Channel News

Not Being a Trusted Advisor Can Be an Advantage

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Author: Cam Wayland

This month I am continuing on from Moheb’s feature article in our August newsletter, that explained the four traits of being a trusted advisor. I am going to start by making a controversial comment and suggest that being a trusted advisor should NOT necessarily be the primary goal for every Channel Account Manager (CAM), and certainly not for every partner they manage.

This is not just to avoid using a cliched “meeting bingo” phrase, but more importantly because it will improve the account manager’s overall productivity and general territory management by not trying to achieve this status with every partner they manage. The result of this being an increase in their chances of making their sales target. There are several ways this happens - let me explain.

Before we get into it, let's do a quick recap of the trusted advisor concept and associated traits from last month. As we explained previously, there are 4 levels of trust, of which the Trusted Advisor is the most advanced.

Let’s do a bit of a CAM reality check, and generalise for my earlier statement to make more sense. Most CAMs have a mixed territory of partners of varying size, vendor alignment and importance. They typically manage 15-30 partners or even more in total. The following approach is going to be ideal for a mixed territory such as this.

However, this is not always the case with some CAMs, better classed as strategic partner account managers, with only 1-2 key accounts each. For these CAMs, the same principle can apply, but for different stakeholders within their key accounts, not their whole “territory”.

Territory & Time Management

In our channel training workshops, I pose a simple question, ‘If you had more time in the month, where you could get to choose the number of hours/days (rather than the average 22 selling days) would you consistently make your target’? The answer (once they digest and rationalise this thought) is of course an overwhelming Yes!

The next question I pose is, ‘Do you think you are spending the right amount of time, with the right partners, AND engaging with them in an appropriate manner to give you the best possible chance of making your target?’ Again, after this thought has had a chance to sink in the answer is generally a resounding No.

What we typically observe, is that the average CAM uses a “one size fits all” engagement approach to their partners in their territory. As a result, they are not able to optimise their time and/or associated value they could deliver to their partners.

Step 1: Know Your Territory

The first step is to categorise partners within the territory, either by their program tier classification (ie. Gold, Silver etc) or by something more sophisticated that looks beyond their status within the program and looks at their potential. 

Some time ago we covered this concept using our Partner Value Model approach, which looked at the value of a partner, not from the perspective of what they are currently doing/selling, but rather by what they could potentially deliver.

The names we have used are pretty self-explanatory, except perhaps for the Supplementary Partner, so a quick word on the definition of this partner type. This is the type of partner that maybe has limitations in market reach, customer numbers, resources, or perhaps a preference for a competitive solution set that doesn’t warrant them becoming a Growth Partner for you. In summary they are aligned to a sub set of your product or solution set, and have potential for growth, but are unlikely to become very strategic for you.

Aligned Partners, on the other hand, understand your value proposition and actively sell whenever they can, but are often at full capacity and have limited growth potential. These could, but not necessarily be Gold program partners as well.

Growth Partners as the name suggests are all about untapped potential but require additional investment by both the partner and the vendor to reach this potential.

Transactional Partners will fulfil a customer request for your product or solution but are not proactive around you as a vendor.

By using this territory segmentation approach as a CAM you can now start to allocate your time and resources more appropriately. Invest in partners where there is over and above potential for growth, not just those that will deliver business as usual.

Step 2 Tailor Your Engagement

By using the Partner Value Model territory segmentation approach, this now means the type and style of engagement should be different to match each of the partner types and give the best results for both you and the partner.

For instance, there is little to be gained in trying to be a trusted advisor to a Transactional Partner. The most appropriate form of engagement is as a product expert where you can quickly assist and help to qualify in or out a newly uncovered opportunity.

However, it gets a little more complicated than just trying to broadly categorise partner engagement by these 4 partner or territory classifications, especially with the Aligned and Growth categories.

For these more “complex” partners the most appropriate engagement style will depend on who (and why) you need to engage or support them. As a guide refer to the table below.

Most of the time, partner sales and technical people just really appreciate timely vendor information about the product suitability and/or pricing for the target customer. For more complex customer builds or bids, then the style of engagement needs to go up a notch, where the business outcome for all parties becomes a more prominent consideration rather than just the “speeds and feeds”.

For the Aligned and Growth Partners, senior management within the partner, including finance, need to be engaged and brought onboard. This is not just for the technology alignment, but more importantly the business alignment including profitability, revenue/cash flow considerations and of course alignment to the overarching partner program benefits.

Step 3 Use The right Tools

The final step is a continuation of the "one engagement style does not suit all" approach, which is to use the right tools or resources for maximum CAM and partner productivity.

Most vendors have great program resources such as portals, training materials, white papers, case studies, and even professional services reference packs. However, remembering that most partners work with a range of vendors, they are not always aware that a) the resource exists, or b) where or how to access it quickly and easily. So, the first step with all partner types is to ensure the appropriate partner contacts are aware of where and how they can self-serve for most of their day to day requirements. This could also include distributor contacts or resources.

For the Supplementary, Aligned and Growth Partners, it should not be just a single point of contact being the vendor CAM. Engagement with vendor peers needs to be crucial part of working and developing these partners to improve the depth of relationship, and of course improve the CAM’s productivity. For instance, partner technical people need to be able to have access to the correct vendor technical resources, not to have to rely on their CAM being a technical proxy, or a “gofer”.  

For Supplementary Partners the most practical approach is to use an account planning approach, where customer opportunities are identified and then supported via a joint activity plan. In short, a structured but tactical approach. Finally, for the Aligned and Growth Partners, all of the above still applies. However, in addition, using a structured business planning approach involving (senior management) can reap dividends and ensure business alignment between the partner and the vendor. In short, a bigger picture strategic approach with supporting tactics, resources and commitments documented and then reviewed regularly. 


Last month Moheb started this discussion by giving some depth and definition of the four levels of trust in moving to be a trusted advisor. Building on this idea, as a territory and time management concept, it should now be more clear that a CAM aspiring to be labelled a “trusted advisor” is not necessarily the best approach for some partners, nor would they perceive this as a valuable channel account manager.

Feel free to ping me at to let me know what you think or share some of the latest “meeting bingo” phases you are hearing!

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