Ep. 13 – Joe Sykora: Managing Channel Sales for Success

“The key for us on the channel side when we’re looking to build programs out is ‘how can we make you a better partner? How can we make your business a better business?’” Joe Sykora is the VP Worldwide Channel Development at Bitdefender and has a storied career in channel sales, including early days as an entrepreneur.  As Joe correctly points out, however, propping up partners without clear measurements in place can become an expensive prospect.  So how is he thinking about managing his channel sales for success in 2019?

Elements of Scale

Assuming that we all acknowledge the fact that the ideal scenario is for us to all have great local relationships, we need to look at great relationships as the guiding principal and then look for ways to augment that through distribution partners, inside teams, digital support, sales incentives and other means.

Interestingly, Joe has noticed the beginnings of a trend toward using AI-enabled support such as chatbots for partner enablement, a direction he finds interesting but he admits, “I’m a little more old school.”

As much as digital initiatives are measurable and well worth our efforts, Joe points out that modern privacy laws and the sheer volume of digital marketing that people are inundated with have got him and his team looking at more traditional analog means of growing their channels.  Right now that sounds like everything from company-driven events to MDF-funded initiatives to good old fashioned paper mailers, admitting that what truly works is most likely to be a combination of everything.

Interestingly, he points out that it’s important to remember that in most cases the partner is going to know their business better than anyone else could, suggesting that perhaps MDF and Co-Op continue to be a great way to drive channel sales.

Challenging Your Buyer’s Journey Map

Joe believes that in today’s world, it’s possible that buyers are often moving quickly from research to purchase, speeding or even skipping past many steps we may expect (or try to force!) them to take in their purchasing journey with our brands.  For this reason, he says “Really, you need to be present,” emphasizing the importance of us as marketers to not only understand the needs of our buyers but also anticipate these variances or accelerations in the purchase flow and be ready for them.  It’s about quickly and clearly conveying value to buyers at every step and building comfort that what you are selling solves the problem they have or fulfills the need they have expressed.

Enablement Starts With Understanding Capability

Another critical success factor is genuinely understanding the strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your partners and ensuring that you have partner scoring in place to prevent yourself from developing blind spots in these respects.  Steven and Joe share a laugh about a company who recently admitted that upon reaching a point where they felt like their marketing was exceptionally well optimized, they realized, “hey, we’re actually bad salespeople.”  Joe underlines this point well, pointing out that many people get into spaces because of very narrow expertise they have such as a highly technical background and think that because we have the best product or the best technology that will be enough to drive sales.  However, that’s not the case, and it’s almost never the case.  You can build the most exceptional product in the world, but if nobody knows about it, if nobody understands the problem it solves and if no seller can establish a connection between your product and a buyer, success becomes nearly impossible, especially in the crowded realm of channel sales.

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