The continued absence of a formal, standardized structure to learning for channel business professionals is both surprising and troubling, says the director of the Channel Institute, a global channel business training organization.
“We’ve been shocked. There seems to be a lot of churn and burn when it comes to new people entering channel management,” Michael Kelly tells CDN. “Some of the biggest companies are taking in hundreds of university graduates every year and putting them into channel roles. But these hired people have had no training in channel…and they’re not getting any actual training, so 50 per cent of them work out, the other half does not.”
Since 2018, hundreds of people in various channel roles have taken at least one of the institute’s courses and examinations. The organization currently offers four courses: channel sales, channel marketing, digital co-marketing, and channel management. Each one is broken up into several modules and capped off with an examination. Kelly says the channel management course is the most popular, and is the one he personally recommends to an employer that can only afford one for an employee.
Each course costs approximately $2,000 and is reviewed and validated by the Industry Advisory Council, comprised of more than 20 senior channel management leaders from major vendors such as Oracle, Cisco, Dell, and Microsoft. One of the most attractive elements of the entire program is the fact that it’s 100 per cent digital and can be accessed 24/7.
“Most of our students and alumni travel for a living,” says Kelly. “So they can be sitting in a hotel room and work on one of the courses.”
Maggie Thornton, channel manager for Toronto’s Omnivex, a digital communications firm, has completed three of the institute’s courses and is about to start a fourth. Thornton’s entire career has been in the channel, working for companies including Dell, Sony, Compuserve and Merisel, and while she’s well-versed when it comes to the business partner community, she says the institute’s courses offered her an opportunity to revisit those skills in a structured way.
“It’s a very good reminder of some of the basics, and it’s very accessible,” says Thornton. “It’s an ongoing living resource, and not just for my internal sales teams, some of whom are new to the channel, but also for others who want to work with Omnivex.”
Thornton educates her own team about channel with what she describes as a self-made channel playbook that outlines best practices and important talking points with customers. That playbook is now enhanced by the training she’s received from the Channel Institute. One of the biggest challenges, she says, is understanding the different ways partners do business and the problems each of them are trying to solve. Learning how to approach each situation is a significant challenge for sales teams that are used to the usual sales pitch and spec sheet drop off. It’s a challenge for vendors, too. But this kind of education brings the channel community closer together and improves business for everyone.
“I would love for a community to come out of this,” she says.
So would Kelly.
“There is a difference between channel business being a profession and channel business just being a poor cousin of sales,” he explains, adding organizations such as the Canadian Channel Chiefs Council (C4) is helping elevate channel management standards as well. “Those are the types of organizations that raise the entire level of the profession. We don’t really care if people are getting the education from other companies or from us. Our goal and our vision, is to look back in 30 years time, and see a channel community that’s being taken seriously.”
Correction: A previous version of this story said that “dozens” of people working in the channel have completed some of the training. In actuality, hundreds have completed the training worldwide. The term dozen was referring to the number of participants in certain countries. CDN apologizes for the error.