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The Partner Channel Podcast Episode #29

Where to Focus When Starting a New Channel Role

Show Synopsis

In this Partner Channel Podcast episode, Tori Barlow sits down with Rachel Turkus from Cyber Reef to discuss where to focus when starting a new channel role.


  • Create a common language
  • Interview the current partners
  • Listen more than speaking
  • Don’t set unattainable goals

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    The Script

    Tori Barlow: Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, The Voice of the Channel. I’m Tori Barlow Senior Director of Marketing at Allbound. Excited to be here with Rachel Turkus VP of Marketing and Channel Management at Cyber Reef. Welcome, Rachel. Thank you for being on our show. Could you start us off by walking through your background in the channel and how you ended up at Cyber Reef?

    Rachel Turkus: So I started originally as a lead generation manager for Packett Fusion, which is a VAR out of the Bay Area. I came to them from a B2C company where I was director of sales and marketing. And I really learned what cloud communication was, what UCAS was. Took me about a year to get my feet under me in the industry. I serviced for two separate providers in their marketing departments as their marketing digital lead generation leader for their inside sales teams from one of them. So really getting into what the sales and marketing of the products have been. Then most recently, when I was at Net Fortris, I worked in their channel marketing department specifically and really helped foster that digital channel marketing world. Earlier this month, I started at Cyber Reef as their VP of marketing and channel management, really taking together the two areas of marketing and sales. I like that marketing foundation and starting kind of a marketing program from scratch, but also having that channel bent to how we go to market. Cyber Reef is a mobile firewall company. In fact, they are the home of what we call a mobile wall. It’s really an emerging technology that you’re not seeing everywhere at this time.

    Tori Barlow: That’s exciting. You mentioned you’ve been there for about a month, so you’re pretty much a veteran by now.

    Rachel Turkus: Yes, I know everything.

    Tori Barlow: Yeah. For those listeners, in the same boat, you know, you joined Cyber Reef to grow their channel program. For other folks who are new at a company. And, you know, they’re trying to start a channel program or audit an existing program. What are the first things you look for when doing either of those things? Where do you even begin?

    Rachel Turkus: I think having a common language is a good place to start. That’s where I really started with Cyber Reef. When you say the word partner, what does that mean to you? When you say the word master, what does that mean to you? To start that common basis, for who you’re talking about and how you’re trying to reach them? Because if I say the word partner and I really mean subagents and someone here says the word partner and they’re talking about a reseller. Those are very different customers, very different people looking for very different things. We’re using the same terminology. So you really need to make sure that you’re using the same language to start with. Then after that, I’ve actually started interviewing our current partners in the different categories that we’ve come up with as to ask them, what do they like about our program? What has worked for them, where they could see we could do better and spend more time listening than speaking.

    Tori Barlow: I think that’s what we’ve seen with our customers as well. I think it’s pretty antiquated to have the transactional mindset anymore of we signed this agreement, you’re going to owe us X amount of leads or referrals or opportunities, and if you don’t hit the number, are we still partners? I think what it transformed into is exactly what you’re saying. Let me build this relationship with you first from the ground up and understand what you need to be successful because, at the end of the day, every partner is different. And I’m sure you have different goals for each partner to where you want their input, you want them to be successful. So how can you make them a rockstar?

    Rachel Turkus: It’s true. When we looked at the partners and we talked when I first talked about that common language. What we did was we looked at partners and how they do business, how they make their money, how they talk to their customers. And that’s how we categorize them. We didn’t categorize them on how we thought they should do things, but how they actually do things in their business models. We want to speak and make sure that the enablement tools that we’re creating for them, speak to those business models, and speak to how they make their money, not how we make ours.

    Tori Barlow: Yeah, I think that makes for a really fruitful relationship. OK, so you come on to Cyber Reef, you talk to the partners, you understand what’s been built, what you would like to tweak or change. After you audit or really lay the foundation of a new program at a new company. What are the steps you take to implement your findings or how do you get exec buy-in if you need that?

    Rachel Turkus: Well, I think you lay that foundation when you start by asking people’s opinions and getting their feedback from the beginning. Asking them what they think the definitions for these categories. Asking them what they think is great about our program that we have now. You know, you’re going to change it. You know, that change is coming. But it’s important to listen to them first and then respond to what their concerns are. If they think they have a great program and nothing needs to be changed, that might be a different challenge. But if they say look, we really like the way we engage with our partners at the start. We really like doing our kickoff meetings. Cool, then you want to make sure you keep that in what you’re creating because that is something that they find success in. You know, we really don’t like our kickoff meetings. We’d like them to be more organized. great, let me go ahead and take that feedback and start from that basis. I would probably still keep the kickoff meeting. But in this example, it would allow you to address what their problem is and what their concern is with what they have now. The other thing, as far as executive buying goes, I think taking them on that journey with you. Saying to them, hey, this is where I’m at, here’s what I’m thinking before I go further, I wanted to touch base with you. And make sure that what you’re building is within the realm of what they thought they were going to get. Because if you go into a hole by yourself and come out three months later, and say here’s your new program. You haven’t taken into consideration anything that they wanted, any needs that they have. And you’ve done a bunch of work that may or may not land.

    Tori Barlow: I think that makes sense. And you talk a little bit about getting partner feedback. You know, exec buy-in, what they’re looking for. So everyone’s aligned, which is great. What do you do about setting KPIs or metrics? How do you take what the original KPIs were for partners do they make sense for the organization? Can you kind of walk us through how you build that metrics foundation?

    Rachel Turkus: Sure. So what you’re talking about is how do you define success? Right. The first part of defining success is the parameters for success. I would not necessarily put in KPIs with a target, per se, out the gate. I would start with what we’re going to start by measuring is, we’re going to measure engagement with the document. We’re going to measure email opens. We’re going to measure attendance to a webinar. Whatever it is, your goal is in that program. You’re going to measure that to start with, and then we’re going to take that and make that our base. So if let’s say you have a twenty-five percent engagement with a document you’ve created. My goal is next time to increase that by three percent. And then you can start making those KPIs based on repeatable knowledge that you have. When you come into a company and start to create a program from scratch. Often they don’t have the benchmarks in place to measure. So you’re kind of stabbing in the dark rather than baseline, based on what you can create. I think that’s really important is not to set yourself up for failure by creating goals that are unattainable or goals that are not in line with what you’re creating.

    Tori Barlow: I think that’s really important to remember. And when you do meet with execs and they come out of the gate, some may come hot saying, hey, we need X amount of revenue this first quarter from partners, how are you going to get it? You know, taking a step back as this new channel chief and saying, well, actually, let’s get a baseline first. Let’s get some leading indicators first, and then for the lagging indicators of revenue or opportunities from partners. Here’s where we can grow and build that foundation.

    Rachel Turkus: You almost have to do that during the interview process. See, I don’t think you walk into a company. Personally, I would not walk into a company without that being the foundation of what you’ve talked about during that interview. So you’ve set expectations before you come in. Hey, I need to measure where we’re at. I’m going to do some things, but I’m going to take a method that’s going to take a while. It’s not an overnight success. You know, my core competency has always been SEO. And I’ve always talked about SEO being a long game. And if you want to do SEO, you’re talking six months out the gate. With a channel program, I would venture it’s even longer. When you talk about building relationships, people aren’t an algorithm and people purchase from people. Businesses don’t purchase from businesses. And you have to keep up the interpersonal relationships to make that a process that people want to be a part of. You cannot create that without experimenting and you will fail. I mean, that’s something else, is that I think that in this world that we do not embrace failure. You know, you have to learn something, and sometimes things just don’t work. And, you know, setting that kind of expectation, even the interview process, to say, look, this is how this works. This is how long this takes. We will fail, we will succeed, we will fail, we will succeed. Having that conversation and that openness, especially when you are a leader, allows you to be able to set up yourself for success, but your team and ultimately your company for success.

    Tori Barlow: You know, it’s interesting to hear you talk about SEO, brings me to my next question. You know, we look at our data very often here at Allbound and our latest poll, first-party data shows 56% of channel leaders report into sales and 44% report into marketing. You are obviously VP of marketing here at Cyber Reef and you manage the channel as well. So what was the reasoning behind that structure at Cyber Reef, and how do you specifically do marketing’s role in the channel?

    Rachel Turkus: So I manage channel management. I don’t manage the channel salespeople per se. That is still done by our sales leaders. Why we did that is, channel enablement is really sales enablement. Right, which is really the marketing tool, to tell salespeople and indicators to give salespeople, so they can go forward into the market. If they need that base and those fundamental sales enablement tools, those are marketing responsibilities. That onboarding is really marketing’s responsbility, creating that kind of atmosphere is marketing’s responsibility or maybe sales ops. But really that feeling right that’s what marketing provides, is a feeling, an understanding, a baseline. And that’s why here we have it set up that way and our salespeople then, you know, take it across the finish line, which is what they do best.

    Tori Barlow: Yeah, I think that that makes a lot of sense. You still have a cohesive relationship with the sales team and partners. You know, it’s interesting. We talk about marketing and its involvement in the channel. We recently took another look at our first-party data and learned that partners who share content have a significantly higher engagement rate. And 100% of partners who shared content more than 33 times, had a 100% partner retention rate. So this is all within our portal and looking at that data. But it leads me to when you’re auditing, when you’re new at Cyber Reef, new at a company, and you’re looking at what type of partner content exists. How do you keep that people-first strategy when developing, channel marketing content for your partners at Cyber Reef?

    Rachel Turkus: One of the most interesting things about tech and telecom, which is where I come from, right, is that the verbiage that we use is often gating. Often the language chosen does not make sense unless you sell to telecom does not make sense unless you are SaaS. It just doesn’t flow and it’s not relatable. What I really try to do is make the content relatable to the customer, because ultimately that’s what a partner needs, is relatable material that their customer is going to understand. I had more than one occasion asked my mom to read what I’ve written, to see if she can understand what I’m trying to talk about. And if she can, that I know maybe I’ve gotten it at least semi right. She’s got it right. This morning I had to explain to her what a podcast is. So there’s that moment of conversation where if I gave her something, I wrote and she can look at it and say, hey, I understand what you do or what they do or what this product is supposed to do. I know that most customers can know. I’m not saying that’s the end all be all barometer, but it does let you know whether or not you’ve used too many acronyms, too much tech speak. Too much that, you’re not going to get to that customer. It used to be when I started that you wanted to talk to the I.T. person. The I.T. person was in charge of phones, I.T. person was in charge of this and charge of that. Now we’re seeing that I.T. rolls up differently, too. You want to talk about how sales roll up differently. I.T. may or may not roll to an I.T. person. Is it a product, is it a chief product officer, a chief technical officer. There are different levels of understanding and you have to make sure you make it accessible to all people.

    Tori Barlow: I like that. So you’re not just putting content out for the sake of putting more content out for partners. It’s really engaging with them, understanding what’s relatable and how they share it to their channels as well. Great.

    Rachel Turkus: I was going say for emerging technologies, I think that’s probably the most important thing as well because you know what you’re talking about. Does everyone else?

    Tori Barlow: Does everyone. Yeah, we have a lot of jargon in the industry, that’s for sure.

    Rachel Turkus: Yes, we do.

    Tori Barlow: All right. Are you ready for the really hard questions? If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

    Rachel Turkus: Oh, if I could have one superpower, I think if I could, I would like to read minds. I would like to be Professor X. I think that that would be pretty cool.

    Tori Barlow: Would that take away some of the surprise?

    Rachel Turkus: Maybe I don’t know, I think that the one thing about Professor X is that he’s able to help people along their way. So I think that would be a really cool thing to be able to do.

    Tori Barlow: I like it. All right. Let us know one mistake and one success you’ve had in the channel.

    Rachel Turkus: So my biggest mistake ever, I think, in the channel is when I came onto Packett Fusion. I had done SEO, I did writing for not only a company for 10 years, but I had had a consulting business. I was so arrogant and so sure that I could write for anybody, anywhere, any time. And I failed epically out the gate. And it was very humbling to try and say, you know, I know everything. And that’s why I think I approach things so much differently. Now, at least one of the reasons that I say the first thing you do is listen. I don’t pretend that I can write for mobile security today. Now, I don’t pretend that I can describe our product. It just you have to really be open to change and listen. And that was my big failure, I think. I don’t think I was super open when I first started. And that’s definitely different now.

    Tori Barlow: That’s a good lesson for sure, and very humbling. I could imagine.

    Rachel Turkus: It was very humbling.

    Tori Barlow: All right. Well, what is one business book you recommend to someone that aspires to channel leadership?

    Rachel Turkus: Channel leadership. I think that The Anatomy of Peace, I think the anatomy of peace is a great leadership book in general and really us through how to put people first. I think that’s one thing, though, when it comes to the channel, that you have to be able to get beyond what you think is your needs and look at somebody else’s needs and see and, make sure you’re really addressing who they are and where they’re at, versus who you are and where you’re at. It’s a very different way of doing leadership. It’s a people-first thought process. But I think ultimately a very good friend of mine called it being a servant leader. And I like the idea of that, where your job is to serve the people who you lead versus have them, you know, subservient to you.

    Tori Barlow: Right. And handing out demands and tasks, you should come together. All right. Last one, five years from now, what will be the major changes in the channel that people should think about?

    Rachel Turkus: You know what, it’s funny. If you ask somebody five years ago what the changes they would have thought the channel would go through, no one would ever talk about a pandemic and zoom blowing up and all the things that we do now, which is that work from home environment. In my opinion, five years now, the channel will be more people forward. I know that sounds unusual because we see on LinkedIn everything that we do. There seem to be these connections. But I truly believe that in five years, this virtual connection, this virtual world, will make the channel something that is literally all about the people versus the technology. And I’m hoping that that’s a good thing. You know, the tech is going to happen. That tech is coming. I work for emerging technology. But with that, people being the base of it, I think we kind of reverted back to that. And I just think it’s going to continue forward. I also see women and their place in the channel being a lot more prevalent because when it people first and technology second, you’re going to find a much more female outpouring.

    Tori Barlow: I think we’re starting to see that revolution now, too, with the women in the channel and all these groups and events. It’s magical.

    Rachel Turkus: I am part of the Alliance of Channel Women, which I adore that organization, I am part of their sponsorship committee. I’m a part of cloud girls. I actually, won their award earlier this year. There is something about women and their ability to communicate, their ability to speak with one another and lift each other up. That is just brilliant. And I am so thrilled to be part of that now.

    Tori Barlow: That’s awesome. Congrats on your award.

    Rachel Turkus: Oh, thanks.

    Tori Barlow: Well, thank you to our guest, Rachel, Turkus VP of marketing and channel management at Cyber Reef. And thank you to you, the listeners, for joining us here at the Partner Channel podcast. If you like what you heard, subscribe to our podcast episodes wherever you like to listen.