The channel journey

Ian French looks back over the evolution of the channel and shares his thoughts about those changes and some of the developments to come

Having started in IT sales in 1981, I have experienced many changes. Back then, it would have been unimaginable that the early iterations of channel programmes would morph into current models. But it is certain now that there will be ever-accelerated change which must be understood and embraced.

In the 1980s, there was no email, there were no mobile phones, and the “systems” were largely manual entry. There were no customer relationship management (CRM) systems – customers were managed by phone and face-to-face visits, and orders were submitted by phone or letter.

As personal computers and networks evolved and software became more useful(ish), the channel models became more efficient, but the basics came from the manufacturers – my main products came from Epson, Canon, Panasonic, Apricot, Silver Reed, and so on, and my first mobile phone was a “brick” with an aerial and battery life of about 20 minutes.

The evolution of channels was to simply find routes to market and sales – by any means. If you could buy two printers, for example, you could be a reseller, and if you could buy five, you were a distributor. This is still basically the rule of thumb and very few manufacturers or software providers have single engagement models.

Omnichannel is here to stay and it is simply a matter of efficiency, and customer and product knowledge. Any partner that does not really know its customers and the products and services it offers is doomed – indeed, many have disappeared over the past 40 years.

What has emerged is a super-sophisticated channel which allows no weaknesses and must be super-efficient. Margins in the 1980s and 1990s were often between 10% and 25% and allowed much inefficiency – and many awesome marketing junkets.

The sophistication of products and complex software solutions, plus the development of services-based engagement, have driven new models such as managed services and aggregated offerings, but there will always be a need for devices, and users demand as few supply points as possible. Most do not really care where they source, or from whom, and will generally buy from the best provider based on service and price.

Increasingly, the need to genuinely understand voice will catch out many resellers and distributors.

Innovation and great training and people-based cultures have enabled great companies to dominate – think Westcoast, Softcat, Computacenter, Microsoft, and so on. Many partners are still managed by beancounters and administrators, but great salespeople and product experts are essential.

I still love and am involved in various channel activities, and I’m fascinated to see what will come next.

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