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WTG, TelePacific, Tech Data, Carahsoft: Distributors Must Evolve

Channel Partners Evolution

James AndersonThe channel has evolved, and distributors have not been exempt from the transformation.

Leading tech distributors, master agents and service providers will discuss the trends in their industry at Channel Partners Evolution, Aug. 14-17, in Washington, D.C.

WTG CEO Vince Bradley, Ken Bisnoff, senior vice president of strategic opportunities at TelePacific, Harrison Smyth, director of Carahsoft, and Michelle Curtis, senior manager of IoT strategy at Tech Data, took time to preview their upcoming keynote panel, “The Evolving Services Distributor Role.”

The Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.

Channel Partners: How has the services distributor role evolved?

Ken BisnoffKen Bisnoff: In the not-so-distant past, master agents and services distributors were very transactional, offering point products and services, which typically were considered non-strategic costs by end-user customers. Today’s services distributors must have a stable portfolio of service offerings and consultative staff resources that help their sales partners (agents, VARs, MSPs, integrators, etc.) to design and deliver strategic business UC and managed IT solutions, including customers’ security, continuity and unified communications with anytime-anywhere connectivity.

One aspect of the services-distributor model that has not evolved – but is often overlooked until it is too late – is the need for quality service delivery over the entire life cycle of a customer. This is not the time to focus only on short-term, front-end sales cycle considerations like the lowest price or momentary SPIFFs that have been characteristic of the more commoditized transactional environment. Instead, they need to focus on what it takes to support a satisfied customer with more strategic applications over time, including a quality experience with service migration, accurate billing and exceeding expectations in post install service and support. Only this full view [of] servicing customers will lead to long-term success with strategic solution-oriented offerings.{ad}

Vince BradleyVince Bradley: Traditionally, master agencies worked with a limited number of providers trying to be the expert with those providers’ services, as well as providing an array of carrier-related services to [their] agent channel[s]. As a forward-thinking master agency we continue to provide these core services, but as the technology landscape expands at a rapid rate, adopting more of an integrated-partner role has been critical. Sales mentoring, sales engineering and technology training become more and more important as the list of cloud-based services expands and becomes more complex to understand. Teaming our distribution to go into accounts together has also been very successful, where VAR, MSP and agent can work together. Becoming a virtual extension of an agent’s sales and technical team shows that we’re a customer service-oriented company dedicated to their continued success. We see it as our job to …

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… stay on top of ways to help our agents and their businesses become more productive and knowledgeable.

Harrison SmythHarrison Smyth: Over the last few years, partners have integrated distributors more into their businesses. Partners and distributors now have open lines of communication, along with a more trusted partnership. Distributors now find leads to share with their partners, manage data and asset management for their partners, and support any operational or sales efforts along with their customers. Distributors don’t succeed unless they find innovative ways to enable all of their partners to succeed.

Michelle Curtis: We all operate in a space that is constantly shifting and evolving, and as a leading global distributor, it’s important to help shape that evolution. Today, we think of Tech Data as a “hybrid” distributor offering a broad array of technology solutions and value-added services, and we are poised to help our partners understand and take advantage of the next emerging opportunities in technology, including the adoption of cloud computing, security practices and the endless possibilities of the Internet of Things (IoT). Our customers look to us to help them solve the complexities of this new landscape, while our vendor partners look to us as their most efficient route to market.{ad}

CP: How have you seen the evolution play out in your own businesses?

Michelle CurtisKB: As a service provider working with distributors, TelePacific has had to be mindful of the increasing demands of our joint customers to offload management of more and more of their technology environment. Over the past few years, we have invested and focused on deepening our managed-services capabilities. We broadened our portfolio within our 3C solutions sets – connectivity, cloud and continuity – that address strategic customer requirements. And with the pending acquisition of DSCI Corp., we are investing in proven managed UC and IT solutions that we intend to extend nationwide as over-the-top services. Simultaneously, we are rolling out SD-WAN technology within our network, which enables us to guarantee QoS even where we don’t own the end-to-end network without lowering any expectations for our customers on a quality experience. 

VB: For us to stay relevant in this evolving industry, we have needed to change the way we do business. We have worked with many agents who have jumped to the cloud by assisting them on overcoming large hurdles within their organizations. Whether it’s moving from POTS to [VoIP] or installation-based software to cloud software, our agents appreciate the helping hand and knowledge that is extended to their organization from a master agent and connectivity-services distributor like WTG.  Educating agents, VARs and MSPs on products like the red-hot SD-WAN and others have taken us to the point where we are now focusing more on the technology. WTG is also on the forefront of enabling agents to sell energy technology along with IT. This is an additional revenue stream for agents that has recently come about with the advent of …

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… green energy and deregulation, which not only adds a new revenue stream but also helps partners increase the retention of their customer base at the same time. 

HS: I’ve seen this evolution play out in our business by the sales responsibilities being shared between distributers and partners. Depending on the structure and skillset of our various partners, we may own the operational backbone of all sales efforts, the frontline communication with the customer, or acting as the solutions expert to assist in the sale. With our partners being able to rely on us to [fill] any gaps, they can continue to focus on their core strengths.

MC: Tech Data has focused on developing an end-to-end portfolio of solutions through investments in strategic areas such as cloud, mobility, security, the data center, and our Integrated Supply Chain Solutions (ISCS) business. These investments have helped Tech Data evolve into much more than a broad line distributor and focus on our value-added services. Our services continue to expand around partner enablement, managed services and design consultation, and we the landscape continues to evolve.{ad}

CP: What’s the biggest challenge for a solutions provider working with a digital business?

KB: The speed and incredible breadth of the changes transforming technology, solutions and customer application requirements make a willingness to go “back to school” critical for solutions providers. To succeed today, you must be able to talk with purchasing decision-makers about productivity tools, security, continuity, collaboration, mobility and much more.  And you can’t skate on surface familiarity with buzzwords and trending topics – you need expert knowledge.  Successful channel pros need to be able to speak with confidence about today’s XaaS offerings — what they are, how they work and what business issues or improvements they address. 

And it wouldn’t hurt to add or improve your social media skills – the kind our teenage kids effortlessly use – to communicate, promote and network effectively.  As I said at the beginning, we all need to be willing and eager to go back to school to learn better ways of doing things. There’s simply too much opportunity for channel partners to neglect arming themselves with the knowledge they need to succeed.

VB: The short answer is understanding their true business needs and providing them with the best solution. But the challenge is twofold. You first need to understand their perspective and where they want to go as a company and what their goals are. With things changing rapidly in digital businesses, finding the right solution can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Having Microsoft in WTG’s portfolio has helped start a conversation with the customer since they all have Microsoft. Then the engineers can be effective and productive when working through the issues that digital businesses typically have. With the expansion of existing software and the explosion of new technology, this type of endeavor can be extremely …

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… frustrating and time consuming without the guidance of a master agent or distributor like WTG.

HS: I think a challenge is streamlining operations. At times, two different organizations can track and manage data in different ways. There can also be different ways of fulfilling purchases and providing customers with the transparency needed to understand the process. The solution here is commonly to adapt and find ways to mirror how solution providers work internally.

MC: I think one of the biggest challenges solutions providers face when working with digital businesses is having the ability to meet expectations in the digital age, especially as the presence of the “always-on” generation continues to expand in business. The expectation of technology today is higher than it has ever been before, and it will only continue to grow as technology becomes more advanced. It’s important for solution providers to understand the problems their customers face as we continue to see technology advancements in the digital space.

To illustrate this, think of omnichannel marketing. Due to the fast pace of technology, solution providers today understand that a customer may initially engage with them through a website, while also anticipating the other avenues a customer might use to do business. Companies like Tech Data can work directly with a service provider to ensure that the experience is consistent, integrated and complementary throughout the entire process. This also creates a shift in our partners’ business models to offer managed services around different outcomes for their customers.{ad}

CP: What’s the big takeaway you hope your audience will get from your panel?

KB: I hope that distributors and their sales partners are excited about the opportunities we all have today to make a real difference with our clients. Making the transition to a strategic, rather than a simply transactional role, will generate success for our respective businesses. And I hope they gain an appreciation for the investment we will all need to make to be “standout” valued advisers to our customers in today’s rapidly evolving world.

VB: I really hope that the audience understands that we all need to make a quantum shift to our collective business models and ecosystem. If distribution does not adjust to the transformative changes necessary, their businesses will inevitably fail. Working together and sharing resources like we do at Channel Partners can be key to our success. Businesses also have to work smart more than ever because …

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… the heavy lifting of manual processes will destroy efficiency. By leveraging more technical human resources (sales engineers, solution architects, etc.), relational software systems, social media integration with marketing communications and upgrading old systems and processes on a regular basis, businesses can survive, and even thrive, in the cloud era. 

HS: It would be great for the audience to understand the additional value distributors can play in their daily business. Our goals are aligned with our partners and our mission is to create a team that can best support any business needs. Our role is to find new ways to innovate and add value to ultimately take care of our customers and help our resellers business grow.{ad}

MC: When it comes to IoT, there are an unprecedented number of opportunities to improve customer experience. At its simplest definition, IoT is connecting people and devices and creating opportunities for customer engagement. Our mission is to help our customers and vendors make IoT simple so they can seize the opportunities that exist within the IoT market. Our new business practice positions Tech Data as a solutions aggregator, meaning that we leverage our technology partner ecosystem to provide complete IoT solutions from a variety of vendors. These ready-to-deploy IoT solutions feature components ranging from fulfillment and secure connectivity of “things” to data aggregation, analytics and applications. We want companies to consider how connected devices can provide value to their customers and create savings for them — making it a win-win solution.


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