How CEOs work with the channel

Stuart Fenton, former Insight president and technologist, knows about the importance of a boss when it comes to working with the channel and shares his thoughts about how that relationship can work

I have found that a CEO can make an extraordinary difference to the channel in three ways. First, how they approach partnership – do they embrace the channel? Second, how they fund the channel and, third, how they manage the first two.

Over my career, I have seen the behaviour at the top define engagement. For example, Steve Ballmer is enormously proud of the channel and how partnerships are critical to the success of Microsoft. But the execution is delegated in a scatter-gun approach down several levels in the organisation. Internal politics, polemics and egos can wreck Steve’s vision and often have. Funding is cut, certifications balloon, deal-registration processes collapse under the weight of complexity, partner resources evaporate and communication can be dreadful. The channel funding and objectives often change on the whim of whomever is in the partner group chair and their immediate team. There are fabulous people in the worldwide partner group, but they are often not in control of the important factors. I hope that the new Microsoft CEO focuses on fewer business areas and understands channel health. That way the channel can be mutually dialled into a strategy for the long term and optimise ROI. Thus a strong CEO who manages the expectations of partners would be ideal. Microsoft needs the change.

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Meg Whitman is a perfect example of the ideal channel CEO. She engages regularly with the channel and listens to issues regarding focus and funding. She defines the relationship and drives simplicity in the engagement. She has focused on channel health more than other firms and seeks advice at every opportunity. The channel also reports directly to her. It is not without risk. Meg will be involved in choosing the winning partner groups – if you are in because she believes in your value, you are embraced, rewarded and cared for. If you are out: well, tough.

Michael Dell is smart. He had one strategy that did not require a channel. He changed that strategy and acts just like Meg – very dialled in.

An effective CEO can inspire and reward a mutually beneficial partnership. Cisco has got it right. HP is close, and Lenovo can be fabulous at times.

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