The channel crossover

The convergence of information technology and consumer electronics (CE) is creating a crossover market that brings some new prospects for the channel. Now is a good time for channel partners to get creative and examine what those opportunities might be.

Many consumer products are considered “crossover” because they are also ideal for the small office or home office (SOHO) – but the approach to doing business with them is not the same because of how greatly the customer needs can differ. The SOHO user may have higher expectations than a consumer of a product for example, or a greater need for follow-up support and service as they tailor the product for their business. There is a role, therefore, for the channel to play in ensuring crossover products suit the specific needs of the user. In fact, the door is open for anyone who is ready to step in and develop a strategy for crossover products and related services.

For some, opportunity has already come knocking. A study published in CDN last year showed that more than 36 per cent of readers surveyed are selling consumer electronics products. For the most part they would be selling these consumer products to SOHO or small businesses. There is certainly room for growth. So for those who are interested but not sure how to go about expanding into this crossover market, here are a few suggestions.

Begin by learning as much as possible about CE products and industry trends and how they can meet the needs of SOHO/small businesses. For example, double-digit growth is projected in the home network storage market over the next few years due to the rapid increase in the number of digital devices in the home, the emergence of high-definition content and the increased digitization of content. As such, traditional business categories such networked storage have began a migration into the crossover CE/SoHo/small business space through offerings including the MediaVault network attached storage and MediaSmart Server from HP. It is important to read, talk to vendors, test-drive products in a controlled environment and become conversant in what is new and important in the CE world.

Spend time talking to the customer as well. The challenge here is two-fold: both educating the customer, and understanding their needs. Some SOHO owners may have never considered turning to a channel partner – rather than a CE retailer – to purchase products, installation or support. They may not realize the long-term savings — how they can save time and money down the road by buying through a trusted channel partner. At the same time, for a channel partner who is new to CE, it is crucial to listen to what the customer has to say – what he or she wants to accomplish with a new technology investment, and what his or her goals are.

Where necessary, bring in an expert. When CDN polled its readers last year, it found that just more than 29 per cent had worked with a professional audio-visual reseller, while more than 50 per cent were considering partnering with a professional audio-visual reseller for a CE installation or smart home integration.

Look into channel programs offered by various vendors. HP, for example, has an entire portfolio of products and services specifically for small business customers, and provides full training on relevant solutions, including crossover products. Earlier this year HP launched a co-marketing pilot program based on the Personal Again campaign – it’s an advertising program designed to help HP partners build brand equity and grow business in their local markets, focusing on small and medium businesses, including those that may be especially drawn to crossover products.

Look for vendor programs that help channel partners satisfy customers, deliver new value, and generate more revenue through a more efficient and flexible approach. For example, programs such as HP’s are developed for partners using partner feedback. Seek out options such as training and certification, a partner portal, partner collaboration to help identify new business opportunities, and commitment to partner feedback and satisfaction.

The crossover market is still new to many and as it continues to evolve, the potential opportunities for the channel continue to grow. No longer is it necessary to be constrained by labels such as IT and CE; instead, there is a wide-open field for channel partners who can be bold and innovative in their thinking, and willing to seize the opportunity of crossover technologies.

Dave Frederickson is the Vice President, Solution Partners organization for HP Canada.

Jeff Cates is responsible for the HP PC and Digital Electronics business unit in Canada.

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