Data can help you be more successful.
The purpose of this discourse is to say two simple things.
Firstly, success is subjective, it’s what it means to you, but in channel teams learning how to harness even poor data will allow you to better measure success and deliver great work and inspiration.
Secondly, with the responsibilities you have, it’s easy to think you are failing, because talking about difficulties are naturally dangerous in competitive environments like management structures, but you most certainly are not alone. You’re not well-enabled, that’s the point.
The following article helps all channel leaders consider how best to get ahead. For the specific tools needed to implement a data-driven approach, download our free guide, “5 Analytics Tools That Will Transform Your Channel Strategy”.
For those of you who take the time to read to the end, thank you; it means you have a passion to improve where you can, and that means a lot. Many won’t go this route.
Alexander Graham Bell said it best:
“The most successful men in the end are those whose success is the result of steady accretion. It is the man who carefully advances step by step, with his mind becoming wider and wider – and progressively better able to grasp any theme or situation.”
Setting the Scene: It’s not easy, in fact, it’s harder than ever….
You’ve become a channel leader and it’s a difficult job – but you now need to take active steps to take your team forward
Let’s begin by saying you’ve done very well. No-one waltzes into senior management roles any more. Promotions and job offers are hard-fought, especially within an under-resourced arm of the organization. Not only this; hard work pays off.
But it’s come at a price, to not only care about your roles, responsibilities and team members, but to translate efforts towards the business direction and stay relevant amid changing winds and choppy waters.
It’s also abundantly clear, now more than ever, that channel organizations are complex. There seems to be a lot of teams involved. They have cross-overs in roles and responsibilities. Different people seem to be doing the same job. When a team’s function is described, it doesn’t sound convincing or clear. There’s a lot of data but no-one trusts it very much. Understanding reports or extracting the right information from systems seems tricky to say the least.
All the problems we want to solve aren’t straightforward when we dig a little deeper. Sales don’t like Operations who don’t like Sales.
And nobody likes Finance.
So, all in all, well done. You’ve survived, and what’s more, by hierarchical benchmarks, you’ve become valued not only as a good manager but an aspiring leader, if not labelled a leader already.
But, shouldn’t life, well, work, be getting easier? Working a little less hard and a little more clever? Thinking a little more strategically and a little less tactically? Doing a little more course-setting and a little less execution?
With those winds of change and choppy seas comes the awareness that oftentimes you must navigate your ship out of the way of danger. But where are the calm waters and safe shores? Or, maybe you should sit through this one out and let the danger pass?
Choosing to do nothing is still a choice you take responsibility for.
Despite the envy of all kinds of people, your job is extremely hard. No sooner have you helped solve one company problem, you’re handed three others to prioritize and fix. Your steely determination becoming outweighed by self-doubt and a looming sensation of loneliness.
By definition, leaders are, within their tier, without peers. With such control, decisions are traced back to you extremely quickly and your ability to make clear and fast decisions are eroded by one common obstacle: Data.
Data: The Power for Good and it’s Destructive Force
Data is a headache for Channel teams because it is difficult to get hold of and often guarded by internal teams that don’t have business understanding
If there’s one clear observation I must make directly it’s this:
I’ve never seen so many discussions, so many side-projects, so many frustrations, so much loyalty and contempt, in equal measure, than in the battle for using or ignoring data.
Despite us living in a world of Big Data, Business Intelligence and Data Science, I can safely say that only around 4% of channel teams are provided with data which enables them to make trustworthy and impactful decisions. The other 96% are taking a best-guess on data sources and interpretation then drawing battle lines.
Data has become a belief, and a powerful one at that.
Now popular theory dictates that to have wrong data is fine, but to have consistently wrong data is better.
It’s created a New Channel Order, where Business Intelligence teams parading under various names (Business Analytics, Global Analytics, Global Intelligence Services, Business Intelligence Services, and so on) have become not only the gatekeeper of data, as was the incumbent role of IT teams historically, but the new data leaders, despite their lack of proximity to those who must consume that data and act on it.
So, power of this kind, this distant rule, reverberates throughout the channel organization. Looked at objectively, it’s a type of responsibility without accountability – to govern the data and decide on what can and can’t be analyzed, with no-one well-placed to intermediate between teams desperate for good data and the distant data rulers.
These overarching teams do not provide clear steps to move from closing siloes, to centralizing data, to understanding operational and sales teams’ requirements, to acting as a proactive business-intelligent support structure, full of team members with clear and dedicated skills within data analysis and individual knowledge spread across the various operations and functions of the business, so that value can be added.
“One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.”
It’s a weighty parallel, but Tolkien’s observation on the power of yielding dark forces no matter the aspirations towards goodly uses is succinct; teams who control data in this way usurp misplaced power unwittingly, and it takes a mighty individual to fight for improvements because you’re bound to the same limiting actions. Let me re-write it for the modern age:
“One BI Team to rule them all, One BI Team to find them, One System to bring them all, and under the cover of data integrity bind them.”
But you can fight and win, and her lies the crux of my message.
It’s harsh, but isn’t business harsh at your level?
Before we go into this, let me set the scene.
Promotion vs Special Projects
In this position you need to make a big impact or you’re going to get sidelined; you can’t just coast along
You are tasked with impactful change. It can be wide-ranging, and this is a challenge of the channel complexity; problems can be widespread and solutions unclear. Taking ownership for a part of the strategy, for example, driving net-new business, can often appear daunting, but consider how you go about understanding the problem at hand.
For now, all I’ll say is: “Measuring Success.”
You have to remember two things. Firstly, you are in a position of responsibility with a direct view of the strategy decisions, hidden from most others. Secondly, you have the authority to gain support towards your projects, in the form of direct reports and teams of resource.
Finally, you have to buck the trend on how to consume data, and be that critical dissenting voice.
Why? Because, the data you use, and your application of it will define how you measure success.
“Man only likes to count his troubles; he doesn’t calculate his happiness.”
Dostoyevsky was right. Very right. We should take it as a warning and translate his musings into the real day-to-day of us and our teams. In establishing the scope and scale of the data foundations on with we stand, the easy path is to only go as far as to complain at the missing pieces and talk to the gaps without seizing the opportunity to drive positive change. It’s not an easy task to keep a steady eye on what success really looks like.
The most successful leaders find the way to measure their teams’ successes with often-limited data. Either you simplify the scope, which isn’t easy, or you make clear the measurements of success with prior knowledge that at least the basic data is usable for the purpose. But you don’t ignore the data which you’ve come to trust, otherwise all you’re left with is your guts. You can only listen to them in the absence of trustworthy data, however it’s hard to move from B to A.
If you don’t there is a personal risk in the catch-all phrase of “special projects.” Once you’re handed Special Projects instead of tasked with a direct strategy-aligning project, your directorship is at risk. This isn’t a universal truth but the handing of non-essential projects to the least-performant team lead can only be expected when viewed top-down.
On a positive note, successful projects have to be large enough in impact and achieve their desired goal. If you can better measure the ability of a project to succeed, set the criteria and measure it accordingly, it doesn’t go unnoticed.
Surviving Data: You are not a Victim
Data actually presents you with an opportunity to make an impact, even if it seems like a pain in the behind
Recognizing where limitations lie, in this case, the ability to harness data and make clear and successful decisions from it, is also a recognition that therein lies both a gap and an opportunity to solve a problem.
You are measured on outcomes and you have a choice, to be a potential victim of data and live at the behest of those who have the controlling stakes; or to recognize that anyone is a data victim, when considering that we are all subjected to bad data, and therefore bad outcomes happen to everyone. So, the opposite of being a victim is knowing that everyone can be affected in the same way.
But you have the ability to change this and it takes one directional shift – to learn the mechanisms of how data is built, the layers involved that result in great analysis. You can take control of data despite the narrowing corridors because those that focus on data see it everywhere and are able to filter what’s helpful and what’s not, and question what they are receiving in a valuable way.
You also have the ability to collect data or leverage it from other teams, as long as the business case is clear and cost is low, but to do this you have to recognize the need and learn how to assess data.
Becoming Data-Savvy, and How to Lead Through Data
By making data something that differentiates you from other senior management, you can become a true leader
Data isn’t as intimidating as it seems. With a bit of effort data can become a competitive advantage; and it doesn’t take many steps to learn how to harness that data and become a leader through data. Once you’re there, the projects you undertake and confidence in your decisions, will transform your outlook into one of expanding opportunities and measurable, repeatable success.
Unless you have a naturally analytical mind, where balancing multiple parts of data and considering them concurrently is enjoyable for you, data analysis and reports are a constant bane.
Why? Because you are giving up control in such an important area. Performance, results, health scores, productivity, trends, outcomes, next steps. Your hope is to enable the team around you and be supported well. But my experience, in spending years around senior people in the channel, and in witnessing and imposing new analyses on managers and teams is this: there is no reason to resist new approaches to understanding your data blindly, but if you have the skills to assess the relevance and outcomes of new dashboards and tools, or better yet, commission the build of these, you will rise above the masses who got stuck in their ways many moons ago.
“Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen. Few in pursuit of the goal.”
Few will describe Nietzsche as a simple writer, or person for that matter. But in spending much time ill and bedridden he was able to observe those who passed in front of him, and although on first reading it’s not obvious, he is describing the differences between leaders and followers and what sets them apart.
However, the caveat here is that the treading of someone else’s path can pervade the behavior of people right through a hierarchy, and with big businesses rarely remaining owned by founders, the original trailblazer, there is a real risk that true leadership, the ability to step away from the road, can be totally lost within a microcosm of society such that a business is.
But data and its brilliant application is your enabler.
If you can heed Nietzsche’s words and overcome a natural implication to always go with what you know, you will be the ultimate winner.
Building Success: What are the approaches and tools?
If you would like to find out how specific channel tools can support your you better, and learn more detail around exactly how they help, please download our free Channel Tools Guide
You will have access to a series of tool views and descriptions covering various facets of channel life. Not all will be relevant to your team or management, but there is most certainly something for everyone.
Tools covered include the following subject range:
Channel Strategy, Distribution RTM, QBRs & Strategic Reviews, Reseller Analytics & Pricing in the Channel.
What’s more pertinent here is to be critically considering what SHOULD be included in such tools and recognize where industry-standard approaches or newly-developed KPIs and metrics COULD work for you.
You will also find that going through this process will stimulate your mind and, quite apart from considering other people’s great ideas, you will start to have great ideas yourself.