Allbound Logo - Partner Programs


The Partner Channel Podcast Episode #12

How to Spark Your

Channel Program

Show Synopsis

In this episode of the Partner Channel Podcast, Daniel sits down with Heather K. Margolis to discuss key ways you can enhance your channel strategy in 2021. Heather explains the significance of micro-moments and offers tips to make the most of them.

Subscribe to the Partner Channel Podcast

The Script


Daniel Graff-Radford: Welcome to the Partner Channel Podcast, the voice of the Partner Channel community. I’m Daniel Graff-Radford, the CEO of Allbound. I’m excited to be here today with Heather K. Margolis, who’s the CEO of Spark Your Channel. Today, we’re going to discuss the key to aptly spark your channel in 2021. Welcome, Heather.

Heather K. Margolis: Thank you so much for having me.

Daniel Graff-Radford: Do you mind telling us a little bit about your background in the channel and how you ended up founding Spark Your Channel?

Heather K. Margolis: Yeah, how long do we have? Four hours. Five?

Daniel Graff-Radford: As long as it takes.

Heather K. Margolis: Absolutely. So good thing I’m from Boston. I talk fast. I really started in the channel as a partner, so I partnered with one of the top five largest IT companies in the world and found it super challenging. Was sort of jumping through these hoops and didn’t really understand why I needed to. So then when I moved over to the vendor side, I worked at EMC and EqualLogic, which was eventually acquired by Dell. I really was focused on ensuring that the programs that we built for partners made sense for their business and 12 years ago started Channel Maven Consulting, which is really focused on communicating to partners and driving demand with partners. Our clients are the vendors. So we get together with the vendors and help them do those things. And as part of that, just felt like we were back in that place where we were doing things that didn’t make sense for the partners and sort of making them jump through these hoops around demand gen that didn’t fit their business. So if they don’t have a marketing person, does that mean we don’t support sales? And if we’re asking them to do demand gen and yet not giving them the most crucial tool today, which is video. I mean ninety-four percent of people doing demand are using some form of video. Are we really serving our partners? And sat up probably two years ago at this point, sat up at two o’clock in the morning and looked at my husband and said I’m going to revolutionize the way partners drive demand. And he was like, that’s nice. Go back to bed.

So two years ago, really, we started maybe more at this point, we started thinking about what that looked like. Was it a platform? Was it a service? And it turns out it was a platform. So Spark Your Channel was born. It is a demand generation platform and service that enables partners to leverage all content, but more importantly, video, videos, webinars, podcasts. It takes them about three seconds to customize one video. So once they’ve had their intro and outro, they could customize a hundred videos in a matter of an hour or two. It really puts it makes it as simple as humanly possible for them to be customizing really great, highly produced videos that the vendors are providing to them.

Daniel Graff-Radford: I love it. I think this is what VCs salivate over calling founder product fit. You know, we’ve heard the speech from everyone that invested in Eric over at Zoom and, you know, the concept of years of working running channel and then consulting on how to focus on partners, creating demand, seeing a hole that you can make a product for getting it out there. I think that’s fantastic. Very excited to see where this goes.

And, you know, given that you’ve had those different hats of leading the channel, consulting with channel leaders, having products bought by channel leaders and used by partners interacting with partners, you know, if we just kind of think back, we’re recording this now in February of 2021. 2020 obviously was a really confusing year, a difficult year for a lot of channel partners. You know, one of the things that we hear a lot about are kind of partners sort of being tired or feeling overwhelmed.

And if you were talking to vendors, as you might be right now, on how to get those partners re-energized and excited in 2021 when they’ve been trying every trick and pulling every rabbit out of a hat, what are some ways that we can get our partners excited here at the beginning of 2021.

Heather K. Margolis: I think the first thing is really meeting partners where they are already, so if you commit partners with a demand gen plan and you’re like, hey there, I know that today you send one-off emails to your prospects and current customers and you were taking people out to lunch and maybe now you’re doing Zooms with them. But what I want you to do is stop what you’re doing and come over to this platform and load your list. Oh, you don’t have a list. That’s OK. You can go by list. And then and then here’s all this different content. This is what’s called an infographic. And then you’re going to first of you’ll do this and then you’ll send this other piece and then you need to put a landing page up so that they can download it. You’re taking them so far out of their comfort zone that they’re either going to look at that and go, no, thank you, or they’re going to look at it and fail because they’ll load a list that they purchased without nurturing and none of those people, people will open or click and they’ll get frustrated and never come back. What we need to do or think about doing is meet the partners where they are today and what they’re doing. So perfect example, there’s a solution provider here in town that we that we’ve become friendly with. We interviewed before starting Sparke.

We actually interviewed 100 partners before starting Sparke, but he was one of the first. And I said, you know, he’s got a ten million dollar business. He has three employees. He personally probably takes home two million dollars a year and is like out mountain biking half the week. You know, when I said to him, what do you do to drive demand today? He said, I just send one-off emails. Like I go into my outlook and I look and see who I haven’t talked to in a while, or I go into LinkedIn and I look and see who I haven’t had a conversation with in a while. Why would he ever change what he’s doing? You know, if I said to him, you could make 12 million dollars instead of ten and you could take home two point five, it’s not worth his time and energy to make 20 percent more per year. Now, if he could make one hundred percent more per year or if he could close more of those deals that he was already in contact with because he sent a video with his personalized intro and outro on it, it takes him all of twenty seconds to slightly alter what he’s already doing. I think it’s a much easier pill to swallow for a partner to say, oh, you like what I’m doing and you just want to tweak it a little bit. All right, let’s talk.

Daniel Graff-Radford: I think that that is a conversation we need to have more is to learn what a day in the life of our partners are and how our products or our or their demand gen can fit with our sales motions. And if we try to push them to our sales motions or our desired cadences or things, that that’s that’s a really hard upsell. And it’s going to go you know, it’s going to go badly. That makes a lot of sense. I remember talking to a software reseller in the Virginia area, and he had crossed a billion dollars of booked revenue that year.

And I was shocked and excited and he showed me that he daisy-chained his products together so he would sell you VMware and then security for VMware. And then after security, it would be tracking your VMware security and licenses. And then, you know, it sort of was like and it was little pods of salespeople reaching out and selling the next thing down the chain. And, you know, if I hadn’t taken the time to check that out, then I would have thought, well, he could sell my stuff, too, but I didn’t fit into the VMware, you know, daisy chain model. And it was very clear that you know, it was going to be an uphill battle. And so figuring out that model one way or another is a really good thing per partner. And, you know, checking in on what their plan 2021 sales motion would be because it might be a little different than it was when last time you chat. I love your point of asking there how to fit in

Heather K. Margolis: I think to your point if you’re 70 percent more likely to sell to a current customer. So if we’re saying to our partners, here’s how you go get net new customers without actually educating them on how to just keep the conversation and the relationship going with your current customers, then we’re doing them a huge disservice.

Daniel Graff-Radford: That’s a really good point and asking what types of companies are precise companies that are their customers and what those relationships are like, what you’ve sold them in the past. And, you know, if these people have fantastic relationships with the right companies, but it’s in the HR side of things and you want to get to the CIO, is that going to happen or not?

So figuring out those things is a really good point. You know, when we spoke last time, Heather, you had a really interesting point about micro-content and using that to create meaningful engagement with partners.

I thought this was something that could be a really good thing for 2021. Can you speak to that for our listeners?

Heather K. Margolis: Sure. You know, part of it is that regardless of channel or I.T. or solution or B2C or B2B, we all have shortened attention spans. And I don’t know if it’s because our brains have been trained for scrolling through social and getting messages really quickly, or if it’s that there’s just so much more content out there. So we’re really getting bombarded. Our brains are overloaded every day, but it’s rare that I will sit down and watch a 40-minute webinar. I’ll certainly listen to a podcast most of the time when I am working out or making dinner or doing something that is involving my brain as much. But taking a 40-minute webinar and breaking it into a 30 second or one minute, you know, grabbing the most crucial quote or even doing a meme sometimes for our podcast will actually grab a quote and make a meme out of it with the speakers face underneath just enough so that the person says, wow, that’s really great. Great quote. I’m going to go back and watch the longer piece of content. You know, it’s almost like doing a commercial for an infomercial.

Daniel Graff-Radford: Yeah, I think that that’s a fantastic idea and I love your meme idea, I think that’s that that is something that could go over very well, if done well.

And, you know, similarly, what we’ve seen a lot of adoption on is big, colorful graphics with a kind of catchy tag and a link and having partners use that within their social or to kind of drive traffic into a webinar or into something as a first step that has worked as well.

So we’ve spoken about 2020 a little bit. And the impact and how things are changed now in 2021. Are there any other changes that you expect this year that people that are running channel programs should be thinking about?

Heather K. Margolis: Isn’t it just a continuation of 2020 right now? I thought this was Q5 2020 now.

Daniel Graff-Radford: Definitely, definitely. Feels like the second season of 2020 that’s for sure.

Heather K. Margolis: I would say, you know obviously, there was a huge uptake in video. I think it’s important to tell partners that it doesn’t have to be overly produced, it doesn’t have to be done in studio. It needs to be, you know, make sure your little things that partners don’t realize, make sure that the cover of your phone is clean so that when you’re recording, you don’t look blurry. Make sure you’re using some sort of a headset so that it’s easy to hear. Make sure that you hold it at eye level, especially if you’re over the age of 40 because you don’t want people to see your second or third chin that I am now self consciously pushing up, even though we’re not on video. So little things like that, vendors can really help their partners be more successful. But then give them permission to just start creating some content under two minutes, answering a question that they normally get asked. So it’s a great way for them to be producing more content and feel more comfortable around that. I think we’re going to see events start to come back, but they’re going to be first of all, I don’t anticipate traveling until probably the end of Q3, early Q4 of this year. And when I do, I’m not going to massive trade shows. I might go to an event with two or three hundred people, but I’m not walking a massive trade show. And I think it’s important for vendors to think about how they can better support their partners, knowing that they’re not going to have access to full-blown events yet. Virtual events are great. I think we have to get creative. Trying to take a live event and turn it into a virtual event doesn’t work.

You need to have different modes of getting the conversation going, although I will say I really do enjoy a virtual wine tasting because then I don’t have to drive home. But there are a lot of ways that we need to think about events differently going forward. I think we’re going to see hybrid events, right? People who weren’t able to go to an event in years past either because of budget or they were in a different country altogether and time zones were challenging. Now attended that event this year and either they loved it and can’t wait to go again and will be sorely disappointed that they can’t go live. So I think the event needs to think about how to do a hybrid now. How do I make sure that all of those international people are people without a travel budget can still take part in our semi-live event. And then the other thing I think we need to think about is letting the best events bubble to the top. I think one thing that happened last year was people who had never done events before said, oh, great, we haven’t been able to afford to do events in the past. Now let’s do virtual events. And they were potentially terrible because virtual events are still expensive. So vendors just need to think about what’s the right mix, how do you what could be done with that budget that would better support your partners without just creating an event for the event’s sake? I feel like in March we all went, oh, no, we’ve canceled all the events. And June we went. I have forty-two virtual events over the course of the next two months that I’m supposed to attend.

Daniel Graff-Radford: It’s going to be really interesting as things start to hybridize. You know, we’re will have some remote workers and some people joining on video to meetings we’ll have events that are hybrid with some people remote, some people there. And one of the things that I think we’re going to all clamor for is a sense of those virtual people not being second class citizens and, you know, getting enough out of it that it’s all justified for all participants. And if someone figures out some magic tricks around that with software and things like that, it would be such a wonderful improvement to our whole world. And I think we’re on the verge of some of those things. And, you know, maybe twenty, twenty one will have that. I also going back to the. What you said there as a CEO, I get sold to a lot and I do open video at a higher rate than I opened other reach outs.

And if it is personalized but not professional, but rather thoughtful, where there’s not a lot of staring off into the distance with silence and things like that, it goes over really well. So I will be really excited to see as people hone their video selling skills this year. I think that will be great. And taking it now to the Final Four questions. Heather, if you had one superpower, what would it be and why do you pick that one?

Heather K. Margolis: Oh, wow, I would want to see into the future, because there’s so much unknown right now and I think more so than ever, we are killing it at Spark and raising money and all of those things altogether. You always want to see what’s coming. And I also have a prekindergarten and a two year old that we pulled out of school and are now trying to get back into school. So on a personal level, it would be nice to know which school we were there. There’s something like 12 elementary schools in Boulder, Colorado.

Daniel Graff-Radford: Would that somehow take the joy out of life if you knew everything that was going to happen?

Heather K. Margolis: True. I guess I would want to be able to, like, turn it on and off.

Like, I don’t need to know the future of all things. Just certain things.

Daniel Graff-Radford: Selective the future telling. Just on lottery tickets and schools. That’s right. Lottery tickets would be awesome. Yeah. All right.

Heather K. Margolis: And, you know, given your experience in all these different roles, what is maybe one mistake and one success that you want to share that you or someone else has had in the channel that we could learn from?

Sure. I back in my EMC. days, freshly out of business school and thought I knew everything was given the task of building a through channel marketing automation tool and with an outsourced dev team built one. This is back in 2006 for, you know, a million dollars. At the end of the day, we had thrown so much budget into it and didn’t know what we didn’t know and went out to partners to present it. Was super excited about it and presented it and they were like, I’m not going to use it. So that was my failure. And the lesson that it taught me is you have to talk to your constituents first. I mean, certainly, you have to police the feedback a little bit like note when someone’s angry or when they don’t understand, but get buy-in before you ever do anything. And I would say that’s probably the biggest success behind Spark. When partners see it, they go, Oh, yeah, I’ll totally use that after a lot of platforms that they are seeing where they don’t use it at a considerable rate.

Daniel Graff-Radford: Getting that upfront feedback is not only important, but it is built with its own pitfalls, and getting good at that is an amazing skill set that can take you very far in a lot of fields. I think that’s a really important one to think about. That’s a great mistake. And how you learn from that led to success. That’s great. And, you know, we always ask this question, which is what’s a business book that you would recommend to someone that one day wants to be a leader in the channel like you?

Heather K. Margolis: I don’t know if it’s a leader in the channel-specific. I’m I have so many business books. So on the personal side of like handling stress. And, you know, a Tiger isn’t waiting to eat you. You’re not going to die if you’re not successful right now. I really like Jerry Colonna’s Reboot. He talks a lot about the emotion that goes behind specifically entrepreneurship. But there are so like so many of our clients are so involved in their business and so wrapped up in their companies that they basically are our internal entrepreneurs.

And then right now, I am reading Rework, which is written by the guys who developed Basecamp. And there are so many things that’s already taught me, the first of which is don’t try to boil the ocean.

You know, if your platform or software or channel program or demand gen program needs to be very good at few things instead of trying to be amazing or mediocre at everything.

And basically halfway through the book sat down with our CTO and CIO and went through and slashed, you know, 30 percent of our roadmap because they were requests, but they didn’t speak to what our platform is about, which is innovation and coming at things from the partners perspective.

I’m not looking at this as this is how fortune one hundred companies do demand Gen. I’m looking at this as how are partners is going to be able to leverage as much demand gen best practices as possible.

Daniel Graff-Radford: I love that be amazing at something and don’t try to be a little bit for everyone. That’s great. All right, so we’re in season two of 2020, but if we kind of look further afield like five years from now, what are the changes that are happening today that you think people should pay attention to that will have the biggest impact in kind of that five-year horizon?

Heather K. Margolis: Sure. I would certainly look at the things that have changed for both your partners and then for the partners’ customers that aren’t going to change back. So I didn’t travel once this year.

I plan to as soon as it’s safe, start traveling again. That’s something that I miss. That’s something that lends itself both to my business and my personal sanity because I get two or three nights away from a couple of toddlers. But there are things that aren’t going to go back. So my 83-year-old father-in-law is now using Zoom to talk to his grandchildren. And we get the whole family together. That’s not going away. We are now. If we can’t be together for a holiday, we are now going to plan a Zoom. I was talking to a woman who owns a business where she has ATM machines. For anybody under 30 and ATMs like you go, you put a card in and you get cash out. I know you may not have ever used one of those, but and she used to put them at the farmer’s market and certain restaurants in town that only dealt in cash. Well, guess what? All of those farmer’s market stands and all of those restaurants have now had to get credit card service because people aren’t dealing with cash. They don’t want to touch the germy paper. No one is going to say, OK, we’ve opened back up. I’m going to stop taking credit cards now, like they have altered their business in a way that is now beneficial to them and easier, easier use of business for their customers.

So partners really need to think about that. What are my customers doing differently? I’ve now set them up for remote work. They may not go back into having a massive phone system in an office because they may have shut down their office. What are other solutions that I need to add to my portfolio to make sure that I stay competitive and then the vendors need to think about that with partners as well? Your partners have become an extension of your sales team.

You can’t give them accounts because they are regional and then go back and say, just kidding. Now we’ve hired our own salespeople again and we’re taking those accounts back. So we really just need to think about the things that are going to go back to normal. And the thing “normal” and the things that have improved or changed for the better and aren’t going to go back.

Daniel Graff-Radford: Yeah, I think we overuse the statement, the new normal, but I think that in time they’ll be, as we’re talking about early these hybrid situations that we don’t really quite see how that’s going to play out and thinking about how it could play out. Will present a lot of great partnering opportunities. And I think this has been really amazing. And I want to thank you, Heather Margolis, CEO of Spark Your Channel, for joining us today. And, of course, to thank all of our listeners for joining us here at the Partner Channel podcast.

If you like what you’ve heard, please subscribe to our podcast episodes anywhere you like to listen to podcasts.