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Industry dynamics have resulted in a change in leadership styles.
September 14, 2022
MSP SUMMIT/CHANNEL PARTNERS LEADERSHIP SUMMIT — The rules of leading a channel-focused company or organization have shifted rather drastically over the past year. Whether you are leading a technology adviser, agent, MSP or run the partner-facing functions of a vendor or distributor, the old playbook is out the window. Or, at least, it should be. This new style of channel leadership was the topic that kicked off the second day of the Channel Partners Leadership Summit in Orlando.
The landscape is completely different for today’s leaders than it was just a few years ago. The channel is going through a metamorphosis, transitioning into a different ecosystem. The dynamics of partnering have been recast, workers are spread out across the globe, and the lines between friend and foe have been blurred.
So, what does it take to lead in this new era of the channel?
The first panel session of the day, led by Amy Bailey, founder of Unusually Unusual Consulting, covered the skills required to manage going forward. The panelists peeled back the layers on the demands on the shoulders of today’s leaders.
Participants included Chris Timms, executive vice president of growth, ConnectWise; Alessandro Podda, senior product marketing manager, Microsoft; and Armando Martinez, director of partner success, RingCentral.
Bailey wanted to get a sense of each of the panelists’ leadership approaches.
“We have to give flexibility to our employees,” said Podda. “We need to encourage new employees to be self-sufficient, and give guidance which fosters a lot more responsibility and courage to take on decisions in the future. It helps with better long-term relationships.”
Bailey also asked about keeping and retaining talent, a hot topic these days.
“Restabilizing the ship is really about re-anchoring,” said Martinez. “The cost of acquisitions is more expensive than the cost of retention — that’s the challenge that you must understand. Work to garner feedback from your employees. The traditional mentality around this is obsolete.”
Timms commented on how the usual divisions are no longer relevant, as they relate to keeping employees.
“You used to see people as either collaborators or competitors,” said Timms. “The lines are now more blurred. People value an open ecosystem. Incidentally, this is giving rise to platform as a service business models.”
There is a renewed emphasis on implementing and fostering a culture of caring. How do you show your employees that you actually care? How do you see this impacting teams?
Martinez brought up the subject of mental health.
“Zoom fatigue is real,” he said. “That’s not the only example, but it factors in to employees’ mental health. You, as leaders, need to check in on this. This is driving one of the big shifts in hiring and what employees hold in high importance. Employees are now leading organizations in many ways, so you have to ask yourself, what’s the risk of not asking?
“We are working toward a hybrid collaboration model,” Martinez added. “How does collaboration work with regard to that approach? A lot of it hinges on bringing the right people together at the right time. This is key, and it takes a lot of orchestration. We have to do things that drive that agile model.”
Going back to the culture of caring and the role it plays in employee retention, Podda stresses that flexibility is key.
“Where and when people want to work is a big factor now,” said Podda. “The possibility to work from different places … if you give folks flexibility, it fosters self-responsibility. This relieves stress, which is very important. The second key is support: coaching, encouraging employees to learn themselves. You have to give the right amount of this. The third pillar is relationship-building. Keep having personal conversations. Again, lines are more blurred now, so it’s important to build relationships. This will determine employee retention in a lot of ways.”
So, how do you manage people if you can’t see them?
“You have to set expectations of your people, but you must be empathetic at the same time,” said Timms. “Empathy is so important. Culture is the No. 1 element of an organization — you must be proactive about employee engagement. Do your due diligence and invest in your people.”
The conversation continued with a second panel, which centered around the topic of how the landscape has shifted and what that means for channel leadership.
Indeed, a new era has begun. Consolidation has swept through the managed service provider and agent markets, causing a …
… paradigm shift. Many longtime leaders of partner organizations are exiting, selling their businesses or joining the ranks of partner networks that leverage outside investments.
The path has been carved for new entrepreneurs to enter the market with partner models focused on recurring revenue, subscription and consumption models that address current customer needs. Some speculate that the channel is shifting to an ecosystem where partners … partner to solve customer problems from a business perspective first, technology second.
This “new channel” demands that everyone telescope out, and really understand how to dial in their business model. More importantly, it demands that leaders perk up and focus on the skills they need to succeed going forward.
Juan Fernandez, chief encouragement officer, MSP Growth Coalition, asked the panelists to weigh in on the seismic shifts taking place throughout the information and communications industry.
“We’re definitely in a shift,” said Manon de Veritch, founder and CEO, Nuvalo. “Employees are trying to figure it out, and leaders are trying to figure out how to bring solutions to their business problems so they get a competitive edge. Our challenge in the channel is to have more business conversations around operational changes. That is key for channel leadership.”
Fernandez asked if any of the panelists have noticed the shift to different engagement models, and what those look like.
“You need to identify what your business problem is,” said Christine McHale, CEO, SPK and Associates. “What’s your process? Your goals? Customers tend to ask, ‘How can I get my product to market faster?’ I think it’s vital to train people to think business first, not just focus on the product. Customer success is such an important thing to focus on. It’s not just about the product.”
“Everything is as a service now — everyone is saying that they’re moving there, shifting there,” said Michelle Ragusa-McBain, global elevate lead for MSP and XaaS, Cisco Systems. “MSPs are now a top three priority to Cisco. A lot of VARs are moving toward the MSP model. That’s a huge important catalyst — the emphasis on the partner, customer and employee experience. How do you weave those together? Those three legs of the stool are very important.”
Fernandez brought up the fact that the pandemic caused quite the digital transformation, an opportunity for everyone in the room.
“Four percent of employees changed jobs last month, said Matthew Toth, president, C3 Technology Advisors. “That should scare you. That’s a really high level of turnover. You must focus on your people — upskill them, train them, encourage them. Teach them outcomes.”
Changes in the channel are affecting leaders as well, and they have had to make decisions based on that. The question was posed, what do you see in terms of the future of leadership? What is needed, both from a macro or micro level?
“We have to step out of the conversations we are used to,” said de Veritch. “We have to elevate those conversations coming from the execs of the company — to customers and to the internal team. Shifting our focus to what their challenges are, and putting ourselves in those kinds of mindsets to re-evaluate our mission and our intentions is also key. Let’s form a more solid personalized relationship with people. There’s a huge opportunity to build up people personally and professionally.”
“When you find good people in your organization, they should be recognized,” said Ragusa-McBain. “If I don’t, someone else will. There’s an [opportunity] to build relationships now — build that stickiness. This will drive better results long term.”
“You have to be part of the fabric of your organization,” said Fernandez. “I don’t ever want to feel detached from my business. I love watching the spark that happens when an employee takes flight. You must have that point of connection.”
Allison Francis is a writer, public relations and marketing communications professional with experience working with clients in industries such as business technology, telecommunications, health care, education, the trade show and meetings industry, travel/tourism, hospitality, consumer packaged goods and food/beverage. She specializes in working with B2B technology companies involved in hyperconverged infrastructure, managed IT services, business process outsourcing, cloud management and customer experience technologies. Allison holds a bachelor’s degree in public relations and marketing from Drake University. An Iowa native, she resides in Denver, Colorado.
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