Reinventing the channel: COVID-19 and beyond
It has not been an easy few years for the channel. A new generation of technologies has radically altered the value propositions offered to the market, not to mention how they generate profits. Customers have been urged to adapt and change, and that same requirement soon impacted the channel as well. How we do business shifted as radically as what we offer. The big bang projects have made way for long-term, iterative value generation. It’s been important for channel providers to catch up to the new trends.
Then COVID-19 appeared on the scene, doubling down on the urgency. In some ways, the world has and will be changing forever. But there are also spaces where the outbreak has accelerated certain anticipated outcomes, explains Louise Taute, Comstor Director Southern Africa.
“I think we can all agree that the companies which adopted new digital systems have been able to navigate the pandemic better than their competitors. This trend is evident in how some companies could switch to work-from-home arrangements almost overnight. Another example is the rapid adoption of video conferencing. These are examples of changes that have been ready and waiting in the wings, but suddenly became very relevant when the older ways of working were no longer practical.”
Such outcomes might seem like great news for the channel. Yet in reality, many are still in the process of transforming. Transformation is particularly relevant to frontline channel providers – those who form the layer between customers, and distributors and vendors.
Serving the new channel
Distributors, in particular, are vital to helping the frontline evolve and thrive. By placing end-user needs at the heart of changing business demands, they can help channel companies provide customer-relevant technology solutions. But this will require far more than catchy marketing slogans.
“We have to appreciate that both the channel and its customers are under extreme pressure. Channel partners need to find increasingly innovative ways to install, manage, and support solutions for their customer,” Taute elaborates.
The channel demands a new approach, consisting of training and enablement, professional services, software as a service and cross-vendor solutions. Distributors are the primary facilitators of this approach, providing their focus settles on helping partners and customers embrace change with future-proof technologies.
Specifically, two areas need attention. First, the traditional way of managing the sales cycle is evolving to become more digital-centric. This shift prompts the need for digital platforms that give channel companies a single view both of customer activities and the choices they can offer them. The channel’s operating model must change into a more efficient one, befitting their customers’ digital-centric business environments that require round-the-clock access to ICT solutions.
Secondly, there has to be more clarity on what vendors can offer and how different offerings can combine to deliver solutions. The biggest downside of new technologies is the complexity they create under the hood. Customers look to channel partners to navigate those complexities, who rely in turn on distributors to help illuminate different choices. Vendors are doing the same: they increasingly lean on distributors to appreciate and communicate the various combinations offered by their products.
These were already pressing challenges before the COVID pandemic. But the latter has both accelerated these trends and disrupted them significantly. More than ever before, customers look to channel partners for certainty, and the channel turns to distributors for guidance. If the channel is to reinvent itself successfully, distributors are the linchpins. Their investments in digital tools for pre-sales, sales, training, inventory, marketing and other services are crucial for enabling the channel’s evolution.
“Distributors must serve the channel via their traditional channel-centric models as well as innovative digital options to drive a digital-first strategy,” says Taute. “They must equip their channel partners with the tools, technology integration and automation they need to better sell technology, no matter the logistics behind how solutions are delivered.”