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The Changing Focus of Power Talks

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By Daniel Margolis

A shift in the IT customer and IT businesses themselves were the themes of two Power Talk sessions held this month at CompTIA’s Annual Member Meeting at the Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego.

The theme of the first was “Power Talk: The New IT Decision Maker," hosted by Carolyn April, director, industry analysis, market research for CompTIA. The four panelists were Paul Cronin, senior vice president and director with Atrion Networking; Leonard DiMiceli, general manager and channel chief with Novotera; Vlad Mazek, CEO of Exchange Defender; and Michael Romero, vice president with SAP Mobile.

The opening theme of the Power Talk was that the customer for IT services is now often not the CIO or the IT department of companies. Now, it’s likely to be other people in businesses; perhaps a procurement officer or even the president. There’s been a shift in purchasing power toward executives.

This requires a change in dynamic about how IT companies sell; they can’t just talk about technology anymore. They have to instead build a business relationship with customers and build a different type of front line.

At the same time, IT companies are contending with a generational shift; as management of companies will largely move from the baby boomers to millennials in the next decade. Millennials have had access to tools like the Internet and smartphones their entire lives, so are very comfortable with it. This will profoundly affect how companies sell tech.

April began the assessment by asking what’s changing in the customer landscape and particularly if CompTIA’s assessment of the field as described above is correct.

DiMiceli agreed, especially in the field of security. There, he said, the customer is not the IT staff. Romero immediately noted the consumerization of IT, particularly around mobile and the ongoing generational shift occurring in business. He said that has required a great deal of knowledge transfer from baby boomers to millennials. Mazek, meanwhile, said he has seen change in who initially contacts his company about finding solutions, but not change in who actually owns the process.

DiMiceli said it’s difficult to find new customers; that it’s better if they come to you. Mazek added that it’s not hard for customers to find your competitors and compare your prices to theirs, but that cheapest doesn’t necessarily win if IT companies know how to articulate their value.

April then asked the panel how the audience — meaning IT solution providers — appeals to many stakeholders now if they’re seeing a situation where the initial contact on a job may not be its actual owner. According to Mazek, it just comes down to people skills. He added that the biggest mistake MSPs have made is modeling their marketing after Microsoft’s, which sells to IT people.

April redirected the conversation to cloud. How, April asked, does that change everything and how do solution provides differentiate themselves? What are the pain points here?

Mazek advised against competing with large companies. “You’re not going to spend time trying to shave a fraction of a cent off cost," he said. Instead, he recommended IT companies focus on how integrated their services are. DiMiceli’s take was that while cloud is disruptive, there’s opportunity in it, and that companies should be less solution providers and more thought leaders. Cronin added, “What our clients have told us is the number one thing we can help them with is to make the right decision and then figure out how to implement it."

April then asked the panel how solution providers can articulate their identity when they may be providing a whole range of services. According to Cronin, the customer wants to believe you have qualifications, but that’s limiting. You need to start with a conversation about your customer’s needs. Mazek added that any brand messaging a company puts in front of a customer needs to have a strategic voice. “You can’t advertise with the Queen’s English thrown in a flyer or magazine," he said.

The second Power Talk session at AMM was a panel hosted by Dan Wensley, founder and president of Plan 27. The panel consisted of Jason Bystrak, senior director, the Americas at Ingram Micro Cloud; Vince Tinnirello, CEO of Anchor Network Solutions, Inc.; and Ryan Morris with Morris Management Partners. The Power Talk focused on business agility, particularly asking why, when and how IT companies should change, and what are the factors and methods channel partners can and should use to change.

As for why IT businesses should change, Tinnirello simply stated they should because their customers need them to. Bystrak added that this gives IT companies the ability to capture new opportunities. Morris compared the bottom line here to a scoreboard in sports. “At the end of the day, you have to make money," he said. “This can’t just be an interesting hobby." He said the best change is proactive and voluntary, not forced and begrudged. He recommended that companies be unafraid to fail in changing, but also had a warning for the audience. “If you’re experimenting with trusted customers, you’ll get fired from the legacy business as well as the new business."

As for when IT businesses should change, Tinnirello recommended doing so when they determine the right products to meet their customers’ needs. Morris recommended doing so when a company has the money to dedicate enough resources and when you see how change is affecting your competition. “We need to learn others’ lessons," he said. “That requires eyes on the market." Bystrak said, “We need to set vision and strategy at a macro level but make timing decisions on a micro level."

As for how IT businesses should change, Morris cited the term systems theory — drawing from this theory the conclusion that if you improve one part of a process, you have to improve all of it. He explained that failure to do this can produce, for example, a situation where salesmen improve creating new business that the tech side of a company can’t execute on. “If you think about making change, think it through all the way to the end," Morris said.

 “You just have to be ready for change," Tinnirello said. “Hire people who can roll with it and are ready to try different fixes on the fly." Bystrak added, “Good people are good people. It’s really a matter of building a culture for change and to fail fast."

Daniel Margolis is manager, communications editor at CompTIA.

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