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December 22, 2020
(Above: Customer experience was all the rage in 2020, but the channel needs to move to the next level. Michelle Kadlacek, VP of the Spectrum Enterprise Partner Program, talks with Channel Partners executive editor Craig Galbraith about why and how vendors and distributors are priming partners to play the role of innovator.)
The modern channel partner is demanding more resources, speed and flexibility from vendors in order to meet customer experience expectations.
We’ve seen vendors and distributors up their investment in their channel partners this year. For example, master agents like PlanetOne have significantly upped their headcounts and launched new tools to help partners sell. These changes demonstrate that if suppliers want to deliver a solid customer experience, they must support the partners who deliver it.
Chris Werpy, chief operating officer at Arizona-based master agent PlanetOne, said 2020 has accelerated – not created – these raised expectations. IT organizations had already embraced ideas like DevOps and agile IT going into this year.
PlanetOne’s Chris Werpy
“We kind of adopted the model of ‘slow is the new broken.’ As IT internally started to go through their processes and change the way in which they designed and procured services, they started to apply those concepts into how they went and procured and acquired traditional telecom services, and now as they’re starting to acquire the next generation of technology services,” Werpy said.
Now take the internal evolution occurring in IT and add distributed, remote workforces. Remote work has completely expedited the sales process. Technology purchasers no longer bring several vendors into their office in order to vet their solutions.
“You take away the windshield time, you take away the travel time, you take away the complexity of trying to juggle schedules,” Werpy said. “Now after months and months of this, it’s much easier to get to collaboration because everyone’s always on. For the first time as a sales person, you can stack back-to-back meetings, because you’re not driving to the next one. You can be more efficient.”
As a result, customers have raised their expectations for how quickly their technology providers service them. And channel partners must rise to the challenge. Clients now expect real-time access to resources and information, Werpy said. Thus, vendors, distributors and master agents must ramp up their speeds to put their partners in a good position.
“We’re in technology. Technology breaks, but the time to react and the time to fix and the time to resolution is what makes business sticky, drives brand loyalty and drives customer loyalty,” said Ben Niernberg, executive vice president of MNJ Technologies.
For Niernberg and MNJ, partner experience goes beyond material resources. Niernberg said the channel moves toward a more holistic end user experience when the OEM, distribution and resale partners work together in a “bidirectional relationship.” In other words, they need to work together.
“Traditional VARs oftentimes have had their hands out asking for rebate money and asking for funds,” Niernberg said. “And it was a very one-sided relationship.”
MNJ Technologies’ Ben Niernberg
But the vendor will need to demonstrate flexibility for this two-way street to exist.
For example, Niernberg’s Illinois-based MNJ Technologies engages in a partnership with Ingram Micro and Microsoft. The Illinois-based VAR/MSP told the distributor and vendor that it wanted to engage with customers in a unique way.
“Both Ingram and Microsoft have bought into this change with how we engage and how we go to market, and it’s not the traditional way that VARs are doing it. And it created a unique experience for us and our sales people, and I think ultimately for our end user,” he said.
But many channel partners don’t experience such flexibility from their vendors. Niernberg said one of the biggest struggles of a growing company is to stay nimble and customizable as it increases in size.
“Those companies that haven’t created that level of flexibility, decision-making and independence — those are the ones that we struggle with the most. They’re usually the ones that are most reactive, last to change and the most difficult to partner with,” he said.
The channel played a big role in helping businesses adjust to remote work. IT’s first priority was to “keep the lights on,” so to speak.
“Your first inclination is to make sure all the employees can work,” Werpy said. ” … everyone has connectivity. Everyone has access. But once you get into that glide path, we still have all of these projects. How are we going to do it now that we’re dispersed?”
But now we all need to enter a new phase, according to Werpy. He said the most successful partners are fully reviewing the moves they made in 2020 and considering how they can implement more long-term fixes in 2021 and beyond.
It’s “strategic” in nature.
“The onus is on the partners to make sure their customers are not only stuck in this world of ‘everything’s working’ to, ‘Let’s sit down and get strategic. Let’s figure out how to not only keep your business running but take advantage of this and thrive,'” he said.
Avant’s Ken Presti
Ken Presti, vice president of research and analytics at Avant Communications, said partners can help customers unlock true value from technology and solve pain points.
“They also work closely with the customers’ internal IT teams in the areas of installation, optimization, support, and even user training, based on complementing the relative strengths and weaknesses of the internal teams,” Presti said.
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