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With its background in networking, collaboration and security, distributor Westcon-Comstor finds itself operating in a market that is reaching out for all of those aforementioned technologies.
The shift to hybrid working and the need for improved security has given the distributor decent growth this year and represents an opportunity that its channel customers can tap into.
David Grant, CEO of Westcon-Comstor, said that the shift towards hybrid working had also come at a time when there was a demand for a zero-trust approach, with the challenge being one that the channel could help to solve.
“A lot of end-user organisations are going through these hybrid-working changes. It’s a fantastic opportunity for partners to talk to their customers about how they can help them to accommodate the changes and embrace them in their business,” he said. “There’s a huge opportunity that we and our partners are very well-positioned to help navigate the user community through.”
Westcon-Comstor is not just sitting back and taking the calls for the networking, collaboration and security kit – it has been actively expanding its vendor portfolio by adding more security players this year, and it has been investing in improving the processes to make life easier for partners and vendors.
A big part of its activities have been on the data front, with it gathering information generated by its sales staff over the past three years and mapping that information over vendor data and plans for promotions and launches.
The result is an improved solution lifecycle offering that Grant believes its the way distribution should be using data to its advantage. A lot of focus goes into landing and renewing business, but there is also scope for expanding and additional services that partners could be tapping into.
Getting data insights into vendor programmes and promotions, customer renewals and other market insights will provide a reseller with much more detailed information, as well as the chance to be more proactive.
“It’s important to put the data in the hands of a partner six-to-three months before the opportunity so that they can work with it,” said Grant, when discussing the benefits of sharing data insights with its reseller base.
At the back end, the distributor uses a global SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) system so its sales staff are able to have a wide range of information about a vendor and partner at their finger tips. Efforts have been made to introduce more automation into services with a zero-touch quote – something that is being piloted with a couple of vendors.
Grant said that when Westcon-Comstor used information it already had on a partner and gave them the chance to go through a quote system, it was able to generate a quote in around 40 minutes rather than the usual few hours.
“We continue to invest in our own process, improvements and efficiencies, to allow our staff to spend more time with our customers adding value rather than just focusing on administration,” said Grant.
Westcon-Comstor has also been looking at ways that it can help more partners that are relying on capital expenditure (capex revenues) to move to a subscription-based mode. The distributor has been piloting a Flex option with a select few vendors, which is being readied to be made available more widely.
Under Flex, a partner can gain access to financing that will enable it to sell subscriptions but operate as if it was still getting the revenues in capex form. Grant said that there were some partners that were in a position to do that for themselves, but there was a significant number that were interested in financial support from the distributor, therefore Flex will become embedded as an option.
Grant was also keen to talk about people and encourage the channel to lean on its expertise and access the system architects and experts that it already has across the business.
The assumption is often that when a customer faces a skills problem, either due to a lack of internal resources or simply because of a training gap, then the channel can step in. But many resellers also face the same pressures to get staff and don’t have the branding that other larger vendors can lean on to attract people in.
Grant added that the distributor takes on apprentices and interns and is keen to develop the next-generation of talent to make sure that the skills that are lacking among customers can be found in the channel.
The staff at Westcon-Comstor, as across the channel, have displayed a commitment to supporting customers through the pandemic that has gone far beyond just processing sales. Grant praised the people across the business for the efforts made over what had again been a pandemic-affected year.
“Our staff are supporting our bookings, not our invoice value. So, they’re supporting a lot more business than our P&L [profit and loss statement] would reflect. They’re all very busy, but they are doing a fantastic job to deliver the results that we are seeing,” he said.
The business is also adapting to a hybrid world itself, with Grant saying that the company’s staff across the world had been an asset to the business during the pandemic, and that it recognised their value and was working to ensure that all of its people felt comfortable as it navigated the future.
“We are working very hard to make sure that people feel valued in the business, whether they continue to work remotely or back into the offices,” he added.
In terms of looking ahead, the component shortage – which has been a problem for the whole industry – will continue to overshadow 2022, but with the continued swing towards hybrid working the expectation is that the existing market momentum will carry on.
“We recently started our fourth quarter, and we think we’re going to finish the year in a strong position. We would expect next year to see a continuation of the strong demand for our portfolio. As we bring to market even more completely, I think some of the initiatives that I’ve talked about will attract more partners and will allow our partners to be even more productive,” Grant concluded.