How the channel can survive- and thrive- into 2015

If channel partners want to survive and thrive into 2015, they’ll need to embrace change, collaborate, and invest in a sales staff that can talk business, not just tech, according to Gartner Inc. research vice-president Tiffani Bova.

Bova, who focuses on IT sales and channel strategies, was invited to address Symantec Corp. (NASDAQ: SYMC) channel partners at the security vendor’s Partner Engage event in Phoenix this month, where she provided the audience with tips for ensuring growth this decade.

Collaboration for building a brokerage

Partner collaboration will be especially crucial when it comes to building a “cloud brokerage,” or “a business model where a company or other entity adds value to one or more (generally public or hybrid, but possibly private) cloud services on behalf of one or more consumers of those services,” according to Gartner.

The shortage of partners with required capabilities is starting to show its effects, according to Bova. With cloud, for example, a scarcity of partners who can consult on cloud solutions means slower adoption.

Related story: Symantec wants partners to work together to build cloud business

That means that to succeed, partners need to take a consultative approach to building cloud solutions for customers, invest in specializations and partner with others in the channel who have specializations they might lack. As technology converges, so do partner types, she said.

“The players are changing, which means the ecosystem has to become more willing to work with each other and collaborate.” Eventually, that may put some partners on the mergers and acquisitions path.

“I caution you to not buy legacy businesses,” Bova said. Instead, buy companies that will take you where you need to go, with the right specializations and strengths. “Otherwise, all you’re doing is defending a pie that’s going to get smaller,” she said.

Look to the digital natives

“I consider myself a digital immigrant,” Bova said, and pointed out that many partners are too— people got their first cell phones in university. But to succeed, the channel needs to focus on the digital natives—or the toddler in the airport playing with an iPad and people who have grown up around quickly evolving technology.

How partners sell to those digital natives will be crucial to their success, according to Bova. If partners were to start a business today, they likely wouldn’t just resell products, she said. Instead, it’s about setting up a business consulting practice and selling outcomes and results. The digital natives will be the ones to look to for understanding that, she said.

“You’re going to need to make more investments,” Bova said. That could mean downsizing current sales people in favour of new staff, but also investing in training, with both technical and marketing skills.When hiring sales staff, that also means seeking people with business or entrepreneurial experience, not solely technical expertise.

Related story: Symantec tells partners to get uncomfortable

“I don’t know how many of you actually have sales reps that can sit down and have that conversation,” she said. Bova gives the example of a recent conference at which she spoke to an audience of sales people. Out of about 200 attendees, only a dozen knew the difference between CAPEX and OPEX, or what they were.

“The technology almost becomes agnostic,” she said. It’s more about your sales staff understanding business outcomes for the customer. “Make sure they know how to have a conversation,” Bova said.

That’s especially important when considering CIO business priorities. According to Gartner, the top three CIO business priorities include increasing enterprise growth, attracting and retaining new customers and creating new products, services and innovation. Those priorities will likely remain until 2014, the firm suggests.

“If you’re not focusing on one of these, you’re not focusing on what CIOs are telling us,” she said.
“If you go in talking only about cutting costs, you’re missing a golden opportunity,” Bova said. Rather, address what kinds of solutions you can bring into their environment that can get them in and out of R&D faster, Bova suggested.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Harmeet Singh
Harmeet Singh
Harmeet reports on channel partner programs, new technologies and products and other issues relevant to Canada's channel community. She also contributes as a video journalist, providing content for the site's original streaming video. Harmeet is a graduate of the Carleton University School of Journalism.

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