By Dede Haas, CA-AM, Channel Sales Strategist, DLH Services, LLC
After 30 years in the channel — the last 14 of which have been spent creating and implementing profitable turnkey channel sales programs and establishing relationships with technology partners, resellers (VARs, LARs), systems integrators, ISVs, and OEMs for my own company — I wasn’t sure I viewed it as welcoming to women. To find out if my hunch was right, I put together this series of articles for Business Solutions.
After interviewing women channel chiefs, channel partner business owners, and channel managers, I have come to the conclusion that, while the channel is more open to women than I thought, there still is a ways to go. For this final article, I set out to get the thoughts of two female channel professionals, women whose viewpoints, though similar, come from different generations.
The perspectives of longtime channel professional Kim King, Vice President of Global Partners and Channels at Progress and Susie Wallingford, who started in the age of XaaS and is currently Manager of the SI and Reseller Partner Program at Conga, are insightful. There is a lot of wisdom and good counsel in their words which, combined with tips and advice can be found in parts I, II, and III of this series, can help women not only make a place for themselves in the channel, but serve as leaders as well.
Q: Is the channel receptive to women?
King: I would say yes, but it really depends on the company. Many women in the channel tend to be in more traditional roles as opposed to thought leadership or sales roles. I see many program managers, a lot of marketing channel folks, a lot of support functions that are considered roles for women. Roles become gender-specific when they start to shift toward sales and revenue, which is an interesting dynamic. If you’re going to run a global program that owns sales and a revenue number, the tendency to look for a male seems to occur. Regardless, it’s interesting but not insurmountable by any standard.
I do think the channel is a receptive place for women but we need to be more vocal about our place, our value, and where we think we fit in best and can positively impact to the organization best.
Wallingford: I’ve been in the industry a little less than 10 years, so I came into it after much of the groundwork had been laid and initial inclusion fights had been fought. As Theresa Caragol mentioned in Part II of your series, successful people in the channel tend to value strategic long-term relationships and partnerships with people who are values-oriented, not necessarily coin-operated, and completely metric and numbers driven. Not to be stereotypical, but I see those former qualities in my female peer group.
Q: Are women held to a higher standard in the channel?
King: In my role, I have to continually reinforce with other I’m an effective sales leader whereas a man in the same role does not have that burden of proof. It’s assumed because they’re men they’ve sold or they understand how to sell. I think a lot of women have come from the marketing side into a channel management role or a program supporting role so there is an assumption that must be disproved, which is interesting. I think our roles as sales leaders are not as prevalent and we have to fight a little harder when we want to be the quota carrying, own-the-whole-channel leader. To be an effective leader in the channel you need to own it end to end. Live and breathe the channel every day.
Wallingford: I think there’s a higher standard for women across all business functions, so yes, in the channel that exists as well. We tend to put ourselves under immense pressure and have very high standards of success for ourselves.
The channel organizations I’ve been a part of have been part of the larger sales organization. Sales organizations are notoriously high pressure and stressful. If you are a woman who doesn’t thrive in a high pressure, metrics-driven environment, or are more likely to internalize that culture, then, yes, there will be a higher standard. But is that because externally there is a higher standard, or because women hold themselves to a higher standard? I think it’s some of both.
Q: Can women be successful and move up the ladder at a vendor or partner?
King: Yes — I’m proof a woman can move up the ladder. But, it is a lot harder. The challenge is women get discouraged easier when they don’t get a role as opposed to pushing for and being more aggressive.
Traditionally, men come in from sales roles and consider it a natural transition to be moved up or considered for a CRO or strategic role first because they’ve had previous revenue responsibility. Maybe they’ve worked in one channel role, or they’ve had the channel work for them, and that’s considered enough experience. The perception is being a man, as a channel-friendly resource with sales experience, is enough to warrant movement up the ladder as opposed to a woman who has run a sales organization, carried a bag, has been successful, and shown growth, has developed the supporting programs behind it, both direct and indirect.” It’s a clear choice from my perspective.
But, because you’re sometimes put into a niche, people don’t always think of you first. I believe you have to fight for it.
Wallingford: Women can move up the ladder at a vendor or partner based on anecdotal experience of seeing people like you, mentors of mine, and leaders at other companies that did just that. As a manager at this point in my career, I am at the lower end of the leadership curve here at Conga. I plan to continue to be successful and move up the ladder. That said I do understand the unique challenges individuals face as they are moving up.
Q: Is it important for women to be successful in the channel?
King: Women should be successful in whatever they do — it helps us continue to move forward and be considered for multiple roles. And I think the channel shouldn’t be considered one small part; it should be considered a much larger part of the business, especially where the market’s going and where we see traditional roles going. I think then women should come out of those roles and be considered for much higher roles, operations or CEO or anything else. Having channel experience allows you to collaborate with multiple companies and make those companies successful. To me, a channel role is much harder than a direct sales role. Women who achieve channel success should always be considered for expanded roles.
Wallingford: There are a number of different professional organizations that are focused on women, such as Women in the Channel. When you attend those events there’s talk of how important it is to be successful, to carry the torch, to show not only to our peer group but younger women we can be successful. It is important to, as a group, help show women are very committed to succeeding, being dedicated, and being very good at our functions.
Q: How can women become more prevalent in the channel?
King: Be more vocal, be well versed in subjects pertaining to the business and the world; be confident and knowledgeable from a many perspectives. We need to push the boundaries as women to make sure everybody hears us. There is a difference between being heard and sharing ideas and becoming whiny or someone who complains and doesn’t try to make change. Everything you do should come from a selfless perspective.
Wallingford: Any woman who is trying to be more prevalent needs to understand everybody feels like an imposter sometimes, so be confident. Be willing to take chances. Be willing to take calculated risks. Speak up, even if you feel a little uncomfortable. And understand where you are strong. But, don’t always place that strength in a supporting role. Be able to step out, lead, and therefore garner more attention, credibility, and prevalence.
Q: Are there differences for established women in the channel versus Millennials just starting out?
King: Millennials might have a little bit of an advantage from the perspective of technology. They’ve grown up with social tools and ways of communicating and getting the word out. It’s second nature to them. But they must figure out how to slow down from the perspective of taking what some of us have built over the years and making it work for them in solid programs, in sales, in go to markets, and strategy. We have a lot to share that, combined with their skills, will create a great future for the channel. I think Millennials can combine solid programs with their technological skills will be very, very successful in the next few years.
Wallingford: I’m an old Millennial. I’ve been in the industry eight years; I feel comfortable, have some experience, and don’t feel like I’m running blind. But I’m only partially established. Sometimes Millennials, female and male, get this reputation expecting the world to conform to us. That we want to be able to speak how we want to speak and use Emojis, and they need to get over it. In my mind, that’s silly and it hurts my credibility. I am selling something in every conversation, whether it be my promotion to my boss, the benefits of our program to my partners, or a new initiative to my team. So it’s important to know what communication style my audience will find effective instead of being lazy and expecting them to conform to me.
Kimberly King is responsible for the strategic direction, management, and success of the Global Partner Program and indirect Americas sales team at Progress. Before joining Progress, King was General Manager and Senior Vice President, Worldwide Channels and Alliances at Compuware.
From 2012 – 2015, she was named one of Channel Reseller News (CRN) magazine’s “Power 100: The Most Powerful Women of the Channel” as well as being recognized as a CRN magazine Channel Chief 2010-2015. King also sits on the channel leadership forum for IPED.
Susie Wallingford developed, launched, and now manages Conga’s Global SI/Consulting Partner Program. This program serves over 350 partners worldwide. She graduated from Duke University and began her career in the channel at Cisco Systems.
Dede Haas is an award-winning, high-tech sales professional and founder of DLH Services where she creates innovative and successful channel sales solutions for the vendor and the partner. She has developed and managed channel partner programs for enterprise and cloud based products and services for SMB, and for industry leaders such as Intel Corp. For the partner, Dede has managed the vendor relationship, created business opportunities, and developed and conducted product training. She has her Certification of Achievement-Alliance Management (CA-AM) from the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals. Have a question, comment or story you would like to share with Dede? If so, please contact her at Dede@DLHServices.com or +1 703-448-1710.