Talent is scarce, and customers are control freaks. Both trends can be good for your business.

James Anderson, Senior News Editor

February 25, 2019

4 Min Read
VARs as Trusted Advisors

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA — Your customers need your services and expertise, but they also need control.

Acronis CEO Serguei Beloussov tells Channel Futures that managed service providers (MSPs) must walk the fine line between supporting customers and handcuffing them.


Acronis’ Serguei Beloussov

“The customer is OK to give you control, provided he can keep some of it,” said Beloussov, who founded the data protection and backup provider in 2003.

During our visit to Acronis’ Scottsdale, Arizona, office, he shared his thoughts on the modern partner landscape, starting with big-picture observations.

Trend 1: Consolidation is king. Beloussov points to SoftwareONE’s purchase of Comparex as an example of a channel that’s merging on all fronts. SoftwareONE is creating a reseller equal to CDW. But Comparex, which traditionally has been known as a software-licensing VAR, recently has been pivoting toward managed services. It had already done M&A of its own to add new IT service capabilities.

Beloussov said partners want to diversify their portfolios in the midst of mounting pressure.

“To stay profitable, they need larger amounts of up-sellable margin,” he said. “So they merge to explore the synergies.”

Trend 2: The talent shortage continues. Neither the shortage of technically skilled folk nor our knowledge of the shortage is new. We wrote last week about the struggles MSPs face recruiting and maintaining talent.

As IT and technology spread into all parts of our businesses, the increasing number of machines and systems makes experts proportionally scarce.

“20 years ago an IT person was someone who was somewhat sophisticated with computers, but now there are so many devices around us that there are not enough people to do IT jobs,” he said.

Boloussov points to a twofold challenge: the partner and the buyer. First, the channel partner struggling to keep skilled employees in the fold. Troy Drever, who leads a Canadian MSP, told Channel Partners last year about the Catch-22 of losing out on talent whenever the economy improves and big businesses recruit in-house expertise.

“There’s so much demand for sophisticated IT jobs that it’s difficult for the channel to keep experts, and experts cannot work in low-paying jobs,” Beloussov said.

Technology companies are at the same time tailoring their products to meed the needs of talent-strapped customers. The more easy-to-sell and easy-to-use it is, the more attractive the product is. This is what Beloussov calls the “consumerization of IT.”

Tip 1: See your role as product and cost management. Beloussov said customers aren’t interested in an MSP that resells a product, but rather one that wades through the difficulties of choosing, assembling and integrating solutions that meet their needs and provides solutions that will make them more cost efficient.

“The brand of the vendor becomes less important versus the features and versus the cost and versus the ability to integrate,” he said.

Tip 2: Provide self-management. We mentioned above that channel partners need to offer easy-to-use products. Emotion, not logic, may motivate the small business owner to run IT in-house if he or she perceives that too much control is in the hands of the service provider.

Remember that the small-business owner could have worked as an employee at a larger firm but prefers …… autonomy. They are “control freaks” by nature, and partners must deal with their preferences accordingly.

“They want to have control. They feel comfortable driving in a car, but they feel uncomfortable flying in a plane, because the pilot flies the plane,” Beloussov said. “The plane is much safer, but in the car they have control.”

Tip 3: Keep churn low. The MSP must make its business sticky. Plenty of companies invest in order to grow their customer bases just to see an equal number of customers leave. Preventing that outcome requires a new approach to incumbent clients.

Partners in the past may have sold to a customer and then waited for the customer to become larger and ask for new solutions. But Beloussov says partners can’t wait for that moment and instead need to consider how they can cross-sell and up-sell in the meantime.

“You have a customer. You sign him. You have low churn; you keep him. The only way you’re going to be able to grow within that customer is to sell him something extra in an integrated fashion. Because the whole benefit for a customer to buy it from you is [that] it integrates with the rest of the offer,” he said.

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About the Author(s)

James Anderson

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

James Anderson is a news editor for Channel Futures. He interned with Informa while working toward his degree in journalism from Arizona State University, then joined the company after graduating. He writes about SD-WAN, telecom and cablecos, technology services distributors and carriers. He has served as a moderator for multiple panels at Channel Partners events.

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