Column by Rob Kurver, CEO and Co-founder Voipro, CBM, November 2012
The telecom and IT distribution channel is struggling with an identity crisis in a fast-changing world. On one hand, telecommunications falls under ICT and it’s necessary to amass knowledge in that field. On the other hand, services and solutions are quickly replacing products. Hardware and software distribution is shifting rapidly both to online stores and to the cloud or SaaS — as is the entire sales process. So, what is the role of the classic telecommunications reseller or IT service provider? How do you earn the title of trusted advisor and then hold onto that title?
A Small Problem
Following the example of consumers — so many of whom are paying for travel, books, music and clothing online — the way businesses purchase technology has also changed enormously in recent years. An estimated 50 to 80 percent of the sales process in the US takes place without involving a salesperson, and the trend is coming this way quickly. This can be attributed to the fast-growing popularity of the cloud and SaaS, in addition to the Internet and social media. All the information is available online. It is easy to read the experiences of existing users, and buyers only approach the salesperson once they know more or less what they want. With the help of their marketing departments, suppliers ensure that they make it to the shortlist and, in the final stage, supplier and reseller sales organizations face the challenge of exerting any influence and adding value. If they don’t, they will become completely superfluous and the entire process will go online. That’s fine for the supplier; but for the reseller, less so.
The more a product or service is considered to be a commodity, the harder it will be for resellers to add value. Here, too, sales are moving rapidly from resellers to online. The problem with the cloud and SaaS is that buyers are unfamiliar with them and afraid to take the plunge. However, the more these solutions take hold and suppliers continue to improve the information they provide, all that will change in the time to come. Consumerism will conquer the channel.
Only complex solutions will continue to make their way through the channel to SME, and it is there that the added value must take the form of highly specialized knowledge. The reseller must act as an integrator, creating customized solutions that make use of standard components. Either that or he must be considered a trusted advisor and understand the customers and the context in which they operate. He must know which standard products and services they find relevant, and what impact they have on business practices. Complex sales processes of this kind require new and more extensive knowledge about such issues as funnel management and strategic selling, subjects that were once part of the enterprise segment. Training and coaching are crucial, here.
Most IT distributors also see the change in the channel and are searching hungrily for support there in combined solutions (in its cloud aggregator role) and in the form of knowledge, training and guidance. One good example is the Ingram Micro Channel Transformation Alliance (CTA) which offers a variety of training courses and certification programs. And with a view to the major challenges lying ahead, precisely in the commercial sector, we can see sales specialists like Coleman Borg focusing their sales training and coaching on this channel and entering into new alliances. Transformation doesn’t happen by itself, and the tempo is fast. Where do you want to be in two years from now? Are you investing in new know-how, or are you just hoping for the best?
Click here to see the article (in Dutch).