Meet the Channel: How a Channel Newbie Sees Inside Sales
Meet the Channel is a recurring Channel Futures column that leaves the C-suite and focuses on how channel trends impact the day-to-day job functions of employees “in the trenches.” This week, we sat down with Kelly Johnson, an inside sales representative at endpoint device management solution provider IGEL, who’s been in the channel for less than two years. Johnson talked with us about information overload, the tricky waters of health-care tech and her biggest channel learning curve.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Kris Blackmon: All right, you know how this starts. Tell me about how you got into the channel.
Kelly Johnson: This is my first channel job. I’d definitely heard about the channel before; I’d been at companies that did channel sales, but they weren’t 100 percent channel. I had an idea of how the channel worked and that whole process, but I wasn’t directly involved with it until this job.
KB: What’s been the biggest learning curve you’ve had to navigate since you entered the space?
KJ: It’s learning to understand how each partner likes to work and how they want to partner with you, as well. Every partner is a little bit different, and every one of their customers needs different things from the partner and from us in order to get the job done. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach; every case is unique. You have to understand that and how to best partner with each specific person in order to put together a solution for their end customers.
In inside sales, you’re doing a little bit of everything. I’m definitely working a lot with the channel partners, keeping contact with them and making sure they have everything they need. But I also have to keep tabs on their customers … making sure they have what they need [without having redundant conversations]. We don’t want to go to the customer to ask what they need if they’ve already told their channel partner or another member of our team. It’s a lot of coordination: getting out demo units, making sure everyone is on the same page, and that we have a good understanding. Everyone has to be in one flow and work as one united team.
KB: In your conversations with customers, what are you picking up on as the biggest challenges they need partners’ help with?
KJ: There’s so much information out there, and understanding what is accurate about that information is where channel partners come in because they’re able to be consultants and really be that expert on everything. They guide customers on how to keep up with technology in this really fast-paced changing world. There are so many technological advances happening right now, so there’s something new constantly coming out, new features and capabilities, a new security threat that you have to worry about that you didn’t have before. Customers need someone to help them find ways that keep their business on that cutting edge and making sure everything is protected while also staying in budget, which is a big concern for everyone. In order to find out what you need, partners have to delve into what your business plan is and sort through all of that information.
KB: It sounds like information overload. Do customers often come to you having done their research and thinking they know what they need?
KJ: There is a lot of information out there, and people definitely do their own research. But at the same time, we’re supposed to be the experts and talk about a plan of attack they can do and why plan A is better than plan B specifically for them, even though it might be opposite for another customer. It’s about understanding their business as a whole, what they do, what security flaws they might have elsewhere, then putting something together that suits them. Partners and IGEL have to act more as consultants, taking the knowledge they already have and helping them build off of that and teaching them something new they might not have thought about before.
CF/CP: What about internally? What are the things you’re having to educate yourselves on?
KJ: Talking about security … that’s a big one. There are constantly new security threats out there, and since we are in health care, so many of our conversations revolve around the compliance measures health care companies have to follow. There’s a lot of exposure. We have to find ways to make sure that’s all known and [that partners and their customers] understand their security risk and how we can help them with that. And as technology changes, our approach has to change. As we move more into the cloud and move things to servers, it helps a lot with security, but then it opens its own doors for risks we didn’t necessarily have before. We see all those ransomware attacks and malware attacks we want to prevent, so we’re working with them to try and make that possible.