A Senior Ingram Micro Executive’s Thoughts on the Channel’s Future
As Senior Vice President of U.S. Go-to-Market for Ingram Micro, Kirk Robinson is responsible for sales, vendor management and marketing. It’s a big role that allows for deep insights into today’s state of the indirect channel. For its part, Ingram has taken a lead role in helping partners transition to cloud and other services, and to manage their upstream relationships with vendors. In the following Q&A, Robinson shares some of his thoughts about the IT industry and where it’s headed.
CompTIA: Consider the channel’s future: Is the glass half full or half empty?
Robinson: When your glass is half full, you view any problem as an opportunity. There are challenges within our industry that are certainly disruptive, and one is that the way IT is being consumed is changing. There is a huge need at all levels of any organization for more education and enablement around how IT is being used and consumed to achieve business goals; today and in the future. That’s a huge opportunity for channel partners, as well as vendors and distributors. By continuing to work together across the IT ecosystem, we can address these opportunities, capitalize on them and stay ahead of the competition.
CompTIA: What is the biggest challenge vendors face in trying to recruit partners today?
Robinson: Every vendor struggles with recruitment and ongoing engagement. Those are two of the top reasons they engage a distributor. Identifying the right partners, onboarding them for success and keeping them engaged takes time, resources and results. The right distributor will deliver time and time again.
Channel partners (MSPs/solution providers) are constantly being told to “partner” to compete. The same goes for vendors. Don’t go to market alone. Use distribution to grow the business and get more engaged with the industry’s best direct sales force – the IT channel.
CompTIA: What is the greatest opportunity for the channel in 2017?
Robinson: Outside of the obvious answers of security and cloud, there’s a tremendous opportunity for channel partners to become indispensable partners by serving as the virtual CIOs and IT management teams for businesses of any size.
The playing field is wide open. Don’t reserve your sales efforts for just the IT team. Target other “line of business” decision makers. The right IT solutions can benefit everyone in an organization and deliver the desired business outcomes faster, more cost-effectively and on a more consistent basis.
CompTIA: How is cloud impacting the way you interact with partners, as well as how you train and compensate them?
Robinson: Vendors are struggling to execute against a cloud-first sales motion. For many, the vision is often easier than the execution. There’s a lot to consider technically and on the business side, including APIs, migration and compensation. Again, going to market alone isn’t going to get you where you want to be on time. Vendors need to partner with a distributor – like Ingram Micro Cloud – that is invested in the route to market and has the cloud-first sales motion nailed down.
On the solution provider and MSP front, the cloud has brought simplicity on the front-end and complexity on the back-end; both of which are good for the channel. The simplicity makes the business case easier to make and the demand easier to build. The complexity creates a much larger need for ongoing end-user engagement with a solution provider or MSP who can proactively manage and consolidate the back-end, and ensure the simplicity on the front end is realized and supported anytime, anywhere.
CompTIA: What is your take on the SaaS-based “shadow” or “alternative” channel we have been reading about?
Robinson: Competition is constant and changing rapidly. Who you don’t see as a competitor is who’ll likely have the biggest impact on your success. We are seeing increased competition from all channels and there’s certainly an opportunity for greater collaboration and co-opetition. We’re seeing that today.
Talk to your customers about cloud and app development. Find relationships that will keep you relevant and make it harder for your competition to break in.
CompTIA: Is product reselling dead?
Robinson: No, and we have a billion reasons to prove it. Reselling happens every day, though it’s no longer in the same way. We will always need hardware. Hybrid IT is the “it” infrastructure. You can’t have cloud without a hardware environment to support it. Whether you build, buy or lease it, it’s still needed. The difference today is you shouldn’t just be reselling – everything should be sold with “added value” today.
CompTIA: If you were going to start a channel firm today, what would it look like?
Robinson: Business automation and the customer experience are two areas where technology is having a significant impact. I would certainly place emphasis there, as well as on providing a secure, simple yet-sophisticated IT experience both in and outside of the office. You accomplish that by leveraging and managing cloud and on premise-based technologies and services, including applications.
SMB is always a good place to be, and the midmarket is a growing opportunity for channel partners. If there’s an area they can specialize in, I would absolutely take advantage of the expertise and build wallet share.
CompTIA: How are we going to get young people interested in a channel business, and how concerned are you about the aging of the channel?
Robinson: We need to be a better example of what a career in IT looks like. Showcase the success, and build a challenge and culture they will want to be a part of.
As for the second part of the question, I am not at all concerned. There are a ton of partners looking for an exit strategy, and even more looking to reinvent or grow their businesses. Technology is the place to be. There is room for everyone and we need to do a better job of showing people what a career in IT looks like, and what it isn’t.
CompTIA: Any other points to share?
Robinson: People need to take more risks and be more agile in 2017. You have to be willing to try different things and learn from failure. If you’re comfortable, get uncomfortable and identify one or more BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals) to go after. We only get one shot at this and if you’re not failing once in a while, you’re not challenging yourself enough.
Carolyn April is the Senior Director of Industry Analysis for CompTIA