Pick Your Path: Planning for 2014 and Beyond

No pressure, but planning for your future not only next year starts now. “This may be a defining moment for many in the technology channel,” said channel expert Tiffani Bova, vice president and distinguished analyst for Gartner Inc. “Decisions made in the coming months will have long-term implications for the future viability of existing business models.” 

Cloud, social and mobile influences have transformed the way businesses buy and use information technology. Organizations of all sizes are looking to optimize processes in both the front office (e.g., customer care, sales, marketing and distribution) and the back office (e.g., finance and accounting, HR and supply chain). However, as long as the channel remains comfortable selling and servicing IT without considering the broader needs of the business, they may find it more difficult to grow in the future.

Gartner's Tiffani BovaHere are Bova’s recommendations for what you can do today to impact what kind of company you can be two to three years from now.

Path 1: Keep doing business the way you have with the offerings and providers you currently work with.

  • Opportunity: Get more focused on a particular vertical segment and create differentiation on “how” you deliver solutions and not get caught up in “what” you sell.
  • Risk: If you dont find a way to stand out from the crowd, you will be viewed as a “supplier” of technology and, more often than not, compete on price versus business value.
  • Action: Take an inventory of your business, find those sales opportunities where you win and those where you lose and understand why. Where you win, double down, highlight those reasons customers choose you in everything you do. Where you lose, speak with customers to understand why, then make course corrections where you can (and where it makes sense) to shore up those gaps in your marketing, sales or products and services. Look at each situation through the eyes of your customer not yours or your suppliers.

Path 2: Find natural evolution points in your current offerings and begin to develop outcome-based offerings that are more compelling, especially to new buyers, such as marketing and sales executives.

  • Opportunity: The new front-office buyers are looking for outcome-based services to create competitive advantages for their businesses, so your opportunity is to go to market with integrated offers that solve specific business problems in ways that are easy to understand, consume and measure.
  • Risk: Your internal capabilities are much too reliant on reselling and implementing products and solutions that are not your own, leaving you exposed when competing for new business.
  • Action: Consider building intellectual property (applications, tools, processes, etc.) which can help you differentiate in meaningful ways that customers can buy as a total integrated package focusing on a particular pain point or buyer.

Path 3: Disrupt yourself and create an entirely new unit within your company to chase new opportunities without being held back by existing offers and business models.

  • Opportunity: While risky, there is something to be said for giving a new business the room to succeed or fail on its own merits without fear of losing focus on existing revenue streams. It is better to disrupt yourself than have someone else do it, replacing you within long-standing accounts.
  • Risk: You expect too much too fast and pull the plug before the new services have a chance to get traction. It will send a message to your company and customers that you are not willing to consider what the market wants versus what you want to sell.
  • Action: Test a pilot group including resources from sales and marketing that are totally focused on a new set of offers and services. They will require different compensation plans, marketing materials and marketing efforts purpose built for the new services you want to bring to market. Start with net new customers and not your existing base; learn where there will be no impact to your existing business (since it is technically funding this effort). Take those lessons learned and adjust, so you can continue to evolve the offers and services until you find success.

“Whichever path you chose to take, understand there is no right or wrong option,” said Bova, noting that each solutions provider has its own business model, customer base and long-term goals. “What is right for you may not make sense for someone else.”

That said, Bova has found one common key to success based on her eight years guiding channel companies through these transitions: “The culture of your company will either make or break whichever path you choose.”

If your company culture is based on a willingness to take risks regardless of the outcome, she said your employees will embrace whatever strategy you set. Conversely, if your company culture has been more cautious, employees will push back against change and resist making the necessary adjustments in order to succeed.

“Company culture starts at the top,” said Bova, “So as a leader you must communicate why you have decided to take the company down a certain path and allow your employees to decide to participate in its future.”

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