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January 18, 2023
For Eric Brooker, the vendor community needs consulting services more than ever as they try to build business in the channel.
Brooker, an alumnus of multiple vendor and partner organizations in the channel and one of the industry’s leading social media influencers, is starting his own consulting practice. He announced the change earlier this month. Although his practice will include business and LinkedIn coaching, Brooker told Channel Futures that his channel consulting business will focus on small suppliers seeking to break into the channel.
He credited the opportunity to provide consulting in part because of how crowded the vendor market has become, specifically in the tech services distributor (TSD) portfolio.
“It’s harder now to be a standout supplier in the community because there are just hundreds and hundreds of suppliers,” Brooker said.
Moreover, many organizations who are looking to build out channel programs haven’t put into place standardized, repeatable processes to grow their funnel.
“I’ve built playbooks; I’ve never seen one. I think the expectation in the supplier community, probably not much different than the TSB communities, is that we’re hiring ‘seasoned professionals.’ They know what they are doing. So start going to events and reach out to partners and just get things done,” Brooker said. “I think the industry lacks what I’m hoping to build, which is that playbook.”
He had been working as vice president of strategic partnerships with Bluewave Technology Group. He joined the company last April and played a key role helping the channel partner organization gain credibility in the technology advisor channel.
“We accomplished a lot, and for that, I am grateful,” Brooker wrote on LinkedIn. “Many of you have told me I should go out independently and consult, and I decided it was time to take your advice.”
Brooker was already providing consulting services to vendor leaders in his network, albeit on an ad hoc basis. Many of them had asked him what he did leading sales at Broadvoice and Bigleaf Networks — both of which were relatively smaller vendors when he started with them. What did he do with a limited events budget? What did he do with a “barrage of TSBs” submitting MDF packages?
“I think probably the third or fourth phone call of giving advice to suppliers, channel chiefs, vice presidents and struggling channel managers, it started to resonate with me that this is a practice,” Brooker told Channel Futures.
The majority of suppliers Brooker helps dabble with the TSD/TSB (formerly known as master agent) channel. Moreover, they struggle with how to allocate their funds and justify their spend. Brooker said he’ll help with business planning and strategy-building to help new channel entrants find their footing.
Part of that has to do with market development funds, which suppliers in the advisor channel typically spend sponsoring TSD events, in hope of recruiting sales partners (agents) to their cause. And in this model, often small vendors feel the burn as they try to differentiate themselves from competitors on a massive line card.
That’s why they’ll need to gain a new perspective, according to Brooker.
“A small supplier is going to spend $100,000-$150,000 with an individual TSB in 2023, and I don’t think they’re seeing an ROI on their investment. They’re frustrated, because they have to do it in 2023 despite the lack of ROI in 2022? And I think I can help with things like that,” he said.
And in Brooker’s experience, one could grasp that ROI, but it took significant patience and legwork. Brooker said he used his established with various TSDs to get more strategic with them.
“We had a very limited budget, and we had to get it right. I think it forced me to reach out to the TSBs. I was the guy who wasn’t afraid to ask questions. ‘Hey, who does a golf tournament? It’s $5,000, and we’re not seeing anything out of it.’ Then we start talking about why,” he said.
And monetary investment is one thing; actually training your team to operate in the channel is another thing.
“Your channel managers have to do the right thing. Your channel chief has to do the right things,” Brooker said.
Brooker said that he could have benefited from …
… a playbook when he started his first channel manager job. Instead, he had to cut his teeth to figure out how to succeed.
“People just thought I knew what I was doing. I didn’t know what I was doing. But we could give these channel managers better tools, better playbooks or actual playbooks,” he said.
Part of building that playbook, Brooker said, revolves around understanding the particular vendor. Each company may need a different playbook, he said.
“It’s nuanced based on the product you sell. Is it transactional? Is it very technical? And we have to start treating the suppliers as individual companies and not products. When I started, my very first sale on the direct side 23 years ago was a PRI and long distance,” he said. “If I’m an agent now, I’ve got security, firewall, SD-WAN, video surveillance, circuits, SIP trunks. I’ve got it all, and it’s overwhelming. I think the only way a supplier is going to stand out is to professionalize what they’re doing.”
Brooker notably has built an engaged LinkedIn audience of nearly 12,000 followers. He recently taught a free class on how to use LinkedIn. Brooker said the social media platform proved key in him finding his prospective consulting clients.
But he didn’t always play the social media game.
He recalled that Telarus co-founder and chief product officer Patrick Oborn had encouraged him to build his LinkedIn platform. At the time, Brooker didn’t see any intrinsic value in the site. But nevertheless, he decided to throw his digital hat in the ring.
“I really started to get on LinkedIn, almost in an effort to prove Patrick wrong,” he said.
But after just six months, Oborn’s hunch proved right. Brooker said he noticed at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo that strangers seem to know who he was.
“It was fascinating to me how many people all of the sudden knew who I was. I would sit in a hallway in [Las] Vegas and people would walk up to me, ‘Eric Brooker, right? You’re the SD-WAN guy.’ And it was just fascinating to me because the only thing that I had done different was I became active on LinkedIn,” he said.
More recently, people have also approached him to mention his Counsel Culture leadership podcast, which he promotes on his LinkedIn.
Moreover, Brooker said that he generates less traffic on posts specific to his actual job and company than posts about his personal life. The latter generate not just traffic, but messages from people in the channel who share similar stories about child estrangement, alcoholism and other heavy topics.
“I’m building really meaningful relationships. And for me, that’s the reward, but it seems that more people are actually drawn to that anyway,” he said.
Read more about:Agents
Senior News Editor, Channel Futures
James Anderson is a news editor for Channel Futures. He interned with Informa while working toward his degree in journalism from Arizona State University, then joined the company after graduating. He writes about SD-WAN, telecom and cablecos, technology services distributors and carriers. He has served as a moderator for multiple panels at Channel Partners events.
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