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Fundamental principles for channel business success

Steven Santini, UK&I channel director of Schneider Electric, shares his thoughts around just what underpins a winning approach

Throughout 2020, IT channel organisations have experienced huge disruption in their day-to-day business. For many, this meant that they had to quickly adapt to remote working, meet a shift in demand from their customers, and provide expert guidance as digital transformation projects have accelerated.

Stories of declining sales have been a regular occurrence, yet many businesses are flourishing as they navigate these turbulent times. Figures from channel analyst Canalys reports a 4% growth in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) channel in the first three-quarters of 2020. This compares to an overall EMEA GDP decline of 9% during the same period.

So what has been the secret of to this success? I believe that for today’s channel organisations there are a consistent and fundamental principles that have been, and remain, crucial for partners who have seen positive outcomes during a very challenging 2020.

Position as a value-added partner

Long-term relationships are built on the value that partners provide to the customer and have always been paramount for channel organisations. Frankly, it has never been more important to go the extra mile than it is now, and today I see it as an opportunity to strengthen your relationships, providing guidance and consultation to customers navigate these uncertain times.

To achieve this, it is crucial to have a thorough knowledge of end-user business needs and the outcomes they want to achieve. Transactional or one-off sales that demonstrate little additional value to the customer are no longer enough – partners must be a trusted adviser and serve as a key part of their business.

Communication remains essential and partners need to speak with customers about how they can help them reduce costs, improve productivity or streamline their operations. The most successful channel businesses know that talking to end-users about their objectives can truly help partners to understand how they can help customers accomplish their goals across the organisation, and that a value-added approach will help engender loyalty, while generating greater long-term commercial opportunities.

Relationship with key vendors

The pandemic caused an acceleration in digital transformation projects, but at the same time, the early days of the coronavirus saw supply chain issues that affected the delivery of technology.

It is fundamentally important that partners maintain strong relationships and open lines of communication with vendors to ensure they can access product, keep customers abreast of stock levels, meet demanding timescales and find themselves in the perfect position to support and serve customer needs. Further, having a partnership with vendors who have a resilient global supply chain and a consistent track record for delivery is essential.

For channel success, strong, equitable partnerships between partner organisations and vendors are, and have always been, a must. The ability to work on business planning together, for example, means vendors can better support partner goals and tailor their engagement accordingly.

Additionally, many vendors have stepped up to help partners with financial incentives, extending certifications, sales enablement or by providing free training during this period, which have helped maintain operations during this time.

Rapid adaptability to changing demands

In 2020, customers relied on technology – and those providing it – to ensure they maintain an advantage in a fast-moving and competitive landscape. The case for agility was truly proven this year. Not only were organisations forced to establish new remote workforces almost overnight, but technology projects that might have been on the back burner suddenly became a priority.

It is therefore important that partners have a clear understanding of their customers’ technology strategy and desired outcomes. They must ask the right questions, drive the conversation and look to truly understand what it is the customer is trying to achieve and the strategy behind it. Successful partners seek to learn what they can do to support customers, rather than to sell.

At the same time, partners also need the courage to put forward disruptive new technologies that are better suited to their customer’s goals. Here, having a better understanding of the overarching strategy will offer a better perspective of what they’re trying to achieve, but partners must also have the confidence to guide, educate – or, in some cases, disagree – with the customer and suggest an alternative solution if they believe it is going to be of the best value to the user.

With budgets tightening and procurement teams having ever-more watchful eyes, a conversation framed on business outcomes and return on investment (ROI) is essential.

Strong managed services and cloud offering

Finally, 2020 has created a disrupted and distributed workforce with multiple IT endpoints to manage. Many organisations’ internal IT teams are over stretched as they try to ensure this new workforce is fully supported and secure working from home. Many have turned to the cloud to support distributed access to critical applications, and managed services to ensure availability of technology to workers.

Partners must understand how new technologies and managed services can free up time and resources for customers, while helping to accelerate their digital transformation goals or other revenue-generating business activities.

Furthermore, with the closure of offices and facilities, access to physical IT installations has been a significant challenge for many. IT visibility and having the ability to adapt to annuity-based revenue can provide a more shock-resistant and reliable source of income during disruptive times. Partners must ask themselves how digital services fit with the business model, and how they can use new technologies to add value to customers.

In summary, the value you bring as a channel partner is the expertise you provide to the customer, the strength of your relationship with vendors, and your ability to adapt or remain flexible in an unpredictable climate.

Those partners that go beyond the ‘call of duty’ for their customers will find they can weather most storms in the long-term. This means offering guidance, consultancy, value and support to end-users that really needed it most.

The partners who are adaptable and flexible to the customer’s requirements and aren’t afraid to embrace new technologies will find great success. This also requires the confidence, tenacity and an attitude that is prepared to disrupt the conversation with end-users, and move away from just delivering on the basic requirements.

Ultimately, it’s not just about the transition towards digital services, but truly adding value in the quest to deliver rapid digital transformation in these unprecedented times. With potentially unpredictable challenges ahead, I believe those who succeed will prioritise service over sales.

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