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Women in the Channel is a grassroots organization promoting opportunities for women in the technology channel. This blog shares insights on issues of concern to women in the channel and is written by WIC members, including women who are in leadership, ownership and revenue-generating roles in the alternate sales channel sector of the telecommunications industry. For more information, visit http://womeninthechannel.com.

Cloud: A Disruption in the Force?

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Laura BernsteinBy Laura Bernstein

For those of you who are not familiar, the Cloud Partners Zone, an offshoot of the Channel Partners Zone, is an invite-only, free-flowing, no-holds-barred discussion on a predetermined topic selected by Channel Partners. The discussion is hosted by Khali Henderson during the Cloud Partners event. It is videotaped and then posted on their website following the show. It is intended to be both entertaining and educational. 

The topic this fall was none other than “How Disruptive Is the Cloud?" Specifically, how the cloud is affecting and will affect the Channel Partners community. Whether you were on the telecom side or the IT side, there were many topics upon which all agreed.

For example, it was agreed that the size of the company will have a direct impact on how quickly the customer integrates cloud. The consensus was that the smaller the organization, the faster they will change. Midmarket and enterprise customers have more dollars invested in infrastructure; this will yield slower change. Most felt that the hybrid approach utilizing both premise-based and the cloud would be a reality for decades to come.

We also agreed that some agents will only embrace the cloud out of fear of losing their business. Others, who are ahead of the curve, will see the new market as an opportunity to expand and grow. Either way, we all believe that the cloud is here to stay. That said, we disagreed over whether the cloud saves the customer money and the pace at which the entire marketplace will rush to cloud. Some felt that it is taking us over by the minute while others saw it as a slow change that will come about over years.

At the heart of the discussion were three key concepts:

  • Partnering
  • Business model
  • Trusted adviser

The meaning of each concept was never defined and as a result produced many passionate comments from the group

We hear quite a bit lately about partnering and how important it is to our survival. Most believe this new partnering is necessary because we cannot grow fast enough to keep up with all the changes. In fact, isn’t partnering at the core of how the telecom agent operates today? Without a partnership with a master or carrier, there is nothing to sell. Maybe it’s that the agent and/or master/carrier doesn’t see the sub as a partner or vice versa. The term "partner" implies equality but then again, how often do we hear the words "agent" and "partner" used interchangeably? So assuming that subs/agents are partners, then how is partnering in the cloud different?

If we are simply accessing different products to sell, our partnering would be the same as it is today. However, if we are looking at altering our business model to incorporate cloud, that is different.

What is a business model? It requires a change operationally and in the functions of the business, not just a change in what we sell. It is this change that is one of the keys to adapting to the convergence of telecom and IT.

What is a trusted adviser? What are we being trusted with and what are we advising about? We all agreed that we cannot advise unless we have the product knowledge to discuss applications and solutions. But doesn’t being a trusted adviser require more than asking tactical questions with a transparent agenda to sell? 

Some thought that the perception of the customer in the telecom/IT space was that of a trusted adviser.  However, some did not. For example, Pam Avila, CEO of DiscussUC, spoke out strongly, insisting that the customer’s perspective of the integrator, VAR and telecom agent — even at the enterprise level — is tactical only. She had recently talked with a group of high-level CIOs and read recent comments in CIO magazine. She paraphrased, "They don’t ask us about how we run our business and what the issues are."  “All they want to do is sell product!"

Yes the technology is new and, yes, many will benefit from changing their business model and from partnering. However, the need for a trusted adviser that operates strategically existed yesterday, exists today and will be a critical asset in the world of cloud tomorrow. The new and improved cloud sales professional will have the ability to ask productive, insightful business questions. They will recommend new solutions that drive growth instead of selling widgets that promise savings. They will transform customer process and measure outcomes. They will have a lasting impact on telecom, IT, marketing and sales within the organization. Together with cloud, this will be the future of the successful telecom agent.

Laura Bernstein is the president and co-founder of CRA Inc., a Massachusetts-based national network telecom management company formed in 1999. Originally developed to provide full outsourcing support for the SMB customer, the firm has now modified their model by adding transparent back-office support to the sub/agent community. A member of the telecommunications industry for more than 20 years, Bernstein served on the 2010-11 Channel Partners Advisory Board.

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