They're all related to channel, right? Jen: No. They're actually not all related to channel. They're all related to you. So the first question is what is your favorite city? John: My favorite city is Los Angeles. I like the ocean, and I like warm weather, and it's got a buzz to it. So I'm a Los Angeles type of guy, as compared to all my compatriots who seem to be Silicon Valley guys. So I'm a Los Angeles guy. Jen: Southern California, awesome. Second question for you, are you an animal lover? John: I am an animal lover. We have had cocker spaniels for years, and they live a long time, very painful to see them leave. We just had one that passed in the last few months. And so my wife is now in the process of getting a Saint Charles, I think is the type of cocker that she's expecting to get next, so we'll have one soon. Jen: Aw! Those are so adorable. Will this be a puppy? John: Oh, it will be a puppy, yeah. We always start from scratch and go through all that pain. But cockers are a lot of work, I'm telling you. So if you're looking for a puppy or a dog that is not a lot of work, I would not recommend cocker spaniels. Jen: I don't think I've met a puppy that's not a lot of work. So if anyone out there on the internet knows of puppies that are easy, let me know. Okay, question number three, Mac or PC? John: Mac for sure. Jen: And last question... Jen: What's that? John: The only way I made much affordable, however, is every time I bought one, I bought a share of Apple stock. And so it's been able to keep up. Jen: There you go. All right, my last question. Let's say I was able to offer you an all-expenses paid trip, where would it be to? John: All-expenses paid trip would have to be someplace in the US. I'm a US guy. Where have I not been? I've not been to Charleston, South Carolina. And I think I need to go there. My wife and I have thought about doing that and it's like, it never gets to be the right time to go to Charleston, South Carolina. But if you were going to pay for it, I'd go. Jen: That's the first time that someone has picked Charleston, South Carolina as their destination of choice. So I need to ask you a fifth question which is, what is so amazing about Charleston, South Carolina that I am missing? John: I think it's just the architecture. They've kind of kept their hands on the old, while still having all of the modern conveniences. Jen: All right. John: And it's warm. Jen: And it's warm, and it's warm. Well, lovely. Thank you. Thanks so much for sharing your time with me today John, talking about channel, talking about South Carolina. If any of our listeners would like to reach out to you personally and just connect with you, what's the best way for them to do so? John: Just my corporate email's fine. Its jsekevitch, S-E-K-E, V like Victor I-T-C-H@cybersolutions.io. Jen: Wonderful. Again, thank you so much for your time. And thank you everybody else for tuning in. And I hope you'll join us next week for an all new episode of The Allbound Podcast. Announcer: Thanks for tuning in to The Allbound Podcast. For past episodes and additional resources, visit the resource center at allbound.com. And remember, never sell alone. Intro: Effective selling takes an ecosystem. Join host Jen Spencer as she explores how to supercharge your sales and master the art of never selling alone. Welcome to The Allbound Podcast, the fundamentals of accelerating growth with partners.
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