Top Channel Partner New Year's Resolutions

By Howard M. Cohen
IT channel outlook 2016

"Always innovate" was one of the first big lessons a friend from IBM taught me way back in the 1980s. IBM had just announced the Dealer Service Option, the company's service contract for the IBM PC line of business. 

At the time, I was working at The Computer Factory and I asked my IBM Channel Services Marketing Manager why IBM felt the need to compete with us, and he answered, "That's what we do.  We'll always be selling what you sell. The good news is that it will validate what you do, and we always price higher than you. But to stay ahead of us, you must always be innovating new services and new solutions to sell to your customers."

That has been my New Year's resolution every year for the past 30 years. Here are other resolutions that have served me well.

I'm going to focus on partners who really partner with me.

Since the channel has always been partner-driven, this is the most important—and probably the most beneficial—resolution you can possibly make.

Who really partners with you? Many channel Websites are chock-full of vendor-partner logos, but that's like saying "I date Rhode Island." You simply can't maintain that many truly meaningful partnerships.  Ask yourself these questions:

--Which partners really need me more than I need them?

--Which partners have products that really drive more service opportunities that are really profitable for me? Which can I install, provision, deploy, migrate, upgrade, update, train, support, manage and more?

--How much service revenue did I generate last year based on each partner's products?

--Which partners actively share well-qualified opportunities, not just leads, with me?

--Which partner managers truly work to manage me and help me manage my business productively?

--Which partners are truly concerned about my success and my business growth?

Time is your greatest enemy. The more of it you spend on non-productive partners, the less you get to spend with real, devoted partners. It's more than just a word. It describes the quality of a relationship.

I'm going to drive my marketing, and not let anyone else drive me.

An executive from a major vendor once asked me why so few of its partners were using its marketing materials. I replied, "Because all of your stuff is about you."

Let's face it, you don't want to send out the same marketing materials that everyone else in your market is sending. You want to market your own company, your strategic competitive advantages, your big differentiators.

Realizing that vendors may fund much of your marketing, it's still possible for them to work with you to help you drive your services and your business messaging while amplifying it by demonstrating the great value you can help deliver that is driven by their products.

Resolve to stay in the marketing driver's seat this coming year. You call the shots. Forget the "program" or the packaged marketing offerings they're shoving on you. They may provide some financial support, but the time and effort you and your people have to invest are costly, too. You deserve the level of control that will deliver real results for you as well as your partner. That's the real definition of "win-win."

Me? I'm All About You.

If there's one mistake most channel companies make, it's forgetting who and what they're all about. It should be customers.

We tend to describe things in our own jargon-heavy, acronym-riddled language. Most of our customers probably don't know what we're talking about half the time, but they're not going to let on to us that they don't. 

We also emphasize "infrastructure," "managed services," "bandwidth" and many other terms that customers can't really identify with, much less care about. They care more about getting invoices out faster and more accurately, getting people working together more efficiently, increasing revenue and decreasing costs.

Also, many channel partners focus on what they are and what they sell, rather than on what their customers buy. Who cares how many years you've been in business, what awards you've won or even what services you provide if you can't solve my problems? Customers care about what you can do for them.

Make this the year you reach out and ask your customers what they need most from you and like best about you, and why they'd recommend you to their friends and colleagues. They know better than anyone.

What is my IP?

If you're still selling, installing and maintaining servers and storage for a living, resolve to find something else to do for a living starting this coming year.

On one side of you are "partners" like Microsoft, IBM, Google, Rackspace and Amazon all convincing your customers that they should be using their servers and storage instead of buying servers and storage from you. They all want to provide your customers' infrastructure.

On the other side of you are HP, IBM and others extolling the wonders of "hyper-convergence." They have configurations already configured, purpose-built, pre-integrated and ready to sell to run the most popular workloads and applications. Who needs an integrator?

The infrastructure integration business is slowly being pulled away, and there's likely very little you're going to be able to do to slow it, so go with the flow. 

Adapt, innovate and prevail.

Start creating your own intellectual property to sell to customers. Innovate new services and new offerings to keep ahead of the competition. As much as you may be very proud of what you've accomplished in building your channel business, remember that the only constant is change, and the channel is constantly changing around you. Adapt, innovate and prevail. This will help brighten the 2016 IT channel outlook.

Best wishes for an incredibly successful and happy year.

Howard M. Cohen is a 30-plus-year IT industry veteran who continues his commitment to the channel as a columnist and consultant.

This article was originally published on 2015-12-29