[begin sarcasm]


The head of indirect channels for an organization is the best job an individual could hope for! Traveling the world to glorious destinations, hosting parties and galas for partners, spending millions of dollars in marketing funds, and striving to drive more boondoggles than last year — all while not being held accountable to senior management.

Perhaps this sounds too good to be true. But wait — it gets better!

What could be easier than dealing with people who are passionate about your products and want to promote them to the world? How hard could it be to recruit this fan base and keep it motivated with dozens of expensive programs? Oh, and look at that: Another industry magazine just put you on the cover!

Sounds good so far. But how do channel chiefs get a free pass internally from management?

Easy. Channels tend to be nebulous — not only are they hard to measure because of their indirect nature, but they’re also time-delayed, as you are collecting data through a complicated multitier supply chain. Sales in, sales out, end user reporting, and return on invested capital are all metrics that confuse even the best CEO.

The VP of sales gets the brunt of the pressure because direct sales are easy to measure, forecast, and build KPIs around. And most CEOs didn’t rise through indirect channels; in most cases they were engineers, direct sales leaders, or finance pros.

So a channel chief is basically a rock star with no responsibility or accountability.

[end sarcasm]


This is not quite true; these common perceptions actually make the job of a channel chief harder. The average tenure of a channel chief is only 4.2 years — contrast that with the average CEO, who lasts 7.4 years. If the job is that great and liberating, why the short stay?

  • Channels take a very long time to develop.  Explaining to a CEO who is (very publicly) measured quarterly that developing an effective channel takes years is not a very popular conversation to have.
  • The indirect organization is usually the red-headed stepchild.  When it comes to getting access to top people, technology, resources, or investments, channels are last in line behind the sales, marketing, and product teams.
  • The Rodney Dangerfield effect.  Because other executives don’t understand channels, they can be glossed over in senior management and board reviews. The commitment to channels differs by company, but in many cases the attention they get is out of alignment.


The end result: The channel chief is a high-pressure job, managing more than 90 operational and strategic components without adequate support or respect.



A channel chief is a part-time sales leader, marketer, finance and operations exec, lawyer, motivator, counselor, trainer, product manager, strategist, economist, support agent, and futurist.

If this is the life of a rock star, perhaps it’s not as fun and rewarding as we thought. It truly takes a special individual to step into this chaos day in, day out and maintain a sense of humor.

So, do you still want to be a channel chief?