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Jason Bystrak’s first job provided the experience and inspiration that helped him get where he is today. Shortly after his sixteenth birthday, he landed a sales position in a Western New York shoe store, which gave him the opportunity to hone his customer service, business development, and closing skills.
After finishing high school, he advanced his sales talent working in New York City and other East Coast locations before returning home to earn a degree in business from the University of Buffalo. That’s when he came across an opportunity that set him on what would become an executive career path with a Fortune 500 company: a friend suggested he check out Ingram Micro. “I was just wrapping up school, and I figured if you could sell shoes, you could sell IT. So, I got my start on the phones as an inbound sales rep in 1995.”
The tech industry has undergone a tremendous transformation in the twenty-two years since Bystrak joined Ingram Micro. When he started out as inside rep taking inbound overflow calls, hardware and software license sales were the primary focus for channel partners. He worked his way up through the sales organization and managed larger account bases, later transitioning into a field sales role in the distributor’s public-sector organization.
“I always felt that completing those interim steps within Ingram gave me a different perspective, having sat in the other seat. To that point, I even left the company for a short time to work for a VAR, which allowed me to learn a lot about selling to end users during the transition to value-added solutions. Unfortunately, that company did not have the service capabilities required to be competitive, and I ended up being recruited back to Ingram soon after.”
The channel push towards managed services coincided closely with his move from field sales to marketing, where Bystrak got an opportunity to work with the public sector, SMB, and OEM partner, teams. It was a time of massive transitions in the tech industry, and the insight gained from managing all those changes opened new doors for him inside the organization.
When offered a position in the services group, he jumped at the opportunity. “We weren't calling it cloud at the time, but I was responsible for what was then the Seismic program of managed services, which later morphed into our cloud division.” Later named executive director for the group, Bystrak was responsible for all the cloud go-to-market teams including sales, marketing, and vendor management for the Americas.
While the process of moving from the traditional VAR business model to managed and cloud services hasn’t been easy for many in the channel, it presented a learning and career development opportunity for many. Bystrak is grateful for joining the industry at a pivotal time, and his new role as Global Executive Director of Technology Partner Enablement will allow him to share his insight and expertise to help emerging vendors successfully engage with the channel.
What important lessons has he learned over his career? One of the biggest changes over the past two decades has been the move to recurring services, suggests Bystrak, and companies with a track record of success in that area will be better positions for the future. “MSPs have a better chance for success with cloud. Businesses need their post-sale support because end users can't just reboot the server when their applications are virtual. Having a call center and a process to handle all the pieces is important.”
An understanding of recurring revenue is a real advantage for channel firms. “Most MSPs sell contracts with monthly payment requirements, so they're already financially aligned with the cloud model. The value of a traditional VAR tends to be in professional services like designing infrastructure, but that’s already part of the design with the cloud. They often find themselves challenged providing cloud support and remote monitoring, all the things that MSPs do well.”
“Many VARs also struggle with the recurring revenue model from a financial perspective, because they're used to getting paid for projects that bring in a lot of money upfront. With cloud and managed services, it's spread out over time, and making that transition can be difficult for many traditional resellers.”
Challenges Ahead for the Channel
Those aren’t the only obstacles the IT services community is facing today. Traditional suppliers are also having issues transitioning to an on-demand environment. “Classic IT vendors are trying to move into cloud models, too, where they host the applications and become service providers themselves. These transitions can be painful and disruptive to the channel.”
On the flip side are the born-in-the-cloud vendors. “Their advantage is understanding APIs and recurring revenue, but most don't understand the channel. They may have to make big changes to their pricing models, support structure, compensation alignment, and partner programs. Big investments may be required to recruit and train partners, and building their pipelines is often a one to two-year commitment. Those can be challenges for born-in-the-cloud vendors.”
Bystrak emphasizes the need for change to Ingram Micro’s partners as well as inside the CompTIA Cloud Community, which he will chair until January when he will assume a leadership role on the CompTIA Distributor Advisory Council. He stresses that channel firms need to put more focus on understanding the growing complexity of their business relationships today, from a provider, vendor and distribution perspective. “IT is much closer to the line of business than ever, with more than 70% of purchases made at the departmental level. Partners have to know how their clients will use technology, better monetize their investments, and reap greater rewards.”
While Bystrak has been with the same company for twenty-two years, the career-advancing opportunities have been plentiful. “I've been fortunate enough to be able to change roles every couple of years, and it's like working for a different company. My recommendation to those entering the technology community is to keep changing and learning because that type of experience really matters.”