Last week, the Penton Channel editors had the privilege of attending Channel Directions Live, Penton Technology’s second annual event for channel partners.

Kris Blackmon, Head of Channel Communities

September 27, 2016

5 Min Read
6 Takeaways from Penton Technology's Channel Directions Live 2016

Last week, the Penton Channel editors had the privilege of attending Channel Directions Live, Penton Technology’s second annual event for channel partners. The three-day event, held in Scottsdale, AZ, brought together hundreds of partners for a packed agenda of networking and education in the desert. 

That we’re an industry in transition isn’t news to anyone, but we were struck by how widespread the effects of that transition have become. It isn’t just what we’re selling that’s changing, it’s how we’re selling it, the business models we build to support it, the skills we develop to manage it and the relationships we forge to serve as a foundation for it all. The channel is in flux everywhere you look, but here are the conversations that stood out to us from our four days in Scottsdale. 

Kris Blackmon, Editor-in-Chief, The VAR Guy

1. Blurred Lines

At my workshop session, I sat around a table of 12 channel partners as they discussed the nature of products versus solutions. It isn’t enough to just sell one or the other anymore, as any VAR can tell you. Many service providers are experimenting with “solutions in a box,” packages of services, software and hardware presented as a customized, industry-specific solution for SMBs. It’s a beautiful idea, really. The customer has something they can physically touch, which is usually reassuring to non-IT savvy folks, and all of their services are wrapped up into one recurring cost, making it easy both for the client and the partner at billing time.

The genius behind it is that each customer feels as though they’re getting a solution built just for them, when in reality, the MSP has built an offering for one vertical or job function it can sell over and over again. It’s a lower-effort, higher-return offering that blurs the lines between hardware and services.

2. No Partner Is an Island

It’s all about end-to-end solutions these days. Customers want to pay one partner to handle all of their IT needs, but in today’s complex ecosystem, very few partners have the resources to build subject matter expertise in every area the customer needs.

Increasingly, channel companies are forming partner-to-partner alliances to help them serve the whole stack. Some vendors and distributors are starting to build programs that facilitate P2P alliances, but by and large, this is happening at the partner level. If you’re a whiz at data storage and backup but maybe not as strong in security as today’s threat landscape requires, find a partner that specializes in cybersecurity and needs some help building out its DRaaS offerings. Again, look for the simplest route to profit.

Nicole Henderson, Editor-in-Chief, Talkin' Cloud and The WHIR

3. Hiring Differently Could Help Us Hire Better​

It is clear that hiring is a challenge for everyone. Finding qualified candidates is the first hurdle, particularly in areas outside of main tech hubs where tech talent is sparse. But what if we could improve our chances by changing our approach?

Rob Rae, VP of business development at Datto, introduced an unconventional approach that he has used to find salespeople in a panel conversation, and pulled out a partner in the audience that recently had success with the approach. Instead of focusing on sales credentials, look for someone who is good at selling out in the wild. Have a great experience at a retail store with a sales associate? They could be your next high-performing salesperson.

The partner Rae pointed out said he poached a salesperson who was trying to sell him something. It’s unconventional, sure, but it can work. Don’t be afraid to try new methods if the old ones aren’t working. 

4. Cloud Isn’t One Size Fits All

Now this is something I’ve said before, and is certainly nothing new, but in conversations I had throughout the event this came up again and again. Clients have heard of the cloud, and they want it. After all, it’s the magic fix to all their woes, right? Not necessarily.

For service providers who truly want to be a trusted advisor, considering each customer's’ individual needs is critical. Giving a blanket cloud solution will not make your job easier, and it won’t fulfill the promise of cloud for your customer. 

Aldrin Brown, Editor-in-Chief, MSPmentor

5. Lattes and the IoT

Without overgeneralizing, there seemed to be a generational component to a debate in one CDL workshop over whether privacy or convenience is more important in an Interenet of Things (IoT) world.

A frequent subject in IoT discussions is Starbucks. The coffee shop giant already has a smartphone app that allows customers to order their favorite beverages and have it waiting for them when they arrive.

But why, pray tell, should a patron have to suffer the inconvenience of ordering at all?

Why can’t IoT sensors simply detect his phone as he approaches a certain distance from the store and simply ask on the screen whether he wants his usual grande latte macchiato with extra pumps of vanilla?

The comments of some of those who came of age before cell phone location services were ubiquitous suggests there could be a market opportunity for technologies that can help shield individuals from tracking by IoT devices.

6. Biometric Future

I had the opportunity to sit in on a fascinating session entitled “Preparing for the Future.” 

My small group was tasked with brainstorming ways in which MSPs might be able to monetize managed services around biometric recognition solutions.

Following two to three minutes of blank stares, the conversation heated up and by the time it ended, the team agreed there would be opportunities in network security and health care.

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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