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The pressure to be cutting edge in the channel

The industry is good at encouraging customers to buy the latest and greatest tech, but the channel often has to pick up the pieces when expectations fail to be met

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Are customers being pressured into buying technology too soon? It’s a question that arises after a report from Pure Storage found that 90% of IT buyers at companies with more than 500 employees admitted to buying technology their infrastructure could not support.

The report also found that 62% felt pressured all the time or often to make decisions on purchasing technology without exploring the consequences of these decisions in the longer term.

While the focus was on larger businesses, it’s likely to be true for many different types of companies. But why is this happening? Is the IT industry pushing new technology too hard and too fast? Is it pressurising customers too much?

Perhaps customers are too quick to buy new technology without thinking it through. There may be a role here for partners to give customers the advice they need to make better decisions on when and why to buy technology, with some partners perhaps guilty of rushing customers into buying technology too soon. If so, more should be done to help customers buy the right technology at the right time.

For Geoff Greenlaw, Pure Storage vice-president of partners for EMEA and Latin America, the findings reinforce the importance of the channel’s role to vendors and to customers.

“Our research findings point to the need for true partnerships between technology vendors and the channel, aiming to be trusted advisers for customers,” he says. “Partners and vendors should be striving to better understand customers’ current and future needs. They need to be thinking long term, rather than focusing solely on immediate requirements.”

He emphasises that partners should make sure they are up to date with the latest trends and how they affect customers. He cites the example of sustainability and developing awareness on topics such as Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. “What role can technology play in reducing emissions? These are areas [where] partners can differentiate themselves and help customers implement tech which is more energy efficient and supports the customers ESG-related goals.”

It’s also important that partners have a “deep understanding” of a vendor’s technology and invest the necessary time to achieve it. “With this solid grounding, when partners talk to customers, theyll have the full confidence that theyre not selling a fad, but a strategic choice which will help the customers now and in future,” Greenlaw says.

Balancing tech necessity 

Mark Benson, CTO at Logicalis UK&I, says the rapid pace of technological advancements and the fear of falling behind or missing out on the latest tech deployment can often lead to impulse purchases, adding that the rush to cloud computing during the pandemic was “the clearest example of this in recent years”.

“Now, on the other side of the pandemic, spending has been more carefully redirected towards cloud optimisation to achieve cost savings, improve performance, enhance security, and drive overall efficiency in their cloud operations,” he says. This means an increasing number of organisations are looking to MSPs for good housekeeping and optimisation in 2023.

It’s a question of balancing the temptation to embrace innovation with the need to adopt technology at a pace that aligns with the company’ goals and resources. “Luckily, support is readily available to help businesses navigate this fast-paced environment,” Benson states. “Third-party technology service providers assist businesses in carefully assessing their requirements, considering the value proposition of new technology, and evaluating the long-term benefits and costs before making any purchasing decisions.”

He emphasises that the right partner “will never pressure a customer into making IT choices. Instead, a quality partner will take the time to evaluate the performance, security and efficiency of a customer's existing technology infrastructure. These assessments help identify areas that require improvement or optimisation, ensuring that technology investments are made when necessary and justified”.

Steve Brigden, head of Cylera UK, observes that IT departments are under pressure because of the expectation on companies to react to customers and market demand. Teams are often “forced to react quickly so that they arent seen to be the roadblock to the required business changes”.

IT doesn’t get enough of a chance to look at all the potential available technology options properly, which means it could choose to go down the wrong path, says Brigden. The long history of over-hyped solutions in the IT industry doesn’t help, although he suggests that they are often being developed to address customer needs “and their time usually does come”.

No one should adopt technology for technology’s sake, he adds, but points out that the hype around new technologies can put pressure on customers. “Customers need time to analyse how best to derive and deploy proper business value from any new tech. I know of times where CEOs have gone to IT teams and asked what they are doing about certain technologies which increases the workload of the already over-busy IT teams, often resulting in more pressure being placed on the customer,” says Brigden.

[Teams are often] forced to react quickly so that they aren’t seen to be the roadblock to the required business changes
Steve Brigden, Cylera UK

Customers can also be guilty of buying new technology without thinking it through. Pressure from within the business to change can be intense and make it easy to adopt a solution tfor a short-term requirement that isnt necessarily the right solution going forward, says Brigden. The problem is that in a world where the nature of business is changing so rapidly, “it is almost an impossible task to correctly predict and deploy totally future-proof solutions every time”.

The good news from a channel perspective is that partners can play a huge role in helping a customer navigate between business strains and new technology. “This isnt easy though and requires the partner to really be that – a partner to the business – and help with their thinking, strategy, technology selection and deployment. Its about more than just pushing what is in their kit bag,” says Brigden.

But there are some partners who are guilty of rushing customers into buying technology. “There are still many partners focused on the fulfilment aspects of the sales cycle where the motivation is to sell tech quickly and move to the next. Even when this is couched in the relationship model of helping a customer with tech procurement, it is still a long way from being genuine advice from a strategic partner,” Brigden notes.

There are many more sophisticated partners, however, who are highly skilled in defining and selling solutions as opposed to technology. And they can add significant value to customers experiencing difficulty in reacting to their business demands. 

If partners want to ensure customers buy the right technology at the right time, they need to talk to them and understand their business issues. “Share their experiences with other customers who have had similar challenges,” says Brigden. “Be a partner to the customer. Create a shared vision with them.”

Not only will this approach help customers get the right solution for their needs and cut down on poor technology decisions, he says, but it will elevate the partner to a point where they really become indispensable to the customer.

Ash Finnegan, vice-president of go-to-market innovation and transformation at Conga, returns to the subject of vendor hype. “Vendors are always pushing the new hype cycle’ and customers are often pressured to adopt the latest technology to keep up with their competitors or because they are afraid they might miss out,” she says. “Too often, customers buy and implement new technology without considering how it may affect their business.”

Customers need to buy technology solutions or services only if they can be used or will improve their overall business performance. They should start by reviewing their internal processes and identifying key objectives before rolling out or implementing any new technology. “Only then will they be able to identify real areas of improvement and pick a solution that will truly improve their operations, align with their business goals and what they are trying to achieve,” adds Finnegan.

“[Vendors] have a responsibility not to push the latest technology solutions onto their customers, but to actively solve the challenges that customers are facing – and this often doesnt start with technology,” she says. “Instead, they should be focusing on establishing where customers stand within their transformation journeys and consider how best to support them.”

Security overload

According to Carlos Morales, senior vice-president of solutions at Vercara, security is a good case in point of an area where customers are facing “technology overload” because of the speed of technology innovation, the pace at which companies evolve strategies and the rate of change across the threat landscape.

“IT departments are under constant pressure to deliver the capabilities the business expects, meet operational KPIs, as well as work within evolving governance, risk and compliance (GRC) requirements all while hardening resultant assets and applications to external threats,” he says. “Combine this with the fact that the vendor landscape, from startups to established companies, has grown extremely broad, and new ideas and solutions are constantly being pitched, resulting in a quagmire of technology decisions.”

Morales says he was “astounded by the sheer number of suppliers and solutions that were represented on the show floor” after attending the recent RSA conference, “and this is just a portion of the cyber security companies in the market”. He recalls that one of the CISO’s that Vercara met didn’t remember what he wanted to talk about because he was so overwhelmed with inputs.

“Couple this with all the other technology choices businesses must make, including infrastructure, cloud adoption, traffic delivery, monitoring, reporting, and others, and it becomes readily apparent why some decisions are made hastily without sufficient vetting,” says Morales.

Partners and MSSPs in the security space can help. “[Represent] a much-reduced set of technologies that you can integrate into customer environments. Good partners can provide platforms that deliver multiple services that are already integrated together as well as provide best practices around other technologies that work together,” says Morales.

He agrees that some partners and MSSPs are likely to push technology and vendor agendas when suggesting solutions so customers need to take care when choosing providers, including understanding their install base of customers and communicating with customers that have used the partners’ services.

A strategic approach

Kerstin Demko, vice-president marketing at Brivo, says: “[Enterprise IT] is a victim of its own success. So much value has been extracted from existing IT solutions in the workplace that theres a massive number of startups and established players pursuing the dream of bringing just one more killer app to market.”

She adds that there has been “a mushrooming of IT solutions and aggressive sales tactics aimed at decision-makers”, which has been exacerbated by email and LinkedIn, stating: “All of this can be dizzying to navigate.”

Demko believes that channel partners should be spending a large portion of their time and effort helping customers navigate when and why to buy technology. “Partners that dont rush customers into a purchase can boast versatile expertise when it comes to integrations and hold a deep familiarity with key vendors, and their solutions are primed to drive the very best results for customers,” she says.

The most successful partners will be the ones who support customers throughout the entire lifecycle of the sale
Andy Corcoran, VMware

However, Andy Corcoran, UK&I channel sales director at VMware, is sceptical that customers are being pressured to buy new technology. “This isnt something that I recognise within the industry to be honest,” he says. “Given the current climate, every procurement department is treating every pound as a prisoner.” Neither does he believe that customers are making any purchasing decisions without careful consideration of what the return on investment will be.

But he agrees with Demko that there is a clear role for partners to help customers make informed decisions about technology purchases and walk them through how they can best make use of the technologies they have procured, adding: “The most successful partners will be the ones who support customers throughout the entire lifecycle of the sale.”

Richard Farrell, CIO at Netcall, believes one of the issues could be a mismatch between the timescales of the sellers and buyers. Sellers are under pressure to meet financial targets, but buyers need to consider the long-term, sometimes over several years. “This builds friction between sellers pushing to close deals and buyers that really want a more considered approach,” he says.

He accepts that customers can sometimes buy technology “for the fear of missing out – when its not necessarily required”, but adds: “Customers can also be too slow and overthink which new technologies to invest in, seeking the perfect technology rather than much better than today. It is about finding the balance of knowing when to buy, and if it is needed.”

As for partners, he says it’s important to understand that many are having to operate with tight margins and cash flow constraints. “Its important to find the balance when it comes to giving advice to customers regarding new technology and needing to maintain a positive cash flow – some partners need to keep selling,” he says.

Ben Johnson, CEO at BML Digital, says: “It is vital that any organisation about to spend on the latest technology has some way of pumping the brakes – as long as it serves a purpose. Before spending substantial amounts on implementing new systems – especially at the transformative level – a review of existing technical infrastructure is essential.

“The consistent truth is that most companies will be amazed by what can be achieved by strategically implementing what they already have, rather than investing in the latest killer tech.”

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