Ep. 23 – Joe Sykora: Assimilating Inside Sales & Channel

Joe Sykora is back for another episode fresh off the announcement that he has become a top influencer in the channel space.  In fact, Channel Marketing Journal recently named Joe on its list of the Top Channel Change Agents of 2018.  If you don’t remember Joe from back on Ep. 13, Managing Channel Sales for Success, here’s a quick primer:  Joe is the VP of Global Sales and Channels at Bitdefender, and he also happens to be the guy who has recently been tasked with amalgamating Bitdefender’s inside sales team with their vast global channel partner network.  In a company that has long leaned heavily on channel sales for revenue generation, this sounds like a big job from where we sit.

Strategically, Why Integrate Inside & Channel Sales?

If you work in an organization above a certain size, never mind one where channel sales contribute a significant chunk of your revenue, you’re already familiar with the challenges associated with aligning disparate teams to serve the same goal.  It’s a completely rational point of friction: people may well wonder how they can be responsible for the desired outcome if they don’t feel like they’re in control of process.  “If everyone’s not aligned on the sales side…sometimes that’s a big source for conflict,” summarizes Joe.

“The conflict between a direct sales team and channel is an age-old problem,” says Joe.  “A lot of the time it’s because of comp issues, such as the direct team having incentive to take deals direct.  Of course they’re going to try to do that wrong behaviour.”

The move came down to a decision around how to best deconflict the various teams in Bitdefender’s revenue ecosystem with the goal of smoothing out processes and, one would expect, accelerating time to revenue on new deals.

Preempting Conflict

“What we’re always saying is, ‘bring us in early’,” says Joe.  “If you really have a channel that is well-tuned and working properly, your channel is going to be bringing you the opportunities probably 50-60% of the time.”

From Joe’s perspective, the starting point is to review how quotas are distributed: while it’s great for each team to carry a number of new deals generated, points of friction can arise around how they are incented or held to account for their numbers.  Joe suggests that examining tactics such as reviewing comp packages can begin to remove barriers that may be inadvertently having a negative effect on how teams can work together.

“Having one leader overlooking all of this is one way to do it,” he summarizes.

Set It & Forget It?  Forget It!

“Every year you have to step back and say, ‘what is the right incentive for the market today?’” says Joe.  Incentive entitlement is one of the core challenges of operating sales incentive programs.  Put differently, if programs are left unexamined and static for too long, they are likely no longer modifying behaviours in the sales channel.  This is a simple truth, rooted in the psychology of the way human brains process rewards – if reward programs are left in place for too long and are not engaging and even challenging the sales folks to some extent, they fade out of incentive territory and just blend into the expected rate of compensation.

Here’s what drives that need for re-examination and re-work:  The idea is that as marketplaces shift we all need to be aware that our behaviours as brands and resellers are likely going to need to shift, even just incrementally sometimes, to stay in the game.  Legacy incentive programs left in place because “it ain’t broke” or because it has always worked are the most vulnerable to disruption in today’s fast-changing markets.  The structure of many legacy incentive programs has been, at best, informed by lagging indicators such as historical sales data and, at worst, by channel leaders going with their gut.  These variables are far from irrelevant, but they fail to leverage tools available to today’s channel marketer such as BI software or channel data insights products that can layer in predictive data.

A focus on driving the right behaviours to get the desired results is what makes Joe a big fan of spending on sales enablement.  “I like to make them a better business,” he says of his strategy for empowering the channel.  “If I can make you a better business person, it’s not only going to help my business with you, but it’s also going to make you a better business overall and if you’re a better business you’re going to receive a much bigger benefit than I will as a manufacturer.”

 

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