Hey, Channel Professional: Whom Do You Work For?

Employee Employer

Lorna GareyMy kitchen has a wildly inefficient layout, mismatched appliances and circa-1997 cabinets. Facing the prospect of gutting the room, I did the only logical thing — called a realtor to find a new house, preferably one with a really nice kitchen. Her first question: Do you want me to act as your buyer’s agent?

When making a big investment, the idea that an adviser is all-in for your fiscal interests is comforting. If you own a company, your first thought is for your business and employees. From there, the “whom do I work for” question gets more interesting. A few of our 2017 Channel Partners 360° Business Value Award winners call themselves some variation of a buyer’s agent, saying they “empower clients to make informed technology procurement decisions,” or that they “represent clients” during negotiations. That interested me, so I asked around.

Rachel McNeese says her company, Richardson Communications & Consulting, provides fee-based audits and takes a middle ground, being a client advocate but working just as hard to cultivate relationships with select suppliers. If RCC recommends a product, they’ve vetted it. Other partners have either stated or de facto exclusive relationships with particular carriers and suppliers. That might give them more leverage to bring to bear for customers in terms of faster service or better pricing, but at the cost of less choice.

Experts expect some variation of this question to come up, if it hasn’t already. Customers are getting smarter about technology and expect the equivalent of a buyer’s agent. Suppliers, meanwhile, are tired of trying to wring profits out of a long and straggly channel tail. They’re putting more money into partners that advocate for their products and services.

Threading this needle is something we thought about when building the keynotes for our 20th Channel Partners Conference & Expo. The overall Sherpa theme is about trust — Art Wittmann will talk more about that when he opens the show. We structured our editorially driven keynotes to help you decide who you’re working for.

Mike Schmidtmann, owner of Trans4mers, an organization of peer groups for sales leaders in the technology field, will tackle the new customer expectation reality. Mike points out that customers aren’t just smarter about IT; they have Google, leading to emails asking why they can’t get a complete security solution for $99 a month. His answer: Build your reputation for expertise. Another option is to develop your own services rather than just white-labeling. Microsoft technical evangelist Rokeya Jones will explain how to earn better margins, have more control over quality and custom tailor an offering to your customer’s needs. Closing out our Day 1 keynotes, WTG’s Vince Bradley will lead a panel of three Channel Partners 360° award winners who brought just those sort of innovative solutions to bear on customer problems.

If a lack of talent is holding you back from innovation, join Telecom Brokers’ Nancy Ridge as she leads a discussion with leaders from Avant, Carousel Industries and Ingram Micro. You can get, and keep, great employees. Then, a dynamic first-time speaker on our stage, Soon Yu, author of the upcoming book “Iconic Advantage” and former global vice president of innovation, will help you formulate a message around what makes your company unique.

We’ll close with another first-timer, Tim Curran of the GTDC, leading a look-ahead panel of executives from four top master agents and distributors.

If I see you there, it’s possible I’ll be in the company of one of the 11 veterans we’re hosting this year, thanks to the underwriter of our CP Veteran’s Initiative, Granite, and some volunteer mentors from our community. Our commitment to helping veterans transition to successful civilian careers started at our 2016 Las Vegas show. For our third time out, we’re partnering with Hire Heroes USA, a national nonprofit with a four-star rating on Charity Navigator. Our goal is to show some people who’ve served our country how great an opportunity the channel offers. If you’re looking for your next stellar employee or just want to say thanks, swing by our Veteran’s Lounge at the Captain’s Boardroom in the North Convention Center.

Follow editor in chief @LornaGarey on Twitter.

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