What are master agents and distributors focused on in 2019? Senior Editor Lynn Haber finds out at Channel Partners Conference in Las Vegas this week.

Kris Blackmon, Head of Channel Communities

April 11, 2019

4 Min Read
Master & Distie Panel 2019

(In the photo above, left to right: TBI’s Geoffrey Shepstone, Avant’s Ian Kieninger, Telarus’s Adam Edwards, Pax8’s Ryan Walsh, PlanetOne’s Ted Schuman, ScanSource’s Ansley Hoke and Channel Futures & Channel Partners’ Lynn Haber on the keynote stage at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo, April 11.)

CHANNEL PARTNERS CONFERENCE & EXPO — Veterans of the Channel Partners Conference & Expo are no strangers to the annual Masters and Distributors panel led by Channel Partners & Channel Futures Senior Editor Lynn Haber.

Haber started by asking Ansley Hoke of ScanSource what the company is doing to keep its customers’ trust. “We strive to exude that trust into our partner community,” said Hoke. “Do what you say you’re going to do in a timely manner, but it’s also about asking your customers what we need to do to maintain that trust.”

Customer experience is a 2019 channel theme, and the panelists for the “Powering Possibilities in a Changing Channel” discussion had a lot to say about the challenge for supporting partners and being a trusted adviser. Ted Schuman, founder and CEO of PlanetOne, agrees with Haber that being customer-obsessed is critical in today’s channel.

“No one ever gets scolded for overcommunicating,” says Schuman. “We take a blue collar, old school approach to it: one customer at a time. We’re going to double down on what’s working today.”

In distribution, the cloud has leveled the playing field. Haber pointed out to Ryan Walsh, chief channel officer of Pax8 that while that company challenges traditional distributors by being exclusively focused on cloud, it isn’t alone in upsetting the apple cart. Enablement has to be different if it wants to drive partner success in a diversified market.

Walsh said Pax8 felt cloud distribution was broken with traditional distributors, especially when you look at different types of partners getting in the game such as consultants, agencies like CPAs and digital marketing firms and born in the cloud solution providers. The customer buying journey is much more detailed when it comes to cloud products and services, said Walsh, made up of 17 steps with additional stages so it goes all the way from buying to delivering to provisioning.

“We call it the ‘cloud wingman’ experience, sitting side-by-side providing both high-touch customer support and automation to give end users what they want when they want it,” said Walsh.

“Help me or get out of my way,” said Adam Edwards, president and co-founder of Telarus. “Partners investing in their business are at a different place now than they were two years ago.” Partners don’t just want Telarus to provide technology. They want the company to help their businesses grow.

“Partners want help, and smart master agents are building toward them,” continued Edwards.

Avant has different methodology for selling in today’s environment, said Haber, but how has it changed with the times? CEO Ian Kieninger says Avant is incredibly jealous of its partners, because they’re selling even more than ever before.

“What’s the next generation of our businesses?” asks Kieninger. “Special Forces is…

…our training event… [Training] is table stakes in the next two years. You’ve got enablement and tech, but how do we create assets that will hold up in the next five years?”

Haber ended the main part of the panel by asking Geoffrey Shepstone, president of TBI, how the master agent is leveraging data to drive smarter decision-making for its partners, especially with AI and Predictive analytics. Shepstone said of course that technology helps customers gain insights into their own customer bases, but what many overlook is how those technologies help on the carrier side of the relationship, as well.

“Externally it enables us to track the performance of carriers from quoting to commissioning to renewal, said Shepstone. “For the agent, we can look at trends within the carriers and end users and business segments so we can communicate with agents where the fast lane is.”

As it does every year, the master and distributor panel give attendees an inside look on how these competitors each approach partner enablement and customer support, which is perhaps more critical in a service-oriented market than ever before. Hopefully, attendees heard what they needed to make an educated choice in a distribution partner.

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About the Author(s)

Kris Blackmon

Head of Channel Communities, Zift Solutions

Kris Blackmon is head of channel communities at Zift Solutions. She previously worked as chief channel officer at JS Group, and as senior content director at Informa Tech and project director of the MSP 501er Community. Blackmon is chair of CompTIA's Channel Development Advisory Council and operates KB Consulting. You may follow her on LinkedIn and @zift on X.

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