Why Customer Experience is the New Channel Battle Ground

The CompTIA ChannelCon Vendor Summit kicked into high gear in Chicago with keynote speaker Tiffani Bova, VP and Distinguished Analyst with Gartner. With her usual enthusiasm and a heavily research- backed presentation, she provided an overview of the key opportunities and challenges facing todays (and tomorrow’s) channel vendors. As she emphasized, the end customer is a critical part of the equation. 

 

Of course, partners also have a lot of questions and grapple with a number of client and operational issues they need to deal with as well. As Bova alluded to in her opening, vendors’ channel programs have to support their solution providers’ diverse needs and goals and should be helping them gain access to the tools and training required to overcome the typical (or not so typical) challenges they face. New business models add even more complexity to that situation. With cloud becoming a commonly accepted platform, partners need to dig deeper. They need to explore what these transformative delivery methods can do and how they can enable the next wave of development.

 

Bova emphasized in her keynote that when we talk about cloud, many people still assume it’s meant for the enterprise. That remains a common misconception; even the smallest SMBs are utilizing virtual technologies to a greater extent. Cloud is actually a natural option for this segment of businesses, allowing the organizations and their clients to be more flexible and agile. “That’s why we need to completely shift the way we’re using and selling cloud solutions. If we only focus on the economics of these platforms, not on what they can do, vendors, providers and their customers are all missing out on a big part of the equation.”

 

The social business is becoming more prevalent and that often takes precedence over the financial discussions. Many providers are shifting the way they make decisions based on their end customer needs, not on the spiffs and incentives they receive from their vendors. What do partners really need to move the needle? Is it training and support programs, or customized marketing campaigns to extend into new markets? 

 

Mobility is one of those areas where partners are struggling to transform their operations and, as a result, end up missing out on a great number of opportunities. The journey to the digital business requires new thinking and channel partners need to find the right focus to better connect with their customers.

 

For example, as Bova pointed out, 75% of IT organizations are expected to have bimodal capability by 2017. That will require them to manage two separate, coherent IT delivery models, one focused on stability and the other on agility. Skills sets for most partners are limited to one mode rather than two, so they may end up employing the wrong sales methodology with many of their prospective clients. Of course, most partners can add new practices and business models, but they will need to be properly piloted and tested, and only then should they be integrated back into the sales organization.

 

Is Every Business Becoming an IT Company?

Bova used the Disney experience to emphasize how technology is transforming the way organizations do business today. In the case of the “Magic Kingdom,” wristbands now enable cashless payment and track virtually everything its visitors do. They also collect a tremendous amount of user data that could be mined and sold to other companies. Can vendors and providers help organizations realize similar visions? Are they enabling end users with the solutions they need to meet and exceed long-term business goals?

 

Another example she mentioned was Under Armor, which is rolling out embedded technologies in its clothing that is intended to give customers a greater user experience and provide valued information back to the company (biometrics for the wearer, how often it’s washed, location, etc.). “Think from the “thing” to the “person” today. What if Fitbit could talk to my scale and could lock my refrigerator?” Whatever you program into these technology platforms could be possible. What’s the play for a drycleaner or a doctors’ office, or the grocery store? Providers need to consider the data that’s being generated by their clients’ systems and determine what analysis is required.

 

How do We Get There? Re-imagination

The most disruptive thing in the market today is not the technology, but the customer. “We are having a hard time defining who the customer really is and what they need. During the buying process, your ability to drive trust happens outside what you control. In mode 2, this is how it happens. So, orient your marketing efforts to deepen understanding and trust. How do you push a vendor’s marketing into the providers’ hands so it reaches their end customers? It’s all about uniqueness.”

 

Generic case studies (where any other vendor’s details could easily be substituted) are simply not useful today. Vendors must identify their unique product/service aspects and build on them. In other words, using canned content won’t work for mode 2 partner programs.

 

The customer experience truly is the new battle ground. Bova closed out by noting “It’s not about the technology or products anymore. Be deep and don’t worry about being broad. Customer service can make or break your organization whether the product or service is or isn’t unique.”

 

Brian Sherman is Chief Content Officer at GetChanneled, a channel business development and marketing firm. He served previously as chief editor at Business Solutions magazine and senior director of industry alliances with Autotask. Contact Brian at Bsherman@getchanneled.com.

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