Ep. 5 – Channel Account Managers: You Don’t Need Them Anymore

Sal Patalano is an avid wine collector, athlete, author, amateur musician, and classic car buff who lives life to the fullest under the beautiful skies of North Carolina. Sal founded his first software company building applications for the Apple MacIntosh in 1983, working closely with Steve Jobs and his team, but currently happens to be the Chief Revenue Officer at Lenovo Software.

That much career tenure, especially in channel sales and partner marketing, has earned him the right to be considered a thought leader and an opinionated one at that. The idea of eliminating the channel account manager (CAM) role sounds controversial at first, but Sal’s talk track is firmly rooted in data and modern business realities.

From Sal’s perspective, four factors are driving the change:

The Shift To SaaS Solutions

The shift to SaaS solutions frequently means that today’s buyers are no longer exclusively in the C-suite. We have line of business managers and executives who can make decisions and put new solutions under operating expenses in their budgets. In fact, the average small to medium-sized business have somewhere around three hundred subscription applications running in the company.

We Live In a Services Consumption Model

“Customers don’t want to buy your software,” says Sal. “They don’t want to buy your hardware. They’re not interested in your products; they want to buy an outcome. They want something that does something, but they don’t care how it gets there.”

He has a point: even Sal’s company, hardware giant Lenovo, has nearly every SKU on offer as a service as we recorded this; servers, laptops and, of course, software. Both the enterprise and the partners have by and large shifted their focus toward monthly or annual recurring revenue models.

The Digital Buyer’s Journey

Here’s a harsh truth: for many solutions, today’s buyer never needs to talk to a sales rep and in some cases would even prefer not to. The digital buyer’s journey, with its many upsides such as the ability to speed up the time to revenue, has reduced the need for a great deal of the traditional high touch work in the channel.

Looking back on how the CAM role has shifted in the past decade or so, there is a dramatic dip in need for traditional activities such as creating connections back to the vendor, dropping off mugs and product literature, co-selling, demand gen and the like. The majority of these activities are just not needed in a world where so much can be learned, executed and delivered via purely digital modalities.

To stay relevant in today’s world, the CAM needs to view herself as more of a business analyst or consultant.

Partner Business Model

The business model has changed dramatically, and this has reduced the need for the CAM, even reducing the need for partners in many instances as more companies start to look for suppliers who act as managed service providers. Adjunct to the previous point, this means that the enterprise needs to understand the business model and challenges of the client and be able to articulate that back to them in a way that builds trust. They must earn the right to act as a trusted partner, offering a layer of consultation and services that are complementary to their core offering.


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