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The Partner Channel Podcast | Season 2, Episode 1

Chief Partnering: How to Make a Partner a Believer

Show Synopsis

We’re back in action with Season 2 of the Partner Channel Podcast with Dave Thomson, CRO at Allbound and Julian Lee, President of TechnoPlanet, to discuss why you should stop selling, and start helping.

Highlights:

  • How to make a partner a believer
  • The importance of creating a frictionless experience
  • The shift from a vendor-centric playbook vs partner-centric playbook

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The Script

Dave Thomson: Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, The Voice of the Channel. I am Dave Thomson, the Chief Revenue Officer at Allbound, and I’m extremely excited to be here with Julian Lee, President at Techno Planet. Welcome, Julian. Thanks for being on our show. 

Julian Lee: It’s a pleasure. I don’t know how extremely excited you are but thank you. 

Dave Thomson: I wanted to kick things off by you starting to tell us and kind of walk us through your background in the channel and what ultimately led you to where you are now: Techno Planet. 

Julian Lee: Well, it’s kind of a long story, but I will shorten it up to a minute or two here. People who know me kind of know the story, but we started way back in the Apple world, we were the first distributor for Apple products. At one point we were the king of mousepads, so if you bought a mouse pad, it came through us somehow. We invented the first numeric keypad for the MacBook. We even built hard drive subsystems, pure carrying bags, and tons of accessories for Apple. That was the early days, and then we expanded all across Europe. I think we were the first North American IT distributor to expand across Europe, and we were just kids then by the way. We had a ton of fun. That’s kind of like the first part of that. Then, when Steve Jobs got booted from Apple, we didn’t really like what was going on. We kind of shifted to channel marketing, and we became the print kings and queens. We were printing catalogs for all the telemarketing, mail-order businesses that were blooming everywhere. And then, the internet came along, and we said, “Oh my goodness, we might as well retire.” Until one company actually contacted us and said, “Hey, can you give us all the digital content that you were doing in your catalogs and printing?” And then we said, “Yeah, and for why?” And they said, “Because we’ve got a web store and we want to put all the stuff on the web store.” That was the birth of our content business, which was the best business we’ve ever had because every company was just buying the content over and over. We got into e-commerce platforms that we bought, and it became the first platform for VARs with real-time integration with all major distributors. Then at one point, we decided, let’s diversify; let’s get into news media, and channel events. Today we are where we are right now. 

Dave Thomson: That’s great, I know as an avid listener, you host amazing interviews with channel leaders and influencers. You know, what are some of the themes that you’ve been seeing and hearing from these folks over the course of this last year in twenty twenty-one? 

Julian Lee: Well, the biggest thing obviously is since we went digital, in this world, awareness was a big challenge that almost everyone had. They had to figure out how to do better awareness and all the other channels simply dried up, primarily face-to-face. That was predominantly where they were generating all the awareness from. Then they came to news media. That was sort of how we grew there. But then, the other part was recruiting the right partners. Partners were so busy doing whatever they were doing to stay afloat. The question is, “what’s right anymore?” Maybe it’s changed, right? Then the other part was, how do I help my partners to kind of build-up, sell more, empower them a little bit better? And then, you know, how do I manage partners, remotely, better, right? And then something bubbled up that was more towards a partner experience; people were trying to ask the right questions finally, like, “What does my partner experience really look like?” I think those are, you know, the four or five things that were bubbling up to the top of the surface this year.

Dave Thomson: Yeah.  It’s funny you mention the recruitment aspect. I talk to obviously a lot of channel leaders and companies, and recruitment is obviously as it’s always been a very hot topic. But you know, this has been one of your reoccurring themes ever over the course of last year. What are some of the pieces of advice or things you’ve learned or anything new you’ve learned about the recruitment of partners in 2021 and how it might have changed from previous years and previous decades? 

Julian Lee: I don’t know if the process has really changed, but it’s the actual weight of it has changed. You can’t do it anymore just by ad hoc, right? Before you would bring in one hundred partners and hope that 10 would be great. I think that energy is well spent really thinking first before you bring in a partner. But in general, I think the real reality is that vendors have to be getting out of the “me, me, me” attitude, right? And really think in terms of how do I fit with the partner as opposed to how the partner fits with me. I think that’s a better question that they should be asking themselves. And I think that is what is going to lead them down the journey of finding the right, or the better fit partners. So change the question, ask yourself that question, “How do I fit with partners?” 

Dave Thomson: Yeah. And do you feel about kind of the old adage is still true from an 80/20 standpoint that 20 percent of your partners are still contributing the vast majority of your channel revenue? Or are you seeing that percentage change at all? 

Julian Lee: I wish that we could actually erase that 80/20 rule from mankind because it’s actually fulfilling your own nightmare. As these companies start to buy each other, that number is you can still try to use the word 20 percent, but that number is probably more like five percent, right? 

Dave Thomson: Yes. 

Julian Lee: If you and I were in business and only five percent of our customers controlled 80 90 percent of our business, we would not be in a good position. I would suggest people start, keep it if you like the work 80/20, alright? But look beyond that 80/20 and figure out who the right fit partner is and start treating your partner ecosystem as it should be. Which is a mixture of a whole whack of people and companies, with different personalities, personas, and verticals, and blah blah blah, and adjust your game plan to that, as opposed to being at the beck and call of your top transaction, folks. 

Dave Thomson: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So I wanted to shift topics a little bit here to an article I recently read that I think was on eChannel news.You posted on how to build a better channel ecosystem and you mentioned there’s been a seismic change in the economy and the way people think. I would love to learn a little bit more about the ways you think this has impacted the way people manage their channel programs. 

Julian Lee: Yeah, I mean, the seismic shift is actually quite obvious. You know, we’re now in this digital-first economy, right? It has forced pretty much every human to rethink. And a lot of them looked internally as they kind of obviously stayed at home and hung out more with friends and family, that type of thing. I think people are sort of prioritizing themselves and their social things a little bit better. We’ve seen tons of movements happening all over the place, all over the world about this. But how does that translate to the technology world, was more of higher interest to me, personally.Technology was the fabric that held up the economy during this pandemic. Without technology, we’d probably be back in the Stone Age, right? Not to mention all the other things that could have happened, right? So because of that, for the first time, we were hearing words like, channel partners were essential workers. That was quite interesting because I’m not sure before the pandemic, any MSB would think of themselves as an essential worker.  And this started the catalyst that changed the way people were thinking in the industry. 

Julian Lee: And I think today, I would say it’s a big digital rethink that’s happening. How they actually do business is becoming more important, as well as who they do business with and what type of business that they’re doing. That’s sort of where the marketplace, I think is. A lot of channel partners have taken a bit of a step back and said, “Wait a minute, do I need to have all of these vendors in my camp?” “Who do I really need? Who I don’t want?” Because of that soul searching, business searching, et cetera, a lot of MSPs gravitated towards the vendors who stopped selling and started helping. Bigger things were happening. It was like the industry became different. That is sort of what I believe was the catalyst for this shift. I think now we’re moving from a vendor-centric playbook to a partner-centric playbook. Where partners have multiple vendors and vendors have to figure out, are they one of those, yes or no and how. That’s sort of what I see happening right now. 

Dave Thomson: Yeah, that makes sense. Looking into the, I guess, crystal ball for in 2022, I know you touch upon this in your previous answer, but what are some of the other, I guess, trends or changes impacting how channels are run in 2022? What are you predicting there? 

Julian Lee: Well, vendors definitely need to start helping their partners figure out the game, right? It’s not like, here’s my stuff, here’s who you know could buy it and you know, go do it right. They need to actually put skin in the game like real skin in the game, right? They’ve got to buddy up with them. Do some real co-marketing, not just sending stuff out with your logo on it to some random email list. It’s got to be real digital marketing, real nurturing of leads, cultivating a different culture, and more of a partner to go to market culture. They need to really figure out how their solution fits into their specific portfolios of each partner. It might fit in this way with Partner A and that way with Partner B, so they definitely have to get that right. Helping them to go after their local markets properly, right? I mean, we all know we’ve heard about a billion times that channel partner is not very good at marketing and stuff like that. And it’s true to some degree, but it’s just because they don’t have the skillset, they don’t have the budgeting to kind of do it. 

Julian Lee: So that, I think, makes sense. I think they need to reward these partners properly. The spoils just cannot go to the transactional folks. You’ve got to share the love a little bit. You’ve got to give some money to the people helping to consult on it. You’ve got to give some money to the people, helping you to keep that customer. You’ve got to help give some money to the person that’s solving the problems for the customer. You know, it’s not just a buy and sell and move on. I would say that vendors also need to make sure the way they do business with partners better be as frictionless as possible and stop talking simplicity. Stop talking the talk and walk the walk and do it. Everybody knows what deal reg for one partner, one vendor can be like here are 50 things you need, and for another partner, here are 20, another partner here are 10, and it’s a lot of work, so stop selling and start helping, you know is the key. 

Dave Thomson: That’s really sage advice. Ok, I’m going to transition to our famous Final Four questions here. I’ll start with the first; If you could have one superpower Julian, what would it be and why?

Julian Lee: Besides having that X-ray vision so I could see through anything as I was a kid, I never got that. That would be great. But you know, I mean, a simple superpower, maybe just to help people see the real truth. There’s so much noise out there that people are just inundated with B.S., and the world has become very, very complicated because of it. So helping people see the truth makes sense. 

Dave Thomson: Ok. Number two, one mistake and one success you’ve had in the channel. 

Julian Lee: Well, you know, we don’t really make mistakes here, we just fail from time to time. 

Dave Thomson: Learn from everything, right? 

Julian Lee: Our biggest mistake, I guess, is once we actually built an Apple expo with Apple for four years, and it was going really great until we receive a letter from Apple saying, we can’t use the word Apple in the word Apple Expo anymore. So we were shocked and after four years of investment in it, we couldn’t use the word Apple in it anymore. We had to come up with a different name, and that was a fool’s errand. But by the time we went through the options, we decided, no, we’re going to pull the plug and four years of really hard work went down the drain. But that was, I would say, our biggest mistake. I guess you can call it a failure too. But yeah, so that’s probably what I remember. 

Dave Thomson: That’s interesting. How about one of your greatest successes in the channel? I know you’ve had a lot. 

 Julian Lee: Well, we continue to do that every day. I mean, we’re actually helping. I mean, in a way the Apple Expo was a success because we built it great for four years. But our success really is about, we’re only as good as our success of today. So we’re basically just helping vendors to generate awareness and recruit new partners. One of the things we’re most proud of today is our new division. It’s been around actually for six years, it’s called a channel partner alliance, and that is how we help companies or MSPs, in particular, to become bigger, better, smarter, and stronger. We do it through peer groups and best business practices and all kinds of crazy stuff in there. But that’s sort of how that’s been great. I guess if there was one absolute thing that I’m super proud of is our employees have been with us forever. You know, some employees have been with me for over 30 something years. 

Dave Thomson: Wow. That’s quite the feat, especially in the situation we face now and kind of the new economy where people are going to new opportunities left and right. I’d be remiss not to ask you what keeps your employees sticking with you? What’s your secret? 

Julian Lee: I think we all just really like each other and hang out with each other and support each other. We’re just an absolute team and we’ve been through every kind of battle you can imagine. But we believe I mean, we make mistakes, we actually love making mistakes because if we’re not making mistakes, we’re not human. But we learn from them and we will try anything, absolutely anything. So when it comes to developing business, everybody can say, “Hey, what about this?” And we’ll try to see if it works or not. So everybody seems to be happy so far. 

Dave Thomson: Yeah, that’s great. All right. Well, let’s get to the third question, which is what is one business book you recommend to anyone that is aspiring to move to channel leadership? What would be a great book for them to pick up?

Julian Lee: Well, I mean, pretty much anything from Malcolm Gladwell is a winner, right? I have no clue how he does what he does, but he’s just a rock star. But if I was going to read a book, recommend a book, one actually, my daughter gave to me,it’s by Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a ‘something’. If you were to read that and sort of live that with your partners, I think you’ll become more human to them. Maybe you’ll find, the right path forward. So I would strongly recommend for every person to read that. And there is a new book that actually called, it’s really important, it’s called Real Results in the Virtual Economy. You can probably get it on Amazon and whatever. It’s about how businesses today need to up their game in the digital-first world. It’s by Shane Gibson and Denny Clavier. It’s called Real Results in a Virtual Economy, so that’s my take on books. 

 Dave Thomson: Okay, great. And five years from now, what will be the major changes in the channel that people should think about today? 

 Julian Lee: Yeah, this is a little controversial, but basically, I see that we’re going to have tens of thousands of niche marketplaces, customized for specific verticals. Most of it owned by the best MSPs. There are going to be some joint marketplaces for sure, like AWS, Salesforce, Microsoft. You know, the usuals? But these will become so heavy and over-commercialized because they’re going to start to mind the data for their own self-interest and profits. But in general, they’re going to be too heavy. To remain independent as a channel partner in the future it’s probably going to require you to build your own. The really awesome news is that the actual technology and platforms to do this today are available, and so the barrier of entry is sort of near zero. That’s where everybody, I believe is be moving towards their own marketplaces. I predict an absolute sea, a forest of niche marketplaces that serves everybody, including from dentists to lawyers to doctors to whatever retail you can name it, MSPs is going to rock it out by having their own marketplaces. 

 Dave Thomson: Hmm, that’s really interesting. Well, thanks a lot, Julian, for your time here. It was a fantastic conversation, learned a lot, and wanted to always thank our listeners for joining us here at the Partner Channel podcast. And obviously, if you like what you heard, please subscribe to our podcast episodes wherever you listen to podcasts. Thanks again for your time, Julian. Where can the listeners meet up with you and engage with you in different arenas? 

 Julian Lee: I think we’re everywhere, but you can just use TechnoPlanet.com. Or just find me Julian Lee on LinkedIn, but please don’t sell me anything on LinkedIn. 

 Dave Thomson: Yeah, good luck with that. 

 Julian Lee: You’re welcome to follow and check out what we’re doing. Yeah, thank you very much. Dave, it’s been a pleasure. I hope it helps your audience. And let’s keep on building the best darn channel ecosystem on the planet. 

 Dave Thomson: Love it, fantastic. Thanks again, Julian. Appreciate it.