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Channel chiefs across the IT industry have been obsessed with sales enablement for the past two years. Most of that focus, however, has been on creating sales collateral that they hope solution providers will deem useful and will pass on to their customers.

On the other hand, most solution providers wish vendors would spend more of their time introducing partners to prospective customers. That doesn’t mean handing them a lead; it means creating an environment where customers and partners can mingle to discuss new solution concepts and ideas.

Most of the difficulty in selling anything is simply getting the attention of the customer. Most tech customers are so busy trying to hold together their existing environments that any conversation about adding something new doesn’t always generate the most enthusiastic of response.

That’s why it’s critical to get customers away from their office by inviting them to a venue that’s intended to get them to think differently about IT. The challenge solution providers face is that creating an IT environment outside the customer’s office that is worth visiting is expensive and time-consuming. To deal with that issue, solution providers should evaluate how often their IT vendors give them access to facilities where they can engage customers in the context of an event that’s dedicated to a specific type of IT solution.

Events That Foster a Common Interest

A prime example is the Next-Gen Club initiative SAP has created in its offices in New York City. Dedicated to highlighting both SAP and technology partner solutions that are aimed at emerging application areas such as the internet of things (IoT) and Fintech solutions, the basic idea is to host an event that fosters a common interest in innovative technologies, rather than selling a specific product or service. The main event at these meetings is usually a customer panel that discusses issues faced by everyone in the room.

Rob Hetherington, global services manager for SAP Financial Services Industries, says one of things that distinguishes the Next Gen club is that many of the solutions being shown by third parties were not developed in collaboration with SAP and may even compete with SAP products. The main interest SAP has in them is the degree to which they help spur adoption of core SAP enabling technologies, such as the SAP HANA in-memory computing platform, he explains.

There’s no shortage of labs facilities that customers and partners can access when building a solution, and promoting third-party applications is nothing new for companies that focus mainly of IT hardware and database infrastructure. But the events those companies tend to host are more focused on selling than education. A club by its very nature should offer a more informal setting.

That approach also represents a significant change for SAP. Application vendors have always been a little conflicted about third-party partners. But SAP is now moving beyond that conflict and is promoting third-party applications at events attended by customers and partners.

In the grand scheme of all things channel, the Next Gen club is a small step in the right selling direction. It doesn’t rely on massive social media campaigns and tons of associated collateral. There is naturally an online social media component to participating in a club, but the SAP Next Gen Club is intended to function more as a meeting place for people who share a common set of interests.

The channel as whole would benefit substantially if a lot more vendors pursued a similar approach—even if they spent less money on collateral. After all, customers are going to be a lot more likely to look at vendor collateral if they discover via ongoing conversations with peers that the information has value for them.