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The channel in 2020: This time it’s personal

Taking some time to consider the future is important and it’s only in moments of retrospective clarity that we can make plans. From Descartes meditations and epiphanies to Kylie Jenner’s “year of realising stuff”, we all have important lessons to learn and use to map out our next steps. Right now, the channel industry is arriving at its own zen moment, having been through a year of major disruption that necessitates a pause for thought.

Industry transformation has truly kicked in and, like most sectors, channel has been shaken by technology to an unprecedented extent. It’s been a source of much handwringing as market players look to completely rethink of their proposition and how they deliver it. Meanwhile, their partners must also be braced for change, or they may well be too late for a place at the transformation table. But after retrospection comes action and it’s important to have a clear idea of what 2020 might hold and the challenges that lie ahead:

Channel murder by millennials

Is there anything that Millennials haven’t supposedly killed? The list is seemingly endless – High Street shopping, marriage, working 9-5 and even mayonnaise (apparently). However, industry experts are reporting that they will also kill the channel. Because even though the word has hangovers of the ‘the up-and-coming bright young things’, millennials are actually today’s decision makers – and they prefer to do their own research and have direct contact with vendors. This is a serious change in working practices that needs to be acknowledged in future transformation plans.

The channel is also feeling the pinch from a lack of millennials entering careers in the industry. Senior figures in partner organisations are retiring and there simply aren’t enough skilled professionals in the pipeline to replace them. In particular, those businesses focused on client or server management, hardware sales and break-fix seem to be struggling to attract the next generation – and there are further ramifications when the industry looks to generations beyond the millennials.  

That said, there is still hope. A report from IBM suggests that millennials have a distinct MO when making a purchase decision. They like companies that make doing business easy, which means a combination of collaboration and strong industry and marketplace experience – both of which are the sweet spot for the channel, which can easily stake their place as an invaluable asset to the IT decision makers of the future by providing services, guidance and expertise.

A woman sat at a desk, surrounded by notebooks and a cup of coffee, holding a lit lightbulb. Her face cannot be seen.
Lightbulb moment: 2020 could be the year of ‘making it personal’ for the channel sector.

When service is everything, look to everything-as-a-service

At one point, it was all about ‘the solution’, but the service economy has radically altered the state of play for every industry. Customers don’t want to maintain their own products anymore, instead preferring to buy services and the channel industry is no exception to this change of mood. Increasingly we are seeing offerings such as back-end integrations, security, back up and disaster recovery as a way to add value. It’s a positive shift towards a personal service, understanding the fundamentals of how the customer approaches their technology and challenges, then using a knowledge-based relationship to help them meet their business objectives. In short: immersing your business in theirs for a shared goal. The dream is for channel partners to be measurably customer-driven, paving the way for continual improvement and investment.  

Be different, be special, be focused

Specialisation is nothing to be scared of. In fact, customers really want a focused approach from their solution providers and partners are expected to home in on the areas in which they truly excel. For example, hyper-specialisation has meant that the channel programme at Amazon Web Services has doubled in size each year for the past three years and created over 100 specialties for its 50,000 partners. This is next-level differentiation, but it can truly help traditional partners to stand out in an increasingly competitive channel space.

Make 2020 your ‘year of knowing stuff’

Know your people: Be ready to ride the wave of change with a team of talent (both experts and advisors) who can put your business in a position of competitive advantage/

Know your customer: IT decision makers are looking for a seamless experience. That means they want a service that just work. Understand their business – and pains – on a granular level to deliver the best possible service. 

Know what you’re best at: Play to your strengths. If you have strong financial knowledge, are an expert in mobility and apps or understand what drives a small business, then focus on that. It will make you an invaluable resource.

It’s a simple formula, but the best ones usually are. However, becoming a true partner has many challenging layers of complexity to deliver and requires both buy-in and cultural shift to make happen. But the resulting rewards are potentially great and offer the channel more opportunities to weave itself further into the very fabric of customer organisations – creating more avenues of revenue in the process.

Written by Daniel Woodstock

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