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At CompTIA’s ChannelCon 2016 yesterday, audience members had a chance to listen to four channel chiefs as they talked about current trends, future predictions and their top advice for partners in a panel discussion moderated by CompTIA President and CEO Todd Thibodeaux.
The cloud was, of course, the first subject of discussion. Talk revolved around how cloud technologies are changing channel business models, and how both vendors and partners are now in a position to either build or buy new technologies. VARs are becoming MSPs by developing cloud-based subscription models, private equity companies are acquiring tech companies and partners are forming alliances to offer broad based solutions for their customers.
“With the cloud, you have to do more with less,” said Neal Bradbury, Co-Founder and Vice President of Channel Development at Intronis. When price points are lower, partners have to have higher volumes of sales. This means they need to leverage cloud technology to introduce automation in order to drive efficiency.
The other piece is that the cloud is driving much faster evolution in terms of new product offerings. The channel used to be an “aggressive follower model,” according to Frank Rauch, Vice President of Americas Partner Organization at VMware. Today, it’s a forward-invest model. Partners have to be willing to make bigger bets on what the hot new moneymaking technologies will be. In order to really home in on what is a smart investment, they need to listen to their customers. “People will vote with their dollars.”
And what gets them to vote? Bradbury said the most important thing is a unique differentiator, something that goes beyond what jargon is in the marketing collateral. He advised partners to ask their top ten customers, “Why do you do business with us?” The answers, he said, will probably be much different than what partners assume they will be. In order to stand out in a field that’s becoming ever more crowded and hyper-competitive, partners need to know what sets them apart in the market.
That differentiator is increasingly coming in the form of inter-channel partnerships that partners are forging. “It takes time for partners to want to open the kimono,” Ingram Micro SVP of Commercial Markets Division & Global Accounts Kirk Robinson says. But once they decide to share what works for them, how they’re leveraging managed services and what’s driving their growth, they can forge powerful partner ecosystems that are capable of meeting all of an end user’s IT needs.
This type of partnership can be hugely effective, especially between traditional IT partners and TELCO companies. Rafael Garzon, Managing Director Americas Channels at Citrix Systems, pointed out that while VARs have the institutional knowledge, deep technical skills and existing customer relationships, TELCO companies know how to sell recurring services better than nearly any other industry. Combined, these two forces make the perfect managed service provider (MSP).
A huge topic of discussion at this year’s ChannelCon has been the changing nature of the IT workforce. And, as usually happens when businesses these days start to discuss employee trends, the talk at this panel turned to millennials. “Millennials are always ‘on,’” says Rauch. “They have a million sensors on at once.” While this can be an advantage, the challenge it creates is a generation of generalists, whose knowledge is very wide, but might not be very deep.
When it comes to employee culture, millennials are driving changes in everything from the technology they use to the environments they want to work in. It isn’t that their desires are all that new, says Garzon. It’s just that they’re more vocal about it.
The panel also addressed the need for diversity in the workplace, and not just for the sake of principal. In order to be able to compete, partners need a diversity of thought. The landscape is changing too quickly to not have a variety of viewpoints and thought processes driving business strategy.
It’s the difference, says Garzon, between hiring for today and hiring for tomorrow. “Today, we need more technologically savvy people. But as we evolve, we need more businesspeople with technological understanding.”
So if we need to be hiring for tomorrow, what did the panel members predict will be the technology trends that drive the channel in the next few years? The speakers gave a variety of answers, from hyper-convergence and mobility to security and automation. But one thing everyone agreed on was the importance of the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data. Everyone, it seems, is waiting for the consumer love affair with IoT to bleed over into the B2B space. And with the IoT comes the need for data analytics on a large, in-depth scale.
The panel ended with Thibideaux asking the panel members what advice they’d heard from a mentor and never forgotten. Robinson talked about the value of “library days,” where he heads to the local library to sit down and review his business goals and strategies. Why the library? Because it’s quiet, and he knows he won’t see anyone he knows.
Garzon always passes down to his team a piece of advice he’s kept close over his career: at the end of the day, business is all about money. We talk a lot about enablement and marketing in the channel, he says, and that’s great—but just remember that every activity should either be saving customers money or helping them make it. Otherwise, you’re missing the point.
For Bradbury, it comes down to five words: be first or be different. It’s the only way to really succeed in today’s business climate.
But our favorite words of advice came earlier in the hour while Robinson was talking about the need for channel partners to be agile. It’s not the big fish that eats the small one, he explained. It’s just the fast that eats the slow.