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What does the future hold for IT channel vendors? Will they become an even more important part of the customer experience or could they lose some level of their standing in an ever-changing technology ecosystem? Those were just a couple of the questions posed to panelists during the ChannelCon 2015 Vendor Summit session titled Looking into the Crystal Ball. Moderated by Patricia Rush, principal of Rush to Channel, her panel included three highly-respected IT industry professionals with some varying perspectives on the future.
It quickly became evident that each speaker believes solution providers, vendors and distributors must continue to put a greater focus on the specific needs of end customers and technology consumers. “Customers don’t look to their IT professionals to sell them our Dell, but to provide them a solution to their problem,” emphasized Frank Vitigliano, VP Global Channel Strategy and Programs, Dell. “It’s my role to get the provider to sell our brand, but ultimately the relationship is their own.”
With advances in IT solutions and a continued push to cloud and managed services, it’s getting more difficult to maintain (and build on) those connections. Toni Clayton-Hine, VP of Global Marketing and Value Proposition for Xerox recommends that solution providers learn a few things from the copier professionals. “Dealers can generate recurring revenue like you’ve never seen and could teach best practices to IT channel companies. They listen to what their clients want. For example, some solution providers’ customers don’t want to shift entirely to the cloud, they may want to remain with a hybrid model.”
While the branding options vendors provide can help bring comfort to certain customers, it’s up to the solution provider to make the ultimate connection. “Use that value add (as a provider) to develop an app or wrap around that adds to the total solution,” added Clayton-Hine.
The panelists all concurred that better communication between customers and providers, as well as vendors and others in the support and supply chain, is essential to future channel success.
Partnerships are More Than Contracts
Another point they all agreed on was that vendors need to rethink what they do to support and engage with their partners. While volume sales still makes everyone pay attention, many providers need training and other resources to build the solutions their customers really need. “We shifted much of our marketing focus into identifying, recruiting and helping our partners make the next step to expand their business. We have to help enable them with training, certifications and other resources and our vendor partners help us identify which companies need assistance,” said Brian Davis, SVP of Product Marketing at Tech Data.
“CompTIA is very active in the education space and can be an invaluable resource for providers and vendors,” suggested Vitigliano. With cloud and managed services, the vendor role can get a bit murky. Some are developing programs that reward long-term revenue opportunities as well as solution creativity, but that’s just one component of a providers concerns. Who can help them adopt new models and make crucial organizational changes? “There are so many people and organizations offering business transformation support, many partners are able to find what they need on their own.” That allows VARs and MSPs to pick the options that best fit their particular business needs and markets and, in many cases, vendors and distributors are ready and willing to fill in potential gaps.
Those partnerships extend to the operations side, as well. “We have stitched together a number of cloud-based programs that help our partners improve their marketing and sales processes. Our team even brought in a solution partner with strong marketing automation tool skills to provide that particular expertise,” said Davis.
Will the vendor-distributor-provider relationship transform over the next few years? Don’t expect significant changes in the immediate future. “In two years, I expect the conversation will be quite similar. It will still about the customer and we will all need to continue changing to meet their needs,” summarized Vitigliano.
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.