The barriers and benefits to supporting a sound channel partner ecosystem may be both mixed and varied, but it is the upside that outweighs any challenges that might exist, three panel participants said Wednesday at the 2023 edition of CDN’s Channel Innovation Awards.
The panel discussion, which was based around this year’s event’s principal theme – Evolving the Channel Ecosystem Amid Digital Transformation – was moderated by Rob Brown, vice president of channel sales at HPE Canada, who was joined by Mark Collins, chief executive officer (CEO) of consulting firm F2 Factor and co-president of the Canadian Channel Chiefs Council (C4), and Fred Patterson, ecosystem director and channel chief of Red Hat Canada.
Brown launched the discussion by asking Collins and Patterson to define the difference between a traditional channel configuration and an ecosystem of partners.
Collins replied, “the best way to tackle this question would be to say, ‘it starts with the customer and what is your goal?’ What are you trying to achieve with the customer? The reality is, there is a difference between capturing a transaction versus ultimately solving a problem.
“The high-tech industry is a complex business and there is nobody that can solve a problem alone, and no individual product or piece of software that solves a problem alone.”
That, he added, is where an ecosystem comes into play, in the sense that several channel “contributors” work in tandem to create or develop an offering or offerings that meets specific and needed goals of an organization.
The term ecosystem, said Patterson, does “prevail in our business and I know we are finding more often than not, multiple partners involved in a journey. And it is up to us all as ecosystem partners to ensure we can work together to satisfy a customer’s needs, no matter where they are in that journey.”
Brown said the one point that jumps out at him when he thinks about the question is that “we all have a different skill set. As a result, customers are really looking to many of the partners in the room to be a single point of entry.”
As for the benefits, it comes down to power in numbers. “This is not just about reaching new customers,” said Patterson. “It is about reaching more (executives) within an organization.
“When I talk about the ecosystem player, it could be a vendor, a selling partner, a service provider, and we all play equal, but different roles. When you work with a coalition of partners around solving a problem, you gain insights you may not learn otherwise about where that customer is in their journey. Co-creation is another big (benefit), and I am referring to offerings or services that might not have otherwise existed without a group of partners working together.”
In terms of barriers, Patterson said while it is critical that every member of an ecosystem be aware of the ultimate role they play, getting to that point can be challenging. “It comes down to everyone understanding the roles and responsibilities of each player and making sure that you are minimizing conflict and keeping the customer’s issues and problems top-of-mind.”
There may also be a need for a new approach to generating sales, which in itself could qualify as a barrier.
“We’ve talked about business outcomes a lot today and I can tell you, frankly, from an HPE vantage point, we’re transforming to a cloud services organization – we’re trying to capture this consumption-based economy that is hitting us like a wave,” said Brown. “And in doing so our sales force is being asked to knock on new doors. It is not just the IT door anymore, and in fact has not been that way for a while.
“It is the CFO, it is the CIO, and the CEO on some occasions, depending on the size of the company, because they are looking to extract value from their data. They are not just looking at the storage, they want to pull the value from it.”
At the sales level, that can present challenges, he said, “because those that have been selling IT for years have the right skill set, but they also have to transform their conversation to the C suite, and talk to those people in a different way.”
The success of any ecosystem, said Collins, will only happen if everyone involved “puts the customer at the centre of the entire conversation. The reality is that if it is not about the customer and understanding the outcome, then you are probably not going down the right path, and you are probably not going to be successful.”