Insights from Erna Arnesen on Channel Partners for a winning Go-To-Market strategy

Erna Arnesen currently serves on the Viato Advisory Board and was most recently VP of Global Channel and Field Marketing at Plantronics where she was responsible for developing Plantronics’ global channel and strategic alliance marketing programs, channel strategies and go-to-market models.

Prior to Plantronics, Erna was VP Global and Strategic Partners at Cisco, and prior to that VP of Global SMB and Industry Solutions at Symantec. Before joining Symantec, she worked at other leading organizations, including Fujitsu Softek, Cybersource, SGI, NeXT and Apple.

Erna was honored to be named a 2012 Woman Who Made her Mark by Watermark. In addition, she received the 2011 Women of Influence Award by the Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal.

#1. Please tell us about your yourself and your work.

I have carved out a career in channels and alliances, as a go-to-market (GTM) expert, building strategy and developing roadmaps, as well as executing on approved go-to-market models for hardware, software, and services companies. My focus has been on channel-centric GTM models where I can offer my knowledge, skills and experience.

I’ve worked across the spectrum of the channel food chain, starting out as as VAR, then as a channel researcher/consultant, and then settled into the vendor side at Apple, NeXT (where I reported for a time directly to Steve Jobs), channel VP positions as Silicon Graphics (SGI), CyberSource, Symantec, Cisco and most recently a number of years at Plantronics. My roles have most often involved sales and marketing, for partners, including channel and alliance partners. I currently serve on a channel infrastructure advisory board as well as on the board of several business non-profit groups (Watermark for women executives and ASAP for alliance professionals). It has been extremely rewarding to be a part of the channel community, where I can continue to grow and expand my knowledge and contributions with complex services-led, collaborative relationships and partner-led engagements for new technologies and service models.

Channels is a great area to participate in, as it is an amalgamation of six functional areas of the company including

  • Channel Strategy
  • Channel Development
  • Channel Programs
  • Channel Marketing
  • Channel Operations
  • Channel Sales

These six areas fit together to impact a company’s go-to-market strategy, sales model, and marketing approach. A channel career has the elements of sales, marketing and operations, and all these functional capabilities must be optimized for an effective channel.

#2. How can a business fit a channel partner into its go-to market strategy?

Channel partners are key players in helping organizations develop products, get the solutions to market, support customers and build successful engagements in the market. Building a sales and services model for a company that includes channel partners is a must for many if not most technology solutions today. Creating a profitable, efficient portfolio of channel partners should be a high priority, even for an early stage company that is seeding the market and creating momentum through lighthouse customers. It’s important to draw up a multi-year strategic roadmap that leverages channel partners as the company grows, with an integrated plan that will allow the company to achieve its business and financial objectives.

#3. How can a smaller player make itself attractive to a larger market partner?

A smaller player can be invaluable to a larger market partner or leader. A few years ago, I asked an alliance group I was mentoring to read the book, David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell. We drew many parallels with this biblical story from thousands of years ago that stands for battles between underdogs and giants. Major players are looking for innovative, nimble partners that can complete solutions, pave the way for new markets, and expand their reach. Mutual investments and loyal relationships can and do develop among companies that are very divergent in size, approach, and backgrounds, yet they can partner successfully. Smaller players need to demonstrate their flexibility as well as the unique value proposition that supports the larger market partner’s strategy.

#4. What advice will you give to Channel marketers?

Channel Marketeers are often channel managers and leaders who extend the channel footprint of the company well beyond the marketing charter they may have. I was recently asked to summarize the fundamental guidelines I set out in my career roles in channels, so I will restate them here.

1. Establish leadership credentials and channel knowledge as early as possible. Quickly follow that with results that support the company’s GTM strategy.
2. Diversify your experience and understand that “channel marketing” often means something broader than traditional marketing to, through and with the channel. It often means the channel strategy, go-to-market model, channel programs, etc.
And finally,
3. Select your channel focus within the technology sector and go deep. What I mean by this is to commit yourself to learning more about channel models, partners, technology and services that can best leverage third parties, phases of channel lifecycles for partners, value propositions needed by partners, value exchanges between the players, and other relevant business themes that represent channel management capabilities. It is a rewarding area os the business as it encompasses much of the business dynamics of a successful company.

A few insights from Erna for you to browse and share

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