By Craig Schlagbaum
At Comcast we decided to call our channel partners “Solutions Providers" for a reason. Customers demand solutions from their trusted IT advisers and our partners provide them. They identify business challenges their customers have and then work with their technology vendors to find solutions. This is why many in our industry believe it’s time for the telecom channel to move away from a focus on pure telecom services and more towards solution-oriented sales. And it’s time for VARs to take advantage of the customers’ thirst for bandwidth and be able to sell telecom services themselves or bring in a telecom agent as their partner.
There are nearly 4,000 agent companies along with 160,000 VAR companies selling technology solutions today. Here at Comcast, we work with many of them to accommodate the customers’ desire to work through an outside distribution channel to handle their growing needs. But, we must always challenge ourselves to continue to adapt to change in the market.
At a recent Cloud Services Community webinar, "The Impact of the Cloud on the Channel," the discussion centered around why partners need to broaden their expertise. VIRGO's CEO John Siefert hosted the call and one of the panelists commented that when partners are working with customers, the first conversation should always be based on the business requirement and not the specific technology.
We agree 100 percent! With the disruptive changes that the cloud brings and with a move toward providing complete solutions, it is even more important to look at your business through this lens. Customers will demand it!
Traditional telecom agents may want to begin by partnering with VARs to exchange leads and perhaps even consider M&A activities. VARs may want to leverage the underlying piece of the solution that enables new applications, cloud services and more, which is appropriate, scalable bandwidth. So, now is the perfect time to segue into a new and exciting business model.
Here is how one VAR did it.
Eitechs Technology Solutions, a Chicago area VAR, is finding great success as a Comcast Solutions Provider. While their customer approach is always about selling solutions, CEO Jim Mazzarella leverages Comcast as a door opener and a great way to begin a solution discussion with his customers.
“We find that customers will listen when we offer them a less expensive, faster, more reliable connection," said Mazzarella. “And this leads into why they need more bandwidth and what their business challenges are. Our health care customers, for instance, can’t take advantage of many of the new applications available today without it. Their patient care suffers if they don’t have this in place."
This approach then becomes the starting point for Eitechs Technology Solutions to move into discussing other IT solutions they offer. Data connectivity is critical and by offering Comcast Business Class solutions, Eitechs Technology Solutions gives the customers what they need while realizing a recurring revenue stream along with their core offerings.
A recent survey we conducted of 1,260 companies validates this with a whopping 70 percent of companies seeing network connectivity as essential, strategic or transformational. It is a core change into the world of cloud.
By adding a true telecom solutions focus and becoming aligned with the Comcast Solutions Provider Program, Eitechs Technology Solutions has been able to reshape its business for the changing times ahead. It is this movement in the market that provides all of our “Solutions Providers" with increased opportunities; and it is this “solution" that will keep our mutual customers happy as we continue to evolve in a manner that not only meets their needs but also how they wish to buy. After all, that is what a channel program is all about.
Craig Schlagbaum is the vice president of indirect channel sales for Comcast Business Class . In this role, he manages Comcast's indirect channel partner team and the overall indirect channel programs for business services. Prior to Comcast, Schlagbaum managed the indirect channel team for Level 3 Communications. He has spent more than 21 years in various indirect channel roles in sales, marketing and business development, and has been recognized as a top channel executive by Channel Partners magazine. He also is a member of the 2012-13 Channel Partners Advisory Board.