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Journey to the cloud: Are vendors doing enough for the channel?

Billy MacInnes asks whether vendors are doing enough for their channel partners to help them transition to selling cloud-based services

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: MicroScope: MicroScope: November 2016

There’s a little black lining in the cloud success story for channel partners, with many suggesting vendors aren’t doing enough to help them make the transition to selling cloud-based services, according to research from the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF) and Intermedia. The research found that nearly half (47%) would like more guidance on issues such as contracts and SLAs and 44% needed additional technical support.

The CIF research also identified three common roadblocks for channel organisations selling cloud services: as many as 82% viewed cultural changes within the organisation as a challenge, 81% admitted to having suffered from staff shortages and 80% revealed they had experienced difficulties with the cloud marketing and positioning.

Alex Hilton, CEO of CIF, says the findings show the channel is “clearly struggling when it comes to cloud deployments and missing out on major opportunities as a result”. While user adoption of cloud-based services has exploded in recent years, the channel “hasn’t been able to keep up with demand”.

But are the vendors listening? What can be done to ensure partners are getting all the assistance they need to meet their customers' demands for cloud-based services?

Neil Bramley, Toshiba Europe B2B PC business unit director, accepts that the pace of the cloud evolution has “provided some challenges for the channel”. The greater cloud market may exceed $500bn by 2020 according to IDC but “a one-size fits all approach for cloud services is no longer viable and hasn’t been for some time”. He agrees that it is incumbent on vendors to ensure partners have “the right training and support, as well as providing new cloud services that help differentiate and aid new business working practices”.

Kevin Sparks, director of alliances and channels for Dell EMC UK & Ireland, believes “it’s important vendors help resellers sell the right cloud services to customers and help resellers collaborate within their VAR and cloud service provider ecosystems. The priority is in providing complete cloud solutions that customers want from on premise, off premise and hybrid”. Like Bramley, he emphasises the importance of training and also the move by some cloud providers to “include security in their service level agreements to offer a guarantee of protection on data”.

For Albie Attias, managing director at King of Servers, the priority for vendors should be to provide comprehensive training and marketing collateral for resellers to sell cloud-based services more effectively. In some instances, he reveals, “salespeople at a reseller may have no previous experience in selling cloud-based products and selling hardware such as servers and networking equipment is completely different to selling these services”.

He argues that, “to a reasonable extent, it is the vendor’s responsibility to ensure its product is being sold correctly”. This requires full demos of the software and a dedicated session with the reseller’s sales staff “to ensure they are entirely confident of what they are selling”. That doesn’t always happen and “the absence of a face to face training session has been detrimental to developing the detailed understanding required to do the selling job justice”.

Michael Frisby, managing director at Vuzion (and parent company Cobweb Solutions), accepts that the transition to cloud service provider can be “daunting” for many resellers and they need help “keeping sellers current on ever-green cloud services, re-architecting solution implementation and customer support, through to implementing an efficient billing solution”. Vendors such as Microsoft are “laying the foundations to help resellers make the switch” but resellers “also need help that traditional distributors aren’t set up to provide”.

He argues that providing partners with an easy to use transactional platform to order cloud services from “is just the starting point. Helping resellers modernise their marketing, by providing ready to go campaigns and customer engagement content for use across multiple communication channels, is a key component to help them acquire more customers.”

Frisby add that resellers need to be aware of the importance of “complementary services such as Billing-as-a-Service and Support-as-a-Service offerings” in helping them to move to the cloud with an efficient operational platform. He points out, for example, that “with more than 2,800 “billing counters” in Azure, which all produce a billing record every hour, it is very easy for all of the margin and more to be used up just working out each customer’s bill every month!”

Richard Lockey, UK country manager at Crayon Group, says “close collaboration” between vendors, distributors and customers is required in the move to a cloud-based service model. “Where contracts and SLAs are concerned, they need to be fully backed up with service offerings that deliver against the SLAs,” he warns. And vendors need to provide a level of flexibility where back to back agreements are needed, as different clients have varied requirements.

He adds that vendors need to be aware that making the move to a cloud-based reseller model “can cause some short term pain for the reseller, especially those that have had to invest heavily in staffing and management platforms and can no longer rely on one-off infrastructure deals to keep the cash flowing”.

Simon Skellon, UK vice president at Mitel, says the onus is on vendors to be supportive of partners in an increasingly diverse ecosystem so that they “can respond to carious customer requirements and drive growth”. As part of its proposition, the vendor provides partners “with full contract and SLA back up to guarantee high performance”. It also provides training on the company’s technology, the various software upgrades, the benefits and how they apply across different verticals.

By using open standards based products, partners can “easily integrate cloud services into other applications and industry standards. With Mitel Cloud solutions they can build their own bundles with partner-centric SLAs or they can offer white label products with market-based SLAs for cloud”. He adds that with budgets shrinking across the board, vendors “need to work closely with their partners and fine tune training so that they are fully equipped to respond to these changes quickly”.

Bruce Park, vice president EMEA channel & alliances at Commvault, says partners are having to define their roles in a cloud-based future. “Are they going to be a cloud builder for customers or a cloud services provider – or simply a reseller?,” he asks. Smart vendors “should be delivering service and cloud enablement programmes based on advanced curricula and certifications” that allow partners to “build even deeper expertise and practices around cloud based services through to health check services. This allows partners to enhance their value to customers by delivering business outcomes and higher margin opportunities”.

Giovanni Di Filippo, EMEA vice president channel sales at Riverbed Technology, believes vendors need to be constantly evolving their cloud enablement initiatives, “just like the cloud market itself”. They need to enable partners to cross-sell as many technologies as possible. “The more vendors offer their partners technology that integrates smoothly with other vendor product offerings, the easier it is for them,” he remarks.

“Resellers need to know how to sell cloud consulting services as well as cloud solutions,” he adds. Vendors and partners can work together to provide customer support that is proactive rather than reactive. Cloud requires “high engagement from customers and partners need to be ready to provide support at the drop of a hat if they want to avoid churn. Vendors can help with incentivised managed service and enablement programmes, comprehensive training and leading edge subscription licensing methods”.

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