Modesty is not normally a charge you could level at anyone in the IT business, but do you ever wonder if our distributors don’t know their own strength?
They operate in one of the toughest trading environments in business. Tech stock moves only slightly slower than the money markets, and is marginally less fickle than showbiz, but for overall brutality, the IT business is the hardest game of all.
Westcoast is a case in point. Tech Data’s acquisition of Avnet Technology Solutions brought its two most capable competitors together. Then Nuvias bought Wick Hill, Ingram Micro got Comms-Care for services and sold out to a Chinese mega-conglomerate, then Exertis got itself a Hammer.
Wise words from Westcoast
At HPE’s Global Partner Summit 2019 in June, Westcoast was named its UK & Ireland distributor of the year. Wesley Lawrance, Westcoast’s tech solutions commercial director, explains why partner conferences are making a comeback and distributors are coming on even stronger.
“The adoption of public cloud would see us struggling to continue to sell infrastructure. There was a view that we wouldn’t be able to evolve fast enough. Well, we’ve all flatly proved that wrong,” says Lawrance.
What are the lessons for us all here?
“I don’t think the market expected us to invest in the way we have,” says Lawrance. “We are investing in people, creating new IT platforms and building new capability.”
Westcoast took drastic action, splitting the business into three clear tracks: commercial, technical and sales. The biggest change was to the sales team.
Wesley Lawrance, Westcoast
“We went from having generalist sales that sold across the wider portfolio to a focused team with just HPE and Juniper,” says Lawrance.
As often happens, a tighter, more restrictive brief gave Westcoast staff more freedom to be creative, rather than try to cover all bases. They became more proactive with partners and spent more time understanding their customers’ needs and providing the right solution to each problem.
Warehouse space isn’t a factor at Westcoast, since 80% of the business goes through a direct delivery model. As a result, the distributor’s culture hasn’t really had to change, which is great because that’s an operation that many patients don’t recover from.
“We set big, aggressive goals and will find a way to achieve them,” says Lawrance.
What lessons do you pass on to your partners? What are the scariest challenges for resellers? Gambling on a new direction for their business must present them with a raft of options.
The biggest issue is the skills gap, according to Lawrance. While there is plenty of desire to sell services, the hard bit is “sealing the deal”. Getting the reseller over the line is something that has to be planned from the early stages – you can’t just rush in and push them over! Which is why Westcoast has had to evolve to nurture talent and provide the support – in the form of co-selling expertise and consultancy – to help partners grow.
“We want to be that support so that the partner can begin to get involved without having to make risky investments before the business is there. In time, we will get the partner to the point where they rely on our people less and can be more self-sufficient,” says Lawrance.
That sounds very touchy-feely – almost like a nursery. What are the frustrations with bringing up resellers? Are they still failing to get accreditation, making false economies, giving away margins, cutting corners and not behaving like grown-ups?
“Good guess! Gaining a good understanding of the compensation plans on offer from the vendors is a good start, but the key thing is getting aligned with the right people, both in the distie and the vendor. Forging close relationships can bring so much, and I sometimes feel there isn’t enough time made for this,” says Lawrance.
Maybe nobody has time for relationship building. Maybe that’s why nobody goes to events any more. Has that changed? What enthused you about HPE’s Summit?
There was a spell where innovation slowed and the strategy became unclear, says Lawrance. However, under Antonio Neri, the HPE game plan has been set and the execution has dramatically improved.
Wesley Lawrance, Westcoast
The focus has moved to high-margin, high-growth solution areas. “HPE invested in the right things to bolster its portfolio,” says Lawrance. The research and development has paid off, as is exemplified by the Primergy platform. The acquisition of vendors such as Nimble, Cloud Cruiser, Cray and even Aruba means HPE has everything needed for any company’s digital transformation.
In the bad old days of IT distribution, when it was run by some really rough characters, digital transformation would have meant breaking someone’s fingers! It’s a lot nicer these days, but still lean and mean enough to provide a boot camp in survival skills.
Channel opportunities from iland
Meanwhile, in the cloud, iland is unveiling its global partner programme across six continents. The good news is there are expanded opportunities for its regional partners.
To be fair to iland, it has undergone a metamorphosis that has doubled the company’s annual channel revenue.
Now it is ramping up the global channel sales programme, so there must be some opportunity for anyone out there who wants to offer secure cloud backup, infrastructure and disaster recovery services.
The new programme includes a partner portal for training, certification and sales management. A cloud assessment tool helps partners and customers plan and manage their data and workloads in the cloud.
This could be ideal for anyone moving to the cloud for the first time or trusting their infrastructure to a complex hybrid cloud environment, according to Koorosh Khashayar, vice-president of iland global channels.
There are three ways to make money: refer a customer to iland and collect commission; resell iland services; or offer iland’s platform as a part of a larger service offering.
Highs and lows
So there you have a tale of two disties.
Revolutionary technology can give you the best of times, and the worst of times. The spring of hope and the winter of despair.
There are regular blood baths in the channel, and you must stay away from the guillotine.