Meet the Channel is a recurring Channel Futures column that leaves the C-suite and focuses on how channel trends impact the day-to-day job functions of employees "in the trenches." This week, we sat down with Kelly Sander, who's been working in distributor Ingram Micro's sales team since the turn of the century.
Channel Futures: What was the IT landscape like in 2000 when you first entered the channel?
Kelly Sandler: I was lucky enough to start at Ingram Micro 18 years ago while finishing my business degree at the University of Buffalo. I worked part-time, finished school part-time, and then was able to come on full-time. Back in 2000, we were still basically a call center. Everything was done on the phone to conduct business. I just remember phone call after phone call after phone call. There was very limited email use to do anything business-wise other than interdepartmental communication.
As my career progressed from inside sales to the field to management, I was able to go through various departments including public sector, classic VAR, and right now in SMB. I would say in the current climate today, I have the benefit of both worlds, where I’m able to interact with the SMB partner face-to-face with our partner alliance community and I can also help them from my own network, to show them and guide them through the value of distribution. The SMB partners have a very nimble and open way of doing business. They’re not set in traditional ways. They’re eager to grow, and they really take advantage of what Ingram Micro has to offer through what we have now: professional services, training, embracing the cloud.
You really become part of their success, which is a great feeling. In the past, when you’re a call center, you don’t have those kind of ties to those engagements. It’s a partnership now.
CF: You moved into management in 2008, right around the initial rise of cloud. What was it like from a distributor’s point of view navigating that big paradigm shift?
KS: It was a different conversation at that time. It changed from speeds and feeds, here’s how many boxes of this laptop we have – this IBM laptop at the time, not even Lenovo yet – and now we have these broader conversations on how to transform business and create a better experience, not only to our customers, but to my associates and our partners. We weren’t order-takers anymore. My job function changed. Instead of just learning about the products and educating ourselves like that, we needed to educate ourselves about solutions. We slowly had to become consultants and work with customers on how to solve their business challenges and achieve their goals — and generally make their lives better using this new technology.
The industry is constantly innovating. In response, now we have to be creative and think of ways to serve as that trusted adviser, and then partner to these customers. At that time is when we started seeing the increasing importance of partner community.
CF: When the conversation moved from slinging boxes to solving for business outcomes, how did Ingram Micro learn how to not only have those conversations with their partners, but to train partners in how to have those conversations with end customers?
KS: At that time, Ingram Micro started to expand their business units. We started to have these specialized departments that knew everything about these new areas. We started to build our cloud practice. How do we help partners expand their business? It wasn’t necessarily educating them on all the dirty details, but enough to get the lead and then bring in the resources that live and breathe there. Really, Ingram Micro started to evolve. We didn’t rely on the sales rep to know the in-depth knowledge of everything — as long as they knew enough to identify the opportunity and expand their conversations outside of just, “Here’s your order.” You’re quoting 15 systems, you have to know where they’re going, who they’re for — how are you deploying that? It’s having those bigger conversations, so around that time Ingram Micro did start to create these specialized business units which really helped us internally and externally. It’s more of a holistic offering than it was in the past.
CF: How is the rise of specialized, niche partners changing the way you do business with your vendor partners?
KS: It goes back to the community. The community creates those internal networking solutions with Ingram Micro and with partners that are facing those challenges day-to-day. It’s a peer group. It’s not [the same] competitive landscape anymore. Resellers really work together to say, “Hey, I’m in Dallas and I specialize in law firms that are 10 users and below.” We also have a partner in, say, Florida that does this as well. Here are the vendors that he found beneficial. It’s that peer-to-peer network that it didn’t exist before. I know that’s the biggest impact that we’re seeing, and we’re engaging the vendors into that. The vendors can say they have a solution that works for something, but until a partner actually tries it — it’s that peer-to-peer recommendation that’s really driving the business.
CF: Are the power dynamics shifting from vendors dictating to partners what they should sell to the other way around?
KS: 100 percent absolutely. It is the voice of the partner that the vendor is forced to listen to instead of vice versa. What do you need, and let’s create a solution. And it might be multivendor solutions to achieve your goal.