The Difference that is Differentiation
Today found me thinking, What (really) gives with the demand for differentiation from channel, and why does it seem to be in such short supply in an industry where words such as “unique” abound? Given that our industry is supposed to live and breathe innovation, one of the more challenging contradictions at its heart is that once any innovation is proven (i.e., there is a market for it), offering that innovation all-too-soon becomes a game of “me too.” This presents an interesting problem for channel: How do you stand out in a highly competitive field where everybody else offers the same thing? In short, how do you differentiate what you offer from what the other guy offers, if all you are pushing is the same technology?
First, the obvious answer: Don’t offer the same technology. Technology-led differentiation is possible. Innovation is still on the table. Working with the “No. 1 brand” offers many positives; brand awareness can create considerable reassurance with customers. On the other hand, the No. 1 brand tends to be the one everyone else stocks, too. The No. 2 and No. 3 brands, on the other hand, have much more incentive to innovate, and are likely to offer more innovative incentives to partners to encourage engagement. I am happy to speak from experience here! Customers are looking for the best solution, and biggest is not always best, so choosing the challenger brand can open up all kinds of opportunities.
Second, recognize here and now that with regards to both hardware and probably software sales, trends such as cloud, bring your own device (BYOD), mobility and virtualization are changing your business model regardless of whether you like it. Margins on resale will continue to decline. So if your differentiation focus is on which technology is easiest to sell in, you may be missing a trick. Increasingly services and consultancy, building on all of those years of experience in the industry, is where channel will find its revenue growth. That very experience will be what comes to define you – and differentiate you. Do the technologies you offer constrict or open up opportunities to offer consultancy?
Finally, does your vendor view its partners as an assembly line and keep any professional services opportunities to itself, or does it recognize and support the value of channel services? More and more, vendors are recognizing the incredible value that resides in the channel in terms of experience, expertise and as the trusted adviser to customers. However, do your vendors back that up with programs that help partners educate their staff and embrace the services opportunity? At Brocade we call it “Vendor-Added Value” — giving partners the tools and knowledge they need and supporting them through programs designed to drive their revenues, so they can continue to differentiate themselves by investing in what makes them unique.
As Mark Twain said, “The man with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.” The ability to evolve and adapt in the face of new ideas has been central to the channel as it navigates new trends and changing competitive landscapes. Keeping true to what makes each organization different at the same time is what marks out the leaders, and that is the real difference differentiation can make.
Raelyn Kritzer is Brocade’s Director of Global Channel Marketing and a regular contributor to Brocade’s Guest Blog on The VAR Guy. Monthly guest blogs such as this one are part of The VAR Guy’s annual platinum sponsorship. To read all of Brocade’s guest blogs, click here.