Your Regularly Scheduled Channel Program Is Over

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Every now and then, you experience something that gives you an almost surreal flashback — the kind where you can hear or feel or even smell or taste a past moment in time. Take me, for exmple. Every time "Ice Ice Baby" plays on my Spotify feed, I can hear and see and smell the team bus from my junior high football days. 

But enough nostalgia. In the last few days, Oracle announced huge cutbacks to their global channel partner program and Avnet announced the departure of CEO Rick Hamada after again reducing their earnings outlook. And TWICE, I was taken back to a very boring, dry chicken caesar salad at a very boring, dry channel sales and marketing conference (hence my inner fire to launch CO:LLABORATE). 
 
If you'd ever been to one of these events, you could probably name the companies in attendance with your eyes closed. There was Oracle, SAP, Avnet, Arrow, IBM, Brocade, Cisco, etc. — and about a dozen vendors pitching software and services. But this conference had something different. It had Tiffani Bova as its lunch keynote, Gartner's leading analyst on channel sales and marketing at the time. Tiffani's focus on this particular day was the drastic changes taking place in the B2B IT space, where the Cloud and subscription economy were creating huge disruption. And, perhaps even more disruptive, was the change taking place in the buyer's journey because of the growing impact of digital media, content marketing and the connected economy. 
 
It was just after I gave-up on my salad and moved on to my trusty conference sourdough roll that I sort of fell in love with Tiffani (I can say this now that she's with Salesforce). Because it was at that moment that she told an entire audience of (excuse my French) "old school" channel folk that they and their partners needed to adapt — or risk dying. 
 
Suddenly, the clinking and clanging and scraping of 200+ salad forks and dinner plates got very quiet. Did she say "die?" Those are strong words. And they caused some whispers. 
 
"Oh please, channel programs won't die," said the Fortune 100 Senior VP of Global Channels seated next to me. "Analysts are always preaching dooms day. People will adapt. Partners will adapt. This is tech ... we're not a bunch of insurance agents."
 
Fast forward about 18 months. The channel got not one, but TWO huge, eye-opening glasses of cold water thrown in its face. What's more, it got a huge warning that the legacy strategies, tactics and technologies that have powered channel partner programs for the last 10-20 years simply were not built and cannot keep pace with the speed, agility and financial requirements of today's market. 
 
Now read that last sentence again.
 
"... the legacy strategies, tactics and technologies that have powered channel partner programs for the last 10-20 years simply were not built and cannot keep pace with the speed, agility and financial requirements of today's market ..."
 
Did you read it? It's important. Just as Tiffani was saying, this is not warning of dooms day, but rather a signal of your chance to change and get ahead. Get acquainted with the four most important characteristics of a connected and engaged channel in today's digital, cloud-driven world. I call them the "4 C's of Partner Engagement":
 
  • Content
  • Collaboration
  • Customer Success
  • Culture
And most importantly - stop the denial. I've heard way too much talk of an "evolution" taking place in the channel. And while I agree that only the strong will survive, this is by no means a time for safe and small incremental changes. This is a time to take things to an entirely new level — for a revolution. To resist comfortable old tendencies and push radical, disruptive change. To throw out the status quo and the overly-complex and bring-in new processes and technology that simplify and empower true partnerships. And once and for all, to look the naysayers in the eye and show them that a partner channel — if that's what we should even be calling it today — is one of the most powerful resources for accelerating growth in the connected economy. 
 
 
CO:LLABORATE 2016 Conference with Robert Herjavec

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