I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of Channel/Partner Account Managers (CAMs/PAMs). In the execution of any channel strategy, CAMs have an important, complex, and demanding role, and yet they’re often viewed as the red-headed stepchildren in most organizations (no offense to red-headed stepchildren).

As I work with vendors, I always ask about the execution of the strategy or plan that we are creating. How are the CAMs going to support the business in this new strategy? How are the CAMs going to support the partners in this new strategy? CAMs work for the vendor and are also responsible for supporting the partner. Building a trusted relationship with partners can help the CAM execute many things but earning that trust takes time, knowledge, and skill. And since we never have the luxury of unlimited time, knowledge and skill become the variables in the success equation. So, what are vendors doing to support CAMs?

If you evaluate your training, you’ll likely realize that the training is geared toward the internal vendor teams, the direct sales, pre-sales, and support organizations, and is not created for the role of the CAM.

To be a great CAM, you need to be able to skillfully navigate relationships both internally and with partners. You need business acumen to understand priorities for each audience, the market, and product knowledge to navigate key conversations and craft business propositions, and the skills to build a solid, trusted mutually beneficial relationship. A quick search on Amazon shows 20k+ books on “Sales Strategy and only 200 books on “Channel Strategy,” remove the word “marketing,” and you are left with 0.

Why is this? If a company is moving the vast majority of its products through the channel, why isn’t there an emphasis on channel strategy and educating CAMs about their role? 

Partner programs, channel strategies, incentives, enablement, and partner marketing are not the field of dreams. Just because you build it doesn’t mean partners will come. Partners these days are under just as much pressure as vendors are. And they feel that pressure from every single vendor relationship they have. Vendor preference, program preference, solution preference – these are all built on the backs of the relationship partners have with the CAMs.  

Some organizations are structured where the CAMs are in the same business unit as the partner program team. In other organizations, they are in the sales team. When they are part of the partner program team, it is easier to recognize and fill the training gap than it is if the CAMs are part of the sales team. Even with that advantage, you still need the budget to provide resources for the CAMs. Here are some points to consider as part of your CAM training positioning:

  1. Training and enablement are key considerations for employees to join and stay with an organization. A Predictive Index study found that candidates ranked skills and professional development higher/more important than vacation time!
  2. AchieveUnite research shows that CAMs can take upwards of 3 years before they hit their stride of being super-efficient and productive in their CAM role. So, if you want to retain good CAMs, providing skills and professional development is a key way to do that.
  3. Your CAMs are the conduit for partner engagement and program preference. If you don’t teach your CAMs how to have a difficult conversation, or why it is so important to attach services, or how to build a customer success practice, or what recurring revenue will do for a partner, then your shiny new program won’t make any difference in partner performance.
  4. Build it yourself or find an expert? Chances are your internal training team does not have a bench with over 400 years of combined experience in the channel. Find an SME to develop and deliver this for you. In our estimations, the productivity you gain, and the risk mitigation of losing top performers are well worth any investment you make.
  5. Direct sellers working to co-sell with the channel? They need this information, too. The tri-model (partner-CAM-seller) of leveraging the partner to co-sell is gaining in popularity. In this model, your direct sellers also need to understand how and why you work with partners or you risk the entire business relationship with one botched opportunity.

With all the upside, why aren’t we giving CAMs the love they deserve? My advice? Start slow, find your champions, pilot a program, prove the value, and then go wide. It will require an investment, but it will pay off in spades. And while you’re at it, thank a CAM for their service the next time you talk to one. Giving them the respect and consideration they deserve is the first step.

If you want to learn more about our Partner Performance Advisor certification for CAMs and Sellers, or if you just want to commiserate, drop me a line. I’m always happy to chat.


AchieveUnite is a partner performance company built by experts with extensive leadership experience in channel strategy, program development, partner ecosystems, go-to-market models, leading edge education and management coaching. We empower companies and individuals to create value-driven, lifetime partnerships and drive transformational business results through Partner LifeTime Value®.