Necessary transition

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Channel voices discuss the continuing trend towards service-base models, as digital transformation continues, says Billy MacInnes

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15 March 2019 | 0

There was something calming about being able to look out on the green expanse of Croke Park on a bright sunny morning in February and see three men pushing lawnmowers across the field completely oblivious to the goings on in the Hogan Suite on the fifth floor above them where a series of speakers were busy discussing the delights (and dangers) of digital transformation.

It was a day made for mowing the lawn, or Gaelic football and hurling’s hallowed turf in this instance, and I suspect that no amount of digital transformation could ever change that (although climate change may). Anyway, there we were, sitting in the Hogan Suite at the Tech Live How the Business of ICT will be done event, listening to people offer some very useful insights on the subject of digital transformation over the course of a morning’s session.

There was some interesting practical information on the nuts and bolts for partners to be ready to help customers to digitally transform themselves. Norman Newell, sales director at Renaissance, outlined the five step programme partners needed to engage in to move from VARs to MSPs and be prepared for digital transformation. He argued that many partners were still “stuck” in the hybrid VAR/MSP space and “finding it difficult to transition to become full MSPs. They’re wondering where to go”.

The five step programme covers the following areas: changing your strategy, packaging your products, financial solutions, automating processes and finding your audience. In the first instance, VARs are often required to restructure their business to a recurring revenue model to start selling managed services. This involves big changes for the sales team but also for senior management, many of whom may have come from the break/fix model and need to be converted to the new approach.

As for products, the message was to approach it from the perspective of the problems a solution could solve rather than just trying to push a product. “Be very clear,” he told the audience, “make sure the customer understands what the problems are you’re trying to solve with that solution.” While it sounded very simple, too often partners focused on what a product could do rather than look at the problem faced by the customer and recommend the solution to resolve it. “It gives a huge advantage to your sales guys,” Newell argued, “because it gives a clear message of what you’re trying to bring to the market and what your customers are expecting from you.”

From a financial point of view, VARs also need to accept the shift to managed services will have a substantial effect on their cashflow, so they need to talk to the banks and people involved with financing the company and to change their financial process and systems. They also need to explain to sales how compensation is going to change going forward. As for automating processes, in a world where post-sales becomes close to non-existent as customers start using and consuming services instantaneously, more automation give partners the capability to see how the service is being consumed and what value added services can be delivered to the customer around it.

Marketing

One of the under-appreciated areas of this entire transformational exercise is marketing. “You need a proper marketing focus,” Newell said. What is the business offering that differentiates itself from others that will attract the target customer. Noting that “I often go on web sites and find it difficult to find out what someone is actually seeking,” he warned partners to make their web sites “very clear and allow people to step through to exactly what you are providing and the advantages to working with you”.

Marketing was an issue also highlighted by Sophos channel account executive, Kyle Torres, who described it as “an untapped resource”. He stressed that if partners wanted to transform “you want your customers to know the directions that you’re taking”. Partners needed to let customers know they had the tools and resources required and that they were branching into a new sector or service.

While there were “a lot of marketing resources out there”, Torres added that “a lot of partners and resellers want to go through these transformations without getting the word out and without getting the maximum support available from their vendor”.

It’s worth bearing that in mind. It would be nothing short of tragic if the Achilles heel for certain VARs who undergo the significant business and technological upheaval required to shift to an MSP model proves to be their inability to articulate the purpose of that transformation to their customers. Why go through all that if their customers don’t know what they did and what it means for them?

When you see people mowing the grass, even from the fifth floor at Croke Park, it’s easy to see what they’re doing (and what they’ve done). It’s might not be quite as simple as that for VARs transforming into becoming MSPs.

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