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A VTN Q&A with Ingram Micro Canada’s Mark Snider and Tim Billings

Ingram Micro's Canadian executives discuss the state of the market, solutions opportunities and plans for the partner community

DENVER – This year’s Ingram Micro fall VentureTech Network (VTN) Invitational event saw more than 600 guests in attendance from across North America. Mark Snider, vice-president and general manager for Ingram Micro‘s Canadian business, said this year’s session saw a bigger Canadian turn-out over prior years.

The conference theme this year centered around encouraging partners to focus on three key areas, unite, collaborate and thrive.

CDN had the chance to sit down with Snider and Tim Billings, vice-president of vendor management for Ingram Micro Canada, to discuss how the distributor’s business did this year, existing and emerging technology opportunities, as well as plans and goals for the business and its channel moving into 2010.

CDN: How has Ingram Micro’s Canadian business fared this year?

Mark Snider: It’s been an interesting year overall for Ingram. From a macro level, in Canada, the economic slowdown happened a bit later compared to in the U.S. but we had lots of warning that was going to happen. Resellers are looking for new technologies and there’s more of urgency around that now than in other years. Doing the same things that we’ve been doing year after year wasn’t going to cut it for our resellers and ourselves this year. We’ve been focused on costs for ourselves and we’ve also focused on our resellers from a services perspective, which includes innovative financial tools that we offer to our customers. We have five new Canadian customers (at the conference) and this is their first Invitational. What VTN has evolved to from a reseller perspective is more collaboration and focus on service network partnering, where one reseller would do services for another from a regional perspective.

Now we’re seeing partners from the same region borrowing each other’s technologies and making calls into other accounts and presenting solutions so other partners can adopt them to take to customers today.

CDN: The conference theme this year is unite, collaborate and thrive. Can you explain this?

M.S.: Some partners are looking for new ideas and other members come prepared with their own solutions to perhaps market it to other resellers. So, for instance, a partner would demonstrate the VoIP solution they have in the hopes of collaborating with their peers. It’s not only about thriving to survive during this economy, but it’s also about talking with our partners.

CDN: What value does the SMB Alliance bring to your partner community?

M.S.: The SMB Alliance is a way for partners to start coming together and sharing to better focus on the SMB space. A lot of these members may not know other (partners) when they go to other events, and it often ends up being driven a bit more by the vendors so here, we have a lot of the vendors present, where partners can learn as much from the vendors as they learn from each other.

Tim Billings: Ingram Micro is very focused on making our resellers much more profitable in today’s challenging economic marketplace. Some of the programs that we’ve delivered include extended financing terms, so with today’s economic environment, credit and cash availability becomes an important part of our reseller’s ability to manage their business on a day to day business. We’ve been very proactive working with our vendor partners and resellers to provide opportunities for them to leverage extended terms and therefore better leverage their balance sheets to grow their business in today’s marketplace. From a vendor perspective, we’re looking at the very fast and dynamic (technology) changes that are happening in our marketplace today. I think one of the areas that we can continue to focus and improve our efforts around is on some of the key technologies that our partners are engaged in today, as well as with emerging technologies that are prevalent in today’s marketplace.

We have a strong focus on our initiative to recruit new partners around key technologies as well as providing enablement tools for those partners to be successful around those new technologies. We’re seeing a lot more specialization around these technologies as they become more complex.

CDN: What are some of the key solution or technology areas that Ingram is focusing on now?

T.B.: Some of the key technologies that we’re focused on include solutions in the data centre environment. Many of our vendor partners are investing in new technologies in the marketplace. Cisco’s penetration into that market is a good example and we’re aligning our resources and services to support Cisco as they continue to develop a data centre portfolio of products. Areas such as virtualization are also providing great opportunities for our partners. We’re developing practices around that by working with our key vendor partners and enabling them to be successful in the market place.

We’re evolving from a focus on commodity-based products to more specialized technologies and providing services and solutions to enable our partners to be more successful. We see opportunities across many different technologies such as security and an emergence of mobility and wireless solutions around netbooks and embedded notebooks. As well, traditional areas like printing and imaging and our supplies business are other key areas. We continue to see that emerging and evolving into document management-type opportunities.

Customers are looking to our resellers to provide more cost effective solutions for their business. We’re seeing more traditional solution categories that are evolving and moving towards more of a solution-type of opportunity for partners.

M.S.: When it comes to partner facing activities, we’ll continue to have an extensive sales force presence and will continue to have a 1:1 relationship with our inside sales representatives and a focus on our partners. For the customers who may not have an incremental IT budget, partners can help those customers from a training and resource perspective and also offer them solutions.

CDN: What are your key priorities and/or goals in 2010?

M.S: Focusing on technologies and driving deeper into those. Our vendors and customers expect us to add value, as opposed to just low price and availability, which are always the standards in distribution. Within Ingram, we also have a strong focus on our associates. We’ve had pretty strong satisfaction scores this year and I think part of that has been from having a plan and communicating that plan. More and more, people have to do more jobs and cover more with less, so keeping the associates happy has also led to a better customer experience overall as well.

CDN: What’s your commitment to your channel partners?

M.S.: Everything we do is run through the channel. We’re there from a credit perspective. The Ingram Micro credit team has increased the number of face to face meetings this year and we’ve also extended more credit than ever before. Partners know we’ll be there to help them and that we’ll invest in them.

CDN: Do you have a personal message for your channel partners?

M.S.: Thank-you for your business this year and for working with us. It’s proven to be a profitable business for a lot of our partners and for us. As we’ve seen the downturn start to strengthen, especially in the U.S., we look forward to having a great year in 2010.

CDN: On the vendor management side of things, what are Ingram’s key plans for next year?

T.B.: Our key priorities will continue to be around ensuring we have the specializations for emerging technologies that our vendors and partners are supporting. Our key strategies will be around recruitment of new resellers who can provide value and support those technologies and also with potential new vendors that have products that can complement or complete some of the solutions our partners are going to market with. Also for our enablement tools, partners see us as a trusted advisor and they rely on us to provide them with tools to help them succeed in the marketplace, so we’ll also focus on training and education and leveraging our core competencies around our world-class logistics services and making sure we have the right amount of products to service our partners.

One of the challenges many of our partners have is to continue to make sure they’re providing more value to their end-users. There are lots of changes happening around technologies such as cloud computing and SaaS (software-as-a-service), so those provide challenges for our partners to provide solutions around those areas. As the market continues to change very rapidly, we’re focused on providing support and services to our partners so they can really leverage those resources to be more successful.