The Art of Building Relationships and Partnerships in Channel Sales

In 2001, during my time playing for DC United, I developed a morning ritual of grabbing coffee at Starbucks on my way to RFK Stadium in Washington DC. Little did I know that this daily routine would lead to a significant turning point in my career and personal life.

One particular encounter with a fellow athlete, Dave Stephens, sparked a friendship that would ultimately shape my future.

Dave Stephens and I quickly discovered our shared background as athletes from California. We not only played in the same college conference but also had numerous similarities. Dave, an accomplished two-time Olympian in the javelin for the US, had an impressive collegiate career at Cal State Northridge. Surprisingly, despite our differing athletic disciplines of throwing a stick and catching a ball, a strong friendship blossomed between us.

Our initial connection, built on shared interests and experiences, gradually evolved into a deep bond. Our wives met, our kids became acquainted, and we enjoyed spending time together—golfing, socializing, and sharing meals. Over these moments, which often involved a cocktail or two, a significant turning point emerged. Little did I anticipate the impact our Starbucks encounter would have on my career trajectory.

At that time, I had recently retired from playing sports (typing those words still hurts) and found myself contemplating my next steps. While my original plan was to return to California with my wife after my playing days were over, we began considering local opportunities in Virginia. It was during this period of reflection that Dave extended an invitation to play golf with one of his colleagues, Todd Hemenway, who happened to be visiting from Connecticut. Todd, another remarkable athlete, had a background in springboard and platform diving at the University of Rhode Island and held a prominent role as the head of the East Channel Division at Hitachi Data Systems.

Despite my limited knowledge of IT (I couldn’t even spell it at the time), Todd and I hit it off instantly during our enjoyable day on the golf course. While they delved into IT discussions that sometimes left me feeling slightly bewildered, our laughter and camaraderie created a lasting connection.

Months later, Dave and Todd approached me with an exciting proposition. Hitachi Data Systems was establishing a separate Federal Division, and Dave was transitioning into a sales role. They offered me the opportunity to fill Dave’s position as Channel Manager, which I enthusiastically accepted. However, before officially joining, I had to interview with the president of their largest reseller.

Dressed in a suit and tie, I approached the interview with determination and confidence. I had studied the partner’s preferences and dislikes, thanks to Dave’s guidance.

Transitioning from the exhilarating experience of pulling into a stadium for a game to a corporate environment was undoubtedly a significant change. However, surprisingly, it evoked similar feelings within me. I had to remind myself to channel the same level of focus and determination that I possessed on the field. It was time to mentally prepare, flip a switch, and embrace the challenge at hand—it was gametime.

The shift into this new role felt like stepping onto a competitive stage. The opportunity to compete and emerge triumphant has been a driving force for me throughout my life. The prospect of engaging in a battle, whether on the sports field or in the business realm, has always motivated me to give my absolute best.

The interview turned out to be less about technical expertise and more about our shared experiences and interests. When asked about my lack of work experience and IT knowledge, I responded with a simple yet sincere promise: “While I may not have all the answers, I guarantee that I will find them and provide a response within 24 hours, just like your company’s policy with its customers.” Impressed, the president immediately approved my appointment and proudly introduced me as the new Hitachi Channel Manager.

Looking back at this pivotal moment, I realize the profound impact that unexpected connections can have on our lives. Meeting Dave over coffee at Starbucks led to a career shift and opened doors I never anticipated. It also introduced me to Scott Black, whom I met during new hire training in 2003. Scott and I became close friends, and I eventually hired him onto my team. To this day, he remains one of my best friends and the most exceptional Channel Account Manager I’ve encountered.

I’m fascinated by the stories of how people meet, whether by chance or through intentional introductions. Each connection we make carries valuable life lessons. In my case, there was no predetermined strategy or step-by-step guide that led me to this opportunity. Sometimes, it’s our personality, a genuine smile, or shared laughter that establishes the foundations of successful partnerships.

It’s essential to recognize that no single approach fits all situations. While you may feel stuck in your current role or partnership, I encourage you to remain open-minded, attentive, and engaged. Your breakthrough could be waiting just around the corner. Discover your “why” and understand the value of collaboration and partnerships. Whether you call it a Channel, a Partner Program, or an Ecosystem, the key lies in multiple individuals conversing, sharing, and collaborating to build trust and enhance each other’s chances for success.

Remember, winners win, and partnerships play a crucial role in achieving victory. Embrace the power of collaboration and enjoy the rewards it brings.

Mike Ammann

Mike Ammann

President at Purchannels North America
The Channel Agency: Purechannels
Partner Ecosystem Coach & Sales Advocate