The “recovering channel professional” also tells us about the women who influence her and the one piece of advice that guides her.
It was hard for me not to fangirl over Heather Margolis when I interviewed her as my very first B2B All-Star. After all, Heather is an OG in the channel who founded two channel-focused companies – Spark Your Channel, a through-channel marketing automation platform, and Channel Maven Consulting, a strategic channel marketing agency. Both companies were acquired by 360insights in November 2021, with Heather stepping in as their SVP of Marketing.
A self-proclaimed “recovering channel professional,” Heather spent several years in channel programs and marketing for companies like EMC, EqualLogic, and Dell before forming Channel Maven Consulting in 2009. She is a recognized channel marketing expert and a sought-after keynote speaker to a variety of audiences about entrepreneurship, building a service-based business, B2B marketing, and channel marketing.
Here, Heather talks about leading not one, but two companies through a pandemic, the lessons she has learned from negotiating, and what she busts out when she’s having “one of those days.”
Tell me about the firsts you’ve achieved in your career.
Starting in the channel was a first. I remember interviewing with Cindy Herndon at EMC and saying, “I know marketing, but I don’t know anything about the channel.” And she said, “I’ll teach you everything I know.” Now we joke that she’s my channel momma and I’m her channel baby.
Starting Channel Maven was another first. That was a very focused decision and something I set my mind to. And then, of course, launching Spark Your Channel in February 2020 wasn’t awesome timing.
What are some of the lessons you learned from leading not one, but two companies through a pandemic?
I would not wish that on anyone. I certainly felt like Channel Maven had an amazing executive team and they didn’t need me involved in the day-to-day. That was true until we had the pandemic. Then it felt like both companies were vying for my attention. I also had a one and half-year-old and a three-year-old at home. It was a lot.
Spark Your Channel was the first channel marketing automation tool launched in a pandemic. It was the first time I ever launched a software company, and I was looking for a co-founder at the time. I wouldn’t start a software company without a technical co-founder ever, ever again, so good lessons learned there.
I also learned how much compassion people can have towards you. With Spark Your Channel, we had a deal on the line with one of the three largest tech companies. I am thankful for the compassion that some of these executives showed towards me by giving me the time of day and giving me feedback.
Finally, I learned that you need to be authentic and ask for help when you need it, something I was never good at.
What is one piece of advice that guides you?
Keep going. I have a bracelet that says, “Keep fucking going.” If I’m having one of those days, that bracelet comes out.
What was the biggest decision you made in 2021?
The conversation about having 360insights as a potential investor in Spark Your Channel started in October 2020. In early 2021, when CEO Jason Atkins said, “Why don’t I just buy both of your companies?” And I replied, “No, Channel Maven is my retirement plan, it’s my baby.” But knowing that Channel Maven was going to be intact and that the team was still going to be best-of-breed helped. It was a huge decision.
We announced the acquisition at Channel Futures which is my favorite event every year. It’s like a family reunion.
I credit Joe Panettieri with having a big hand in launching Channel Maven. I had started Channel Maven and was blogging about the channel when he called me. And he was the VAR Guy, right? I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m in trouble. The VAR Guy is mad that I’m blogging about the channel.”
Joe said, “I want you to write for us and I want to syndicate your content.” That gave me a ton of exposure. When it was time to announce the acquisition, I said, “I want Joe Panettieri to break the story.” And Channel E2E broke the story.
When the article came out, I was sharing a hotel room with my sister-in-law who is also in the industry. She came back from the gym and saw me crying. When she asked me, “What’s going on?” I said, “I’m so happy this is happening. But are my daughters ever going to know me as an entrepreneur? Am I doing the right thing?” At the end of the day, it was the right choice.
What are some of the lessons you have learned from negotiating over the years?
That I don’t enjoy negotiating. I am honest to a fault. There is always this element of “Am I being too honest? Am I giving away too much?”
I wanted to sell Spark. I told people, “Hey we’re raising money and we built the product and it’s amazing. However, I don’t have the team I need in place because the fundraising just ended.” Thank you, COVID. That was a no-brainer.
The decision to sell Channel Maven was more involved. We needed to join a company that had a culture similar to ours – a culture of giving and a culture of caring about each other. Channel Maven is genuinely like a small family.
One of the non-negotiables I had with 360insights was that my team needed to stay intact. It needed to be a team within 360insights, and they needed to be OK. I had to ensure that whatever company we ended up joining, my team was comfortable and happy about it.
How is the changing channel landscape impacting channel leaders’ ability to deliver a positive, consistent customer and partner experience?
So many companies we wouldn’t have considered to be partners 10 years ago are partners now. And there are different kinds of partners. There’s an influencer who maybe isn’t making any money off you, but you need to keep tabs on them, so you have their mindshare. You have referral partners who don’t want to have anything to do with the transaction other than saying, “Hey, here’s a lead.” And then you have more traditional partners.
Ten years ago, I would have said there are 200,000 channel partners in the world. Now there are probably two million channel partners in the world, and you have to decide where you are going to focus. Ten years ago, that top 20% of partners delivered 80% of your business and it was about 200 partners. Now it may be 2,000 partners and you must figure out how to navigate that.
There are a lot of companies out there that have robust channels and are creating new ways to channel, new ways to partner. We as the OGs need to get reverse mentors in that ecosystem because a lot is going on that we don’t know, and they don’t know. While we don’t want them making the same mistakes we made over the years, we need to be tuned into them. I’m super interested in partnering with these folks as well.
Women have especially been impacted by the Great Resignation. Many of them have left the workforce and want to come back. Some women want to explore different careers in technology. What is your advice for these women?
I am seeing less of the Great Resignation and more of a Great Reshuffle. Women are taking a step back. For example, they don’t want to travel 30% of the time anymore. They can only travel 2% and they need a different job. I’d tell them, “Come back, we need you!”
There are so many companies today who are hiring and struggling to hire people with channel DNA. That’s huge. Make sure you’re doing what’s right for your family and join a company that understands that your family comes first.
Who are the women in your life who influence you and how?
I am incredibly influenced by my two daughters who are about to turn 4 and 6. First and foremost, they make me take a break which I rarely did before I became a mom. I also think about everything I’m doing in relation to how it would land with them when they’re older. They make me a better person.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.