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Channel re-invented: partner marketing must adapt to changing channel business models… or die trying

Channel re-invented: partner marketing must adapt to changing channel business models… or die trying 

And that’s because there is no longer a clearly defined business model for each anymore.

For years, tech companies have operated through silos of channel partners, each type with their own way of selling products: VARS resold technology “to” their customers, systems integrators sold their services “with” technology companies, or outsourcers bought technology directly “from” technology companies to run systems for their customers.

But with the broad adoption of major market disruptors like big data and cloud computing combined with social media, the partner community has been picked up, tossed about and thrown in the corner to reinvent itself.

Technologies have changed. Customers have changed. And now so must the partner and technology industry as well.

Farewell Point Products

The advent of near ubiquitous cloud computing and the Internet of Everything has nearly buried the practice of buying and selling individual point products at the lowest possible price.

Customers prefer their solutions to be end to end, from the technology solutions to the relationships between partners and their customers. They require broad solutions that are unique to their needs.

As a consequence, partners are retiring the single-solution cookie-cutter business model, in exchange for a long-term symbiotic relationship. In order to deploy a cloud, for example, resellers are partnering with service providers, combining a “pull-through” and “sell-with” approach to keep and maintain the business. System integrators are reselling products, which three years ago would have been unspeakable.

Help Me, Help You

In the process, customers are seeking “trusted advisors” who can offer and execute the best end-to-end deployment of a variety of products, instead of dialing for dollars for the cheapest part. They need someone in their corner throughout the entire process – planning, deployment, measurement and support.

The need for an advisor is further driven by technology trends that drive risk and uncertainty in the customer’s environment. Beyond the staples like network and data security, trends like BYOD or even BYOC (cloud) erode their sense of control. If they can find one vendor that can bring calm and manageability, they’ll prioritize on the bigger picture and less on the product and price.

The Smarter, Better Connected Customer

The average IT customer is better informed and more connected than ever, thanks in large part to social media. Now, 60 percent of today’s buyers are familiar with the technology before ever engaging with a partner sales representative.

Beyond who tweeted whom, social media is driving discussions around IT challenges, products and solutions. The resulting community – both online and in person – is driving conversations around best practices and the people behind them. Oddly, the conversations even take place between competing IT professionals.

The social engagement changes how partner sales join the conversation. Instead of the traditional methods of direct mail, advertising and cold calling, partners must now join the discussion to demonstrate their thought-leadership and promote their successes. The advantage to the customer in this new model is that the technology provider must speak to their real knowledge of the problem and solution vs. a catchy ad and price point. This either lends credibility to the provider or exposes their weaknesses.

Sales vs. Marketing at the Table

What might be the most controversial change in this evolving landscape involves who engages with the customer – sales or marketing. In the traditional setting, sales lead the engagement with marketing providing support through lead generation.

But now with the need for solution-based products and social media discussion, marketing is beginning to run parallel to sales. And in the future, marketing just might flank sales during the process.

Now, instead of just focusing on developing a funnel of leads for sales to use, marketing is engaging directly with the customer to capture and understand their needs. This information is used to create marketing programs that address those needs as a solution. Especially as social media becomes more of the customer landscape, marketing has to jump in and lead the conversations to establish market leadership.

This change has become even more important as the age and demographics of the traditional IT professional evolve from the suit and tie executive to the khakis and tennis shoes professional, and from the boardroom to the public forums and blogs.

To be successful with this new breed of customer, the partner community must adapt or die. They have to provide solutions that are unique and transcend across the barriers of their traditional product packaging, marketing, distribution and pricing.

In the next installment of this three-part series, we’ll talk more about the changing partner landscape and provide examples of how partners are changing the way they do business.

Michelle De Hertogh is vice president of business EMC development for alliances, development and marketing.

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