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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.

Dell’s Channel Chief Cheryl Cook continuing to motivate partners

Dell has been busy, its channel partners are increasing their likeability of the company, and Cheryl Cook, Vice President of Dell’s Global Channels & Alliances is staying steady on her path to grow and maintain channel partners who add value to their customers. In Techaisle’s latest US SMB Channel Partner Trends survey, 57% of both Dell & non-Dell partners said they “Like” Dell, up from 53% a year ago and substantially higher than two years ago. In Q4, total North America partner revenue was up and while majority of North America channel partners showed growth, Dell’s distribution partners experienced double digit growth.

In a recent discussion with Techaisle on the state of the Dell channel, Cheryl Cook focused on:

  • Partner direction
  • Partner experience
  • Partner competencies
  • Partner cloud playbook
  • Partner investments
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Indicators of managed services channel (MSP) success

Where is the SMB managed services channel today, as we enter 2016? Since 2013, managed services has taken deep root within the channel, and at the same time, some of the firms that were only casually involved with managed services have pulled back in order to focus in other areas. In the report, The SMB Channel & Managed Services: Success Metrics, Techaisle uses findings from 808 in-depth surveys with US-based channel firms to illuminate conditions within the US SMB managed services channel, and to develop perspectives that suppliers (and the channel itself) can use to construct successful managed services channel strategies. The survey identified a set of issues that is highly correlated with very successful managed services channel businesses, another that can be used to identify partners that are likely to be unsuccessful in managed services, and a third which lacks predictive value.

Results from three annual Techaisle channel surveys, shown in figure below, show that the trend towards specialization – in which channel members commit more strongly to managed services, or move away in order to focus on other areas – is well underway. 64 percent of the channel is ‘very successful’ in selling managed services, meaning that the population of very successful managed services channel members has increased by nearly 70 percent since 2013. A much smaller but growing proportion (currently 11 percent, more than double the 5 percent logged in 2013) acknowledges that it is not having success with managed services. MSPs and SPs report the highest level of success in selling managed services, while SIs, consultants and (especially) VARs are see less success.

techaisle channel msp resized

A view of these findings organized by core business model provides additional insight into the partner communities where managed services are – and are not – gaining traction. As would be expected, managed service providers themselves are most likely to report success in managed services sales. Beyond this group, there are several interesting observations contained within the data:

  • Nearly three-quarters of service providers state that they are “very successful” at selling managed services. This is an important issue within this community: SPs increasingly rely on managed services to differentiate their core hosting or connectivity services, which are (in many cases) relatively low-margin, and which offer limited prospects for future growth. Perhaps the most interesting finding for SPs is that 18 percent consider themselves to be unsuccessful in selling managed services. This group will be at risk as they compete with firms that augment core service presence with expanded, high-margin service portfolios that lock in an increased share of ‘customer wallet’.
  • SIs are not especially aggressive in this space. At a high level, this data makes intuitive sense: SIs tend to have engagements that have a fixed duration and deliverable and managed services involve longer-term relationships tied to SLAs rather than functional specifications. However, it might be expected that SIs facing a shrinking product delivery market (due to increased use of cloud) might look to solidify customer relationships via managed services. The data shows that some SIs are following this path, they are either not committed to this strategy or are actively pursuing other options.
  • Consultants and (especially) VARs are tepid in their pursuit of managed services business. Corresponding 2016 channel reports from Techaisle (see details below) show that VARs are finding great success in cloud, while consultants report that they are experiencing high levels of mobility sales success. Neither group seems particularly enthralled with managed services

It’s clear to all of us that today’s IT industry is comprised of many ‘moving pieces’. This is especially true in the SMB segment: with cloud, mobility and managed services, the buyer’s options have expanded; with the increased involvement of non-IT managers (in both ‘real’ and shadow IT), the buyer community has expanded; and with the channel’s struggle to understand and act on the new cloud-driven demands of a post-transactional IT market, the supply chain itself is undergoing tremendous change.

Techaisle is committed to working with the IT industry to ensure that these changes result in increased opportunity. Techaisle has recently completed two large-scale surveys – one of channel partners (VARs, SIs, MSPs, SPs and IT consultants) and another of SMBs (firms with 1-999 employees). We have also created a thought leadership piece, “Channel Imperatives for 2020: The Changing Channel for a Post-transactional IT market” which examines how 12 tenets of ‘conventional wisdom’ in the channel – mantras like the need to add value, or to increase service revenue, or to focus sales people on retiring quota, or to assemble and deliver best-of-breed solutions – are giving way to new management imperatives. We believe that this research is essential for suppliers looking to plot a channel-centric strategy for SMB market development by capitalizing on the insights contained in our analysis.

The series of three channel focused reports are The SMB Channel and Cloud: Success Metrics, The SMB Channel and Mobility: Success Metrics and The SMB Channel and Managed Services: Success Metrics. Each contains charts and analysis that can be used to identify high-value ‘very successful’ partners and avoid low-value ‘unsuccessful’ channel organizations. They are designed to connect with channel marketing, recruitment and management strategy.

techaisle channel success reports resized

 

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Channel Imperatives for 2020 - accelerating transformation

Inexorably, the market is shifting from one defined by discrete purchase-and-deploy deals aligned with refresh cycles to one where businesses take a ‘hybrid IT’ approach that blends a limited number of on-premise assets with a growing range of on-demand services. Recent work by Techaisle shows that the need for updated understandings of channel management imperatives has expanded beyond the tactical questions of sales or management metrics or marketing activities. This work has identified twelve fundamental areas where conventional wisdom has not kept pace with the business needs of the channel. In each area, policies based on conventional wisdom will lead channel organizations away from the practices needed to compete successfully in the post-transactional cloud market.

The channel transformation accelerator enablers, as laid out in the point-of-view white paper document (free), Channel Imperatives for 2020: The Changing Channel for a Post-transactional IT Market will be gut-wrenching but necessary. [Click on the image below to download the white paper or click on the link]. Within the white paper, Techaisle has developed the “Conventional Wisdom vs. Emerging Imperatives” table to illustrate ways that channel organizations must alter basic attitudes towards the business of the channel in order to be successful in the current and future IT market. 

techaisle pov channel imperatives for 2020 resized 

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SMB MSP Channel fragmentation and role of IT vendor

The SMB IT channel has hit a point of fragmentation. Today, channel can be all things to all people but not in 2018 unless channel finds a way to generate more than 150% of revenue. Faced with an expanded SMB buyer community and requirements for specialized skills to support different solutions, the SMB channel is beginning to segment by focus area. Although the different specialties are starting from a common point today, Techaisle expects to see each develop unique characteristics over the next several years.

Highlights of Techaisle’s report on State of SMB Managed Services Channel include:

The business of the SMB channel: migrating to specializations

  • Overall, currently, the SMB channel has a reasonable balance between product and services revenue and engagements.
  • There is no ‘silver bullet’ leading to financial health in the SMB channel. Execution, not time allocation, is the key to sales success.
  • Sales cycles vary with several factors, including solution expertise. SMB-focused MSPs have relatively long sales cycles overall, but channel partners that are “very comfortable” with managed services have superior time-to-revenue results.
  • Four key specializations are emerging in the SMB channel and this fragmentation will accelerate in the 2015-2018 timeframe.

Managed services in the channel: pervasive as a delivery vehicle, becoming more of a specialty

  • MSPs are hardly the only source of managed services: more than 60% of VARs, SPs and SIs sell managed services today, and there has been an increase in managed services activity in all of these channels.
  • The variety and depth of managed services will make it difficult for non-specialists to keep pace with MSP specialists.
  • SMB preference for a single source of managed services will have an impact on managed services market and channel development.
  • SMBs have a definitive view of pricing and per user/ per device is not the way forward 

The role of the vendor in the managed services channel

  • Vendors must navigate a mix of generic channel requirements and requirements that are specific to managed services partners.
  • Generic requirements for end-to-end solutions are less important in managed services (where best-of-breed is paramount) than in other areas.
  • Vendors must understand and address the challenges faced by partners migrating to managed services specializations; this course will be complex and expensive.
  • Vendors will benefit from aligning with managed services partners’ value propositions, which are in turn well aligned with business outcomes (and business buyers).

Working with the SMB managed services customer: managed services addresses key buy-side imperatives

  • SMBs are more dependent on technology than ever before.
  • Since 2010, IT staffing has dropped in microbusinesses, and increased in small and midmarket firms. Accordingly, managed services acts as a substitute for IT staff in firms with 1-19 employees, and as a means of augmenting IT management in larger SMBs.
  • SMBs are struggling with IT complexity, and turning to managed services providers for support.

The survey data shows that channel partners struggle to transition from delivering some managed services to building viable businesses on a managed services model. To be successful, vendors will need to set objectives spanning a three-year period over which managed services specialization will emerge.

Many IT vendors will struggle with simply understanding this fundamental change in the market, and more will fail to understand the focus and investment required to grow with partners through this transitional period.

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