Yet Another Chasm to Cross: The Transformation of the Channel
The more things change the more they seem to stay the same. Twelve years ago, when convergence technologies were relatively new, interconnects, for the most part, hoped these new technologies would go away. PBXs became IP PBXs and VoIP replaced analog and the resellers were still interconnecting to the "cloud." And they re-established relationships selling telecom products and services inside the IT department, so all was well. They stayed in the game by selling traditional telephony solutions in their accounts. Old sales habits are very hard to change, however, and the channel has discovered that this traditional "box-selling" approach has some serious drawbacks. As UC has crossed the market chasm, adoption is on the rise, and users are getting smarter, cloud-based solutions are being deployed, and many channel resellers are struggling to establish a consultative relationship in their accounts. Most of them know that if they don’t evolve their salesforce, and their business model, they will be relegated to an ever-shrinking available market. The managers and owners of these established channel partners know that business transformation is imperative.
The problems are fixable, but it will take a lot of work and investment in people (a.k.a. “meat-ware”). Managers need a clear vision and a plan to get there. Salespeople need new skills, competencies, and the appropriate business model. While vendor support traditionally focuses on marketing, lead generation, and technical training of their SIs, sales development is left up to the channel partners. Now is the time for meaningful commitment to the strategic development of the channel partner by their vendors. Business and sales transformation, as I call it, is a necessary investment. To get it done properly, it will require a strategic collaboration and investment between vendors and their channel partners.
This transformation starts with a vision of the new business model and the client relationships that support it. We’ve said for years that successful sales people in the new model will have to go beyond traditional “box” sales approaches. They will need to be prepared for a more complex sale focusing on anticipating and diagnosing strategic UC solutions for their clients. Often, they will have to understand the existing process flows and the communications solutions that support them. As Blair Pleasant points out in her two-part article on the Current State of the UC Market: “As bundled or packaged solutions become the norm, we’ll see more UC solutions being implemented, rather than just standalone, non-integrated components. And as customers get more comfortable with the UC capabilities they’ve deployed, they’ll want to start integrating them together.”To accomplish this, the channel salespeople need to get closer to the client's strategic processes and have the technical understanding of how these processes can be improved via unified communications. This is a “moment of truth” for the SIs. If they can’t help their customers integrate their UC capabilities, someone else will.
Knowledge and familiarity with the solutions breeds confidence. Microsoft is one of many companies that believes in “eating its own dog-food.” Not long ago, they started to phase out all of their traditional telephone systems and implement OCS, which later was replaced by Lync. If traditional telephony resellers used their vendors’ cloud-based services on a daily basis, they would better understand how they compare to premises-based systems. This is important to know because, based upon an informal survey at Enterprise Connect in Orlando, most enterprise decision makers that I talked to are either using cloud-based services now or are planning to use cloud-based services as a part of an evolution to a new, collaborative end-user communications solution. They are attracted to the relative ease of integration, cost savings, and productivity gains. Using the services first-hand would go a long way in understanding their role in client organizations.
We all know that selling consulting-like services is a lot different than a product-oriented approach. Among other things, it means having enough knowledge and understanding of the clients’ needs and the available solutions to ask good questions and construct meaningful value hypotheses. Being a credible and trusted partner with your clients is the goal. Training and education for sales people is critical and they are looking to the vendors for help. To this end, let’s start with building a new business model based upon the types of relationships and sales processes that are required and develop the necessary strategic training programs. It will take a lot of work and commitment by both the vendors and the channel partners to cross this next chasm, but it is very doable.
In future articles I will discuss specific sales transformation strategies and programs. I will also be discussing sales planning, hiring, and sales operations for addressing the new complex buying process.