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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

Channel partners developing best practices for digital transformation

Digital transformation provides enormous opportunities for the channel partner, particularly the reseller community, that has been negatively impacted by the recent economic downshift. Although 71% of partners offer digital transformation solutions to their customers, only 10% help their customers integrate digitalized processes to deliver real digital transformation business outcomes. Channel partners focusing on a single type of product or service cannot act as trusted partners in digital transformation. Instead, they become suppliers to an ecosystem that other solution providers are tapping into as they work with customers to evolve digital transformation capabilities.

Digital transformation is demanding that channel partners develop extensive new capabilities and best practices. It also offers a means of establishing a business-level customer relationship to secure ongoing/escalating account revenue and influence, which will improve the business outlook (and enterprise value) of firms able to capitalize on customer need for digital transformation support.

Techaisle surveyed and studied channel partners globally to understand the best practices and critical competencies that channel partners are building to be more successful than others.

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Post-pandemic lead generation is proving problematic for channel partners

Six months have changed how SMBs and enterprises operate, how employees work, how customers purchase, and how products/services get delivered. A shift in go-to-market imperatives has become problematic for channel partners. Techaisle leveraged its panel of 225K channel partners to understand the impact of the pandemic on channel business. 49% of channel partners have allocated resources and budget for lead generation, but 60% rely on leads from vendors, an increase of 18% from pre-pandemic. 29% more channel partners than previously are finding social media as one of the most effective methods of lead generation. 46% of partners have increased their usage of analytics to drive leads, and 60% have increased influencer marketing.

Techaisle survey research data also shows that for 42% of channel partners, driving growth is the top business issue, especially with a clear focus on increasing the effectiveness of sales and marketing. Despite pandemic, 68% of channel partners expect revenue increases in the next year but have tempered their revenue growth expectations from 19% to slightly over 10%. Channel partners deploying digital transformation solutions expect ~2X revenue increase compared to those who are still not focused on digital transformation offerings for their customer base.

The requirement to focus on digital discovery conveys some hard truths. The first is that channel partners need to reach a large and diverse buyer population, extending beyond the IT department into business units and the executive suite, which means that marketers need to create and place various messages to keep the sales process on track. Another important implication is that prospects who engage with a vendor will represent a relatively small subset of the total potential market, as many buyers will disqualify suppliers before drafting a potential vendor list. The third implication follows the first two: to maximize the addressable market; channel partners need to embrace digital marketing as a way to gain entree to accounts that have not yet self-identified as prospects. Channel partners that rely on traditional lead generation campaigns realize that these funnels are reaching a diminishing share of the market.

Marketing has not been a primary focus for most channel businesses, and those that have invested in marketing staff have typically tasked them with optimizing access to vendor investment funds. Marketing’s need to add advanced digital competencies is challenging most channel partners. Vendors will need to provide programs that support content and digital marketing to ensure that their partners can engage with the largest possible number of prospective clients. Techaisle’s research highlights the core issue. Buyers, working in teams that average 5.1 individuals, typically don’t have meaningful contact with a supplier until they are 70% of the way through the purchase process.

All four of the top IT suppliers – Dell Technologies, Cisco, HPE, and IBM – have made partner marketing a priority.

  • Dell Technologies’ Cheryl Cook, SVP, Global Partner Marketing, is made it a mission to equip and educate partners with a series of guided podcasts and webinars
  • Cisco’s Boon Lai, VP, Global Partner Marketing, is enhancing the marketing velocity program
  • HPE’s Laura Seymour, Senior Director, Global Channel Marketing, is focused on Marketing Pro and Partner Marketing Concierge
  • IBM’s Catherine Solazzo, VP, Partner Ecosystem Performance Marketing is driving My Digital Marketing platform

If the customer journey begins with research conducted via the web, the marketing imperative must start with digital discovery. The channel partner marketing teams should take advantage of their IT suppliers’ initiatives, invest in putting thought leadership messages in front of prospective customers, and in the processes required to nurture new contacts to the point where they become sales-ready leads. Leaders at traditional channel partners will recognize this endpoint – but the process needed to arrive at this point is much different in the post-pandemic world.

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Lenovo Partner Hub – a great beginning of a long journey towards channel empowerment

What should vendors do to build strong relationships with partner channel partners? Where should vendors invest in the success of current relationships? Techaisle data shows that it is generally tricky to replace channel partners that exit from the vendor's orbit. In many ways, the core challenge in channel management is determining the optimal allocation of enablement (effort) and investment (funding) options. A program capturing the best options in all areas would be prohibitively costly. Channel program management needs to allocate attention and investment to the areas that align with their specific goals.

The new Lenovo Partner Hub is the beginning of a long journey. It is one of the most massive transformations within Lenovo. What I like about the Partner Hub is its focus on providing excellent partner experience through a simplified content presentation, persona-based dashboards, bid requests, quoting, and product ordering for both PCSD (PC and Smart Devices Group) and DCG (Data Center Business Group). Simplification is at the core of any partner program, and Lenovo has nailed the beginning.

Lenovo's global process owners from business units and key partners in all geographies across thirteen countries contributed to harmonizing the design and tools. The single objective was to give time back to the partners so they could focus on their growth plans and customer conversations.

Vendors tend to consider channel enablement and investment as costs associated with specific product sets – and as a result, these activities get tied to product sales performance. However, although well-intentioned, often, this approach ends with the channel partner positioned as a vendor sales agent, which connects with internal vendor accounting requirements but poorly aligned with the core value provided by the channel partner to its mainstream business customers. The channel's role – and its most significant opportunity – lies in focusing on buyer needs. Successful vendors are building programs and partner platforms that empower channel partners to maintain vendor presence in complex solution environments – not sales agents. Lenovo is one such leading vendor who is trying to enable empowerment approaches through Partner Hub that focus on business outcomes and partnerships.
Designed and developed internally at Lenovo, five different portals combined into one platform with an agile approach rolling out new changes every single day. Lenovo's advantage is that it does not have to rely on nor negotiate with third-party partner platforms for customizations, unnecessarily prolonging the partner empowerment approach.

A grid-like dashboard has five distinct areas – Deal registration, Bid requests, Product Ordering, Asset Library, and myPitch. There are different dashboards with pre-defined quick links for PCSD, DCG, geographies as well as personas – Sales rep, Sales manager, Marketing and Admin. The quick links get updated with the use and memorization of frequently used tasks. There are also groupings for sales, product, and services, solutions, marketing, and training. An easy to use tool is available for contact and lead management.

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Remote work is escalating need for connected digital workplace platform within SMB and Midmarket

Distributed, remote, mobile – these are the realities of today’s workforce. The workspace isn’t defined by windows and walls and common area couches. For millions of SMB employees, the workspace isn’t a physical location – it’s a virtual space defined by access from multiple screens which are used from multiple locations. Consider these data points from Techaisle’s SMB survey research. Pre-pandemic, 24% of SMB global workforce was mobile. Today, the number has jumped to 51% within small businesses and 47% in midmarket firms. These numbers are down from a high of 78% during country lockdowns. The category, “mobile workers”, is increasingly indistinguishable from “workers.” This means new ways of working, taking advantage of new technologies and capabilities to build an agile, mobile, secure work-style enabled by cloud, remote work, security and collaboration. When working remotely, 47% of SMB mobile workforce are using notebook to access corporate data, 9% tablets and 44% smartphones. If the office of an SMB is defined by devices, workplace is defined by the ability to work from wherever those devices and their users are located. As a result, 64% of SMBs are increasing investments in remote work solutions, and survey data shows there will likely be a whopping 380% increase in digital workplace adoption in the next one year within small businesses and 48% increase within midmarket firms.

The key focus is about the ‘future of work’: workflow, workspaces, workforce and the ways that an increasingly-connected world can support pursuit of previously-unattainable objectives for the SMBs and midmarket firms. Their most important technology-related effort is on connectedness – connected cloud, edge, applications, security, collaboration, workspaces and insights. Cloud and mobility are navigation routes but the always-on, everywhere-connected unified platform is the destination. These SMBs are looking for benefits arising from the interconnection of all types of resources: platforms/environments, information, devices and applications. Depth discussions and quantitative survey research with SMBs and midmarket firms points to a trend that is playing out across seven key areas as shown in the chart below:

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