Insight Into the Evolution of Solution ProvidersBy Howard Cohen | Print
Intermedia's Eric Martorano, former Microsoft GM, discusses the future of channel partners and their need to listen to customers, vendors and industry experts.
After serving almost nine years as general manager of U.S. Partner Sales at Microsoft, Eric Martorano has joined Intermedia as senior vice president of worldwide sales.
Intermedia, which bills itself as "a one-stop shop for cloud business applications," gained its foothold in the cloud space selling Office 365 applications, and is focused on the channel as a major sales driver—something Martorano considers “table stakes” for himself.
"Intermedia is all-in with the channel," he says, "and I really do think that is a critical piece to the future success of a company like Intermedia.
"We need to continue to be visionary in our thought process and stay connected to what I think is the most important piece of the puzzle, and that's truly the channel,” Martorano continues. “Because the channel is going to hold us accountable, the channel is going to help us get smarter.
"The channel is closest to the customer and is looking for help here. So, if we continue to evolve our channel play and can continue to dive even deeper with our partners and bring them along on the journey with us, I think this company has more potential to grow than ever before."
Shifting to a Managed Services Approach
As the cloud has grown to be more than just an add-on offering for channel partners, Martorano sees value in partners shifting their sales model to more of a managed services approach rather than the traditional project-based services. Most important will be to "create more value for SMB-to-midmarket customers as they go deeper into evolving and enhancing the vanilla solution that's being brought to the market and creating expertise in an area that maybe Microsoft doesn't offer today," he says.
One area ripe for opportunity, Martorano says, is in cloud-based PBXes. "Being able to integrate voice services with Office 365 with add-ons and security—this is where the channel can really win, increasing their profitability opportunity," he adds.
Martorano, who professes continued loyalty to what he calls "the Mother Ship," acknowledges that partners aren’t profitable only selling Office 365. "There's no money to be made in that right now," he says. "Where the money can be made is in the services and the solutions they're providing on top of Office 365, extending the value to the customer."
Some of those services can come in the form of voice services, which Intermedia provides as add-ons to Office 365. But, he says, opportunity exists even without Office 365 through Intermedia’s private-label option.
"I think one of the key differentiators is this whole private-label capability, whether that's email, hosted exchange, voice, backup and file sharing, identity and access, [or] collaboration,” Martorano says. “The partner or even the customer has the ability to private-label our solutions."
The margin opportunity, he notes, is "pretty significant relative to the standard solutions that you see out there from the bigger players."
Other areas of opportunity for channel partners include wrapping subscription services with preparation, migration, deployment and ongoing support services to optimize return. "I think there's money to be made on migration and onboarding," Martorano says. "Solution providers can leverage all of these."
Advice to Partners
As a veteran of the channel, Martorano has a few words of advice for partners looking to move beyond their current sales model. "Perform while you transform," he says.
Specifically, he advises:
"Keep your eye on the ball.”
“Don't lose sight of your core business today because you have to perform.”
“As you perform, look at how you're going to transform, look at how your customers are transforming, how your vendors are transforming.”
“Stay focused. You have to execute with excellence.”
“Make sure you have the right sales talent and the right technical talent to support your business.”
“Be sure that you're priced appropriately and you're offering value to the customer."
The most important thing, he says: "No. 1, you need to listen. You need to listen to your customers, you need to listen to the industry experts, and you need to listen to your vendors. Try to understand where things are going because you need to be three steps ahead.
"You need to be highly engaged in understanding road maps, understanding market trends and start getting more focused on what value you're going to provide in the future that's going to resonate with your target audience, and what solutions are coming to market that you think are going to resonate, and what vendors you think are in alignment with your core principles and values,” Martorano advises. "And be sure you have the right partners to support you in your process."