How channel partners can be dangerous
James Shomar, Chief Growth Officer

Leveraging channel partners can be one of the fastest and most scalable go-to-market strategies. Generally speaking, I am a fan. The point here is not to debate the merits of the strategy as a whole but rather to highlight a hidden downside.

A pattern I’ve recognized recently among companies who primarily or even solely generate sales through channel partners is a tendency to lose sight of customer empathy. By using a channel partner, you are inherently handing off the direct sale process which means you have also created a layer between you and your customer. Without that constant interaction it becomes very difficult to establish empathy and without empathy, you really lack the most important data set for making strategic decisions.

If you haven’t asked your customer directly, can you really say for sure what your value proposition is? Do you really understand how the customer views your brand? Channel partners, for all of their benefits, create a distance from the customer that makes it difficult for you to get this firsthand data. Without firsthand data what we often do is make assumptions about what WE think our value proposition is and what WE think our brand stands for. Making matters worse is if your channel partners start generating sales, it can amplify that false sense of confidence. Very quickly your attention turns purely to fulfilling the orders that are coming in without second guessing how they came in in the first place. That’s fine in the short run but ultimately when it comes time to make any strategic decision, you need to have that important firsthand data to do so.

Solving this problem requires you to be incredibly self-aware. This is not something that many business owners are willing to set ego aside for and confront. In many ways that is the most difficult part of overcoming this challenge; simply admitting you don’t have as clear an understanding of your customer as you need to and then picking up the phone to call them.

If you use channel partners, remember to get back to basics as often as you can to engage directly with your end customers. Try to understand their problems, their priority list, their worldview. Is it really safe to make a business decision without truly understanding why someone bought your product in the first place?

James is excited to get to know MACNY’s members and to help them grow their businesses. If you would like to connect with James, please email him directly at [email protected]. James will also be hosting The Entrepreneur Speaker Series beginning on February 18–featuring Karen Sammon, former CEO of PAR Technology Corporation. Click here to register.