Panelists Debate Future of IT, Telecom Distribution

CHANNEL PARTNERS As agents and IT partners figure out their respective roles in a converged channel, they’re also trying to get their heads around the future of distribution. Will they team with master agents, distributors or both, and how will that all come together?

That was the focus of Thursday’s keynote roundtable at the Spring 2013 Channel Partners Conference & Expo, and, to be sure, the answers didn’t come easy or definitively. And the cloud is weeding out partners along the way, said moderator Larry Walsh of The 2112 Group and Channelnomics, which means the partners who do survive need to decide soon how they are going to team up.

The panel featured thought leaders from Ingram Micro, ScanSource, WTG, MicroCorp, TBI and Intelisys who concluded that the IT and telecom channels are coming together, but just how remains unclear. Still, as MicroCorp’s Chris O’Brien noted, "Collaboration is going to be a necessity."

As an example, ScanSource’s Brian Cuppett said the distributor is considering adding a carrier services division or a master agency agreement to offer network services to its VARs, while master agency TBI is working to build more internal support with "heavy lifting" as agents take on more IT responsibilities.

The question of compensation is one that distributors and masters are tackling as they add telecom and IT partners, respectively. Telecom partners are accustomed to recurring commission while IT partners are used to up-front compensation. But the cloud is changing VARs’ business models and they may end up making more compensation adjustments than their agent counterparts, panelists noted. Indeed, agents are taking cloud business away from VARs, said Intelisys’ Andrew Pryfogle, because they seem to better understand cloud complexity.

Agents and VARs, and their masters and distributors, also have to determine who owns the customer as these different types of partners hone in on the same customers, panelists said.

"Collaboration has always been a great way to go to market, the trick is making it work," said Cuppett.

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