Ep. 15 – Sal Patalano: Channel Planning 2019 – Can You Make the Hard Calls?

“What if there were no rules?”  Steven frames up his latest conversation with Lenovo Software CRO, Sal Patalano by first suggesting that in times of great change, the best move might be to forget what you know and start from scratch.  Sal underlines the need to challenge our channel planning: “The old stuff is just not working.”

Taking a contrarian stand in the realm of channel management is nothing new to Sal; if you caught his first Channel Edge appearance, back on episode 5, you’d recall his debate with Steven on the controversial idea of eliminating the role of Channel Account Managers.

Modelling Your Channel Planning

What makes Sal’s approach so interesting is how much it has the potential to stretch our thinking as marketers.  This is because he challenges us to dig deep, challenging our organizational structures, our professional fears, and even our egos along the way.  “It’s about turning everything upside down and focusing on the outcomes and forgetting everything you think you know about how to get there.”

Sal suggests that the rebuilding your framework for how you think about channel programming needs to start with a return to first principles, asking yourself “why am I here?” and asking the same of each segment of your channel.  This is a powerful idea because it compels the tenured professional to ask themselves if there is any leverage to be wrought from revisiting the beginner’s mindset.  As publisher Malcolm Forbes put it, “The dumbest people I know are those who know it all.”

Some people prefer to stay comfortable and lather, rinse, repeat the same programs repeatedly, but Sal cautions that in times of significant change there is enormous danger in staying the same: “As much as 60-70% of today’s channel entities will be gone in the next year, to two, to three,” because they can’t or won’t adapt to change.   Especially in the software space, where delivery has moved to a purely online model, disintermediation is a real problem but is still only a part of more significant changes.

“We’re Doing Just Fine, Thank You”

Sal appropriates a common truism as a metaphor to share another key piece of wisdom.  “When’s the best time to look for your next job, Steven?” he asks.  Obviously, the answer is when you’ve already got a stable position.

As much as many organizations may find that they respond better to the stick than to the carrot, it remains true that the best time to examine how to improve our channel planning is when everything is going comparatively well for us.  Succeeding at our goals gives us the business health and resources to pause, reflect and consider how we might experiment with new ideas and challenge old beliefs.  It’s also a great time to find opportunities for future-proofing ourselves against threats that, while perhaps not completely clear to us yet, have the potential to wash out the very foundations of our otherwise healthy companies unless we have taken steps to shore up those foundations during the good times.

An Eye for The Inevitable

“If you can identify an inevitable trend, whether it’s something you agree with or not, and you can get ahead of it, there is an opportunity to make money and be successful.  One trend that looks inevitable to Sal is the continued disintermediation of channel partners between vendor and customer.  This movement is far from being exclusive to software and tech; in sectors as wide-ranging as furniture, clothing, groceries, and CE there is a growing opportunity for brands to sell directly to consumers via the Internet.  Examine this trend more closely, however, and you’ll see the opportunity being revealed in the inevitable shift toward this model; opportunity is being created for logistical partners, delivery models, centralized pickup points and more.

Our world isn’t ending any time soon; it’s just changing.  Quickly.

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