For decades, road-based channel account managers (CAMs) have acted as the umbilical cord between vendors and their channel partners.
But amid signs that some vendors are diverting funds from dedicated channel resource into telephone-based or technical support, it is a role that is coming under increased scrutiny.
Content security vendor Clearswift is among those to change tack, last month canning its two UK CAM roles in favour of further investment in its inside sales team. Email and web security vendor Webroot has also cut the size of its CAM team in the UK and is investing in inside sales in Ireland.
When times are tough, resellers above all else value assistance in closing sales, the argument goes. The caricature of a CAM who comes into the reseller’s office, orders a 14-inch pizza, slurps their coffee and chats about high-level strategy with their feet up on the boardroom table does not necessarily fit with this vision.
However, Ian Moyse, UK sales director at Workbooks.com, argued that the decision to remove face-to-face contact would be a misguided one.
“There is a growing trend of vendors believing there is no need for face-to-face channel management and that a telesales model will be a cheaper and successful solution,” he said.
“If you have a product that customers simply order and demand is high, then demand fulfilment and sales support for partners can work with an internal bias. But even so, there is still a requirement for an in-person relationship with the management and sales floor at the reseller.”
Helen Wood, senior regional channel manager at vendor RES Software, agreed that it would be tough to manage a channel without dedicated staff.
“The days of having a fleet of 50 CAMs are over,” she said. “But to expect a sales guy to work with the channel is wrong, as they do not have that experience and [they] work on a deal-by-deal basis, not based on how the partner is going to develop with the vendor.”
Ross Baker, channel sales director at Websense, said: "CAMs are the conduit between our sales floor and our partner's sales floor. Security is such a dynamic space, questions will arise all the time and having a personal relationship with someone you can rely on to have the answers can only be good in my book."
Carrying the bag
Depending on the size and maturity of the vendor, CAMs will not only provide feedback to and from partners but also assist them in cold-calling prospects and closing sales.
However, Moyse argued that the sales aspect is often wrongly overlooked by vendor management.
“Most people view CAMs as a relationship manager, not a sales person,” he said. “A big indication of this is, in a job interview for a sales post, they will often discount anyone with a CAM background. My view is that the value in the role is showing the reseller you can carry the bag for them by picking up the phone to an end user to earn their respect.”
Channel sales manager could be a more apt job title in these instances, Moyse said.
Antony Young, founder of channel consultancy Demuto (pictured), agreed there are some ineffectual CAMs out there, but argued that vendors and resellers are partly to blame.
“There are some CAMs who buy a few pizzas, stand up on a desk and expect lasting change. I see it all the time. But they are not being managed properly,” he said.
“Vendors need to recruit, develop and manage high-quality partner account managers (PAMs). I find that many have transferred from another department or are in their first sales role. The PAM needs to be armed with good solutions, a strong value proposition and good tools and support so they can apply them effectively. If they do not have these, they will soon get push back, lose motivation and go through the motions but not really deliver much incremental value.”
One lump or two?
Young added that distributors and resellers also have a part to play.
“If they demand and help to create a challenging and robust business plan that correctly aligns the vendor’s technology to their customer base, there should never be time to drink coffee as the joint sales team will be driving together to achieve the stretch goal and generate significant growth for both organisations,” he said.
Scott Fletcher, chief executive of Cisco and NetApp partner ANS Group, agreed that there are good and bad CAMs - but again pointed the finger at the vendors.
“Some vendors are guilty of employing CAMs who are not of a high enough standard to peer with the executives at the resellers themselves,” he said. “Resellers need CAMs who are commercially aware and can help them with business planning and executing on that plan.”
Eddie Pacey, managing director of EP Credit Management & Consultancy, was critical of vendors for reducing face-to-face contact with resellers but argued that the relationship between a reseller and its CAM could suffer from overkill.
“I suspect some meetings do end up as “coffee-swilling” exercises but this is largely the fault of too many scheduled meetings as opposed to meaningful, timely visits that deliver the real value,” he said.
“If you see someone weekly or fortnightly, repetition or boredom will result. Visit every couple of months or when circumstances demand and the value gained is immeasurable.
“Indeed, in today’s changing environment, direct contact with clients and partners is critical in gauging direction and delivery.”
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