Breaking Boundaries: Channel Chiefs Share Observations and Advice at ChannelCon

13667841_10154382536064137_5514411449932829390_oA lot has changed over the past 10 years in the channel and researchers predict that cycle of transformation will continue to speed up exponentially over the next decade. And while that sounds great to those with IT service business investments, revolution often brings its own challenges. Overcoming those obstacles and taking advantages of the latest opportunities were a major focus of the conversations at ChannelCon 2016 ̶ and the channel chief power panel discussion highlighted a number of them.

Moderated by CompTIA President and CEO Todd Thibodeaux, the group shared insight gained from working with thousands of solution provider partners and a host of valued industry professionals, as well as their own, personal experience. The sharpening focus on end users was a major topic in the discussion. With so many diverse needs and technological advances, their buy in is essential to an MSP’s success today. 

“In order to be relevant today, you have to be able to talk to end users about what they need and how they will utilize the cloud,” said panelist Kirk Robinson, SVP of Commercial and Vertical Markets at Ingram Micro. “We’re seeing a lot more born in the cloud providers now and we continue to look at how they are servicing their customers, and work closely with those partners to help them deliver better solutions to their end users.”

“From the customer side, we need to understand how they are consuming technology,” added Rafael Garzon, Managing Director of the Americas Channel for Citrix. “For years we (providers and vendors) helped them develop infrastructure which really didn’t help them compete. They want others to host their systems today, and channel companies have to evolve to compete.”

“End users really don’t know what they need” suggested Neal Bradbury, Co-Founder and Senior Director of Business Development at Intronis MSP Solutions by Barracuda Partners. “The real opportunity is to uncover those clients’ goals and support them with the most appropriate solutions. That may sound simple, but the delivery can be challenging.”

“Five years ago diversity in the channel was all about brand, now it’s about engagement,” said Frank Rauch, Vice President of the Americas Partner Organization at VMware Inc. “We are moving from a private to a public world and the real challenge is how to change the channel model accordingly.”

Partnerships are Crucial, and Evolving    
The down market shift from customers to end users isn’t the only trend industry leaders are seeing. Technological advances are making it easier for channel partners to add a variety of products, services and support capabilities. A lot still goes into designing and implementing cost-effective solutions for SMB clients, but with a multitude of peers, vendors and other suppliers ready, willing and able to fill any gaps today, the options are virtually endless for a creative (and connected) MSP.     

“Partners can even leverage distribution or outsource firms for their sales and marketing support,” suggested Bradbury. The ones who do are thriving.”

Robinson added, “It’s becoming more relevant for partners’ businesses to take a strong look at ‘coopetition.’ With the complexity and shifting end user needs, it’s more necessary to partner with other companies today than it was in the past.”

“Partners can be glued to the past and continue on with what they’re doing to be comfortable ̶ until things change,” said Garzon. “They need to be aware that things are moving much quicker today, and with many end users asking vendors (directly) about the cloud and other services, they have to be more proactive than ever and leverage others to help out.”

Prepare for the Future                                                                                      
Adversity often accompanies opportunity. Partners need to be prepared for any issue they might encounter as their build out their portfolios, add new customers and alter their business models. Success is often a matter of attitude, research and preparation, as most of the channel chief panelists alluded to. 

“Partners need to ask themselves, ‘are you going to disrupt or be disruptive?’” asked Rauch. “They should look to CompTIA and their vendors for great market intelligence that will help in the planning process. Validate that information until you have a great understanding of where things are going.”

“Look at opportunities with the internet of things (IoT) and business analytics,” suggested Garzon. “All that data needs to be collected and analyzed to make better business decisions. Who better to do it than channel partners?”

Robinson concurred, adding “Don’t forget the security element. How that data is secured and used will be a big evolution for businesses and MSPs, but it’s likely going to take a while to get there.

“The reality is that the technology is already here,” emphasized Bradbury. “Much of it consumer driven right now, but the real question is when will it be adopted by businesses and how will the channel respond?”

The panel covered a few other topics in the session, including hiring challenges (specifically related to Millennials) and offered a few parting tips for VARs and MSPs. That included a great tip from Robinson, “Take time away from business, a library day. Get away from the office and use pen and pencil to write out your plans. It’s a breath of fresh air from the daily grind, and it can really help you and your business.”




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