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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.

Customer-centricity challenging channel – customer-partners needed

For decades, channel partners have aspired to achieving ‘trusted advisor’ relationships with their customers. The concept is so ingrained that it is nearly impossible to separate the notion of ‘trusted advisor’ from the broader sense of being a partner.

But if the market is moving from value addition by the channel to value creation for the end-customer, isn’t it essential to move beyond ‘trusted partner’ status to becoming, in a meaningful sense, a partner of the customer, invested in the customer’s business success?

Techaisle’s WW channel partners study of 2445 channel partners and corresponding US channel partners study of 814 partners shows that 61% (66% in the US) are transforming their organizations to focus on delivering business outcomes to their end-customers, up from 42% three years ago. However, the figure is still below customer expectations which stands at 78%. There are several points of disconnect between the customer and the channel. One of the most important disconnects stems from the notion of trusted advisor relationship versus meaningful customer partnership. Only 51% of partners are building meaningful partnerships (55% in the US) and the balance 49% still believe in being trusted advisors. There is nothing wrong with it except that customers, especially SMB and midmarket firms are looking for a “super consultant” – a firm that can offer advice that is more complete than what is being obtained from most partners and which can move beyond strategy to deliver operational support that is tied to business outcomes.

These firms exhibit a clear preference for advisors who can move seamlessly from advice to architecture to procurement to deployment and finally to management. Nearly three quarters of SMB buyers would like their channel partners to be able to provide technology advice that is directly connected to business issues, and nearly two-thirds want a partner who is “invested in customer success.”

The nature of the sales relationship will be a critical determinant of channel success. 52% of channel partners globally and 58% in the US are still running their businesses on sales quota requirements rather than a book of business. When all channel partners call themselves “advisors” there is no differentiation left across partners. Channel partners need to focus on being a meaningful customer partner delivering customer success. And this falls into the realm of being a super consultant.

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Practical guidance for navigating digital transformation with customers

Digital transformation success requires that channel partners respond to a diverse set of challenges: the channel organization needs to be able to balance extensive consulting and executive customer management with product transactions, ongoing management services and tangible contribution to customer business success. Those that are able to align their capabilities with digital transformation requirements will be positioned for long-term success in IT’s highest-growth market. Techaisle’s digital transformation (DX) framework highlights six ways that channel partners can profitably connect with customers in their initial stages of the DX journey. At the beginning of the DX journey, channel partners should plan to deliver billable services in foundational technology areas:

  1. Deployment of discrete foundation technologies needed to enable pursuit of DX business objectives: The requirement for these technologies should be clearly associated with capabilities needed within the DX roadmap; the systems themselves should be prioritized in accordance with the benefits that they deliver.
  2. Provision of management/support for technology tied to the DX roadmap: In this step it is essential for channel partners to increase customer communication so that they understand the value associated with ongoing support and integration that maintains the currency of the DX platform by managing its discrete IT components.
  3. Development and delivery of incremental feature/function objectives: Some of the technologies deployed within the DX framework may provide all needed functionality ‘out of the box,’ while others may benefit from ongoing enhancements. In these latter cases, both channel partners and their customers will benefit from the addition of features that provide incremental benefit to users/organizations that have absorbed current capability and who are ready for, and have need for, additional functionality.

Interwork technologies

Once the foundational level is in place and immediate benefits of the technology have been identified and communicated as ‘success stories’ within the customer organization, the channel partner should help the customer move on to the next DX level: establishment of connected ‘Interwork’ systems. Here, channel partner opportunities expand to include higher-value activities:

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Capturing the Midmarket digital transformation business value map

IT trends belong to one of two main categories. Some, like Linux or cloud, refer to a product or product category that changes IT strategies by providing breakthrough capabilities. Others are statements of IT strategy, highlighting opportunities to directly connect IT capabilities to broader business objectives.

Digital transformation (DX) is an example of this second type of trend. DX, according to a report by global research leader Techaisle, is the integration of digitalized processes to achieve enterprise-wide automation spanning multiple functions; modernization of current processes and supporting infrastructure to achieve previously-unattainable or unimaginable business outcomes.

Digital transformation isn’t defined by a single initiative or end-point. DX describes an evolving set of capabilities that connect investments in core technologies to enhanced operational efficiency, employee empowerment, product innovation and customer intimacy – which in turn enable DX adopters to increase revenue, decrease costs, reach new markets, deliver better products and services, and ultimately, drive more profit and improve shareholder value.

Viewed from this outcome’s perspective, DX success is rooted in the ability to connect incremental investments in technology with milestone achievements, aligned within a roadmap that ties to the organizational vision of modern capabilities delivering new levels of business performance.

The channel will play a critical role in guiding midmarket firms through the DX transformation. This starts with helping IT and executives within client organizations to define their vision for the key competency areas: mapping the digital transformation pillars to business outcomes provides IT and non-IT management with a cohesive set of meaningful objectives for addressing business pain points.

techaisle midmarket business value map

Capturing the midmarket DX opportunity

What does the channel need to do to translate midmarket demand for DX and its attendant benefits into long-term customer relationships? To capitalize on the DX opportunity, channel partners need to develop deep understanding of how the DX platform is built – how this framework supports process evolution – and how to cleanly align the IT and process frameworks with a delivery plan that addresses midmarket executive care-abouts.

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IBM empowering partner ecosystem to co-create the future

Enablement, execution, empowerment and experiences are the unwritten principles driving the entire IBM partner team in transforming the rules of partner engagement. At the recently concluded IBM PartnerWorld at Think conference in San Francisco, the term partner ecosystem was emblazoned across the entire IBM partner leadership team. Techaisle data shows that channel partners are faced with balancing investment in depth vs breadth and increasingly turning to a larger ecosystem for partner-to-partner collaboration. Between 2014-2018 there has been a 69% increase in opportunistic partner collaboration for sales. By using the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to empower its partners, IBM is formalizing partner-to-partner collaboration and ecosystem, named IBM Business Partner Connect, built on Watson.

With an instant match capability, IBM Business Partner Connect has been designed to accelerate solutions for end-customers by matching partners looking for assistance with partners offering expertise. Business Partner Connect also allows partners to join the business partner Slack community to share best practices and find new partnership opportunities. In its pilot stage, approximately 800 partners participated, which unveiled 300 matches.

Enablement to Empowerment

In the current channel world – where core business conditions, market opportunities and requirements are all in flux – an opportunity to provide relevant guidance, targeted business advice from IBM, plus peer-level input, is an enormously important and valuable capability. Partners need guidance to transition through current market and business changes and a community is an appropriate context for this guidance, and leading the community will be IBM at the center of this dialogue/activity. Over time, Business Partner Connect and the community platform will give IBM the ability to involve a large number of partners, increase IBM’s centricity, and provide a revenue line into the channel operation.

It is quite evident that a key factor in IBM’s partner program’s momentum and transformation has been John Telstch’s leadership and his own ecosystem of senior leaders (Carola Cazenave, Jacqueline Woods, Catherine Solazzo, Chris Oliver, Jamie Mendez, Ken Gregory and Rose Nunez). He has been listening, responding and committing to having the channel partner’s back. Techaisle’s latest study of channel partners shows that 52% of partners want their vendor partner channel chiefs to be setting a clear overall strategy and 44% value trustworthiness and accountability. John gets a check mark on both these value traits.

Vendor organizations usually focus on simplifying drivers of channel enablement, but IBM is consciously extending enablement to empowerment to deliver customer success. Enablement (usually incentives) is a short-term lever to change immediate partner behavior for achieving sales quotas and revenue targets. Regardless of addressing short-term objectives, it is necessary. In Techaisle’s study, 50% of partners mentioned that incentive programs are important for marketing and sales. Empowerment helps partners transform themselves from a vendor’s sales agents to sales advocates especially when increasingly partners are focusing on business outcomes with hybrid/as-a-Service delivery solutions and shared-risk partnerships. IBM has spent the last one year in understanding the present and is working consciously and furiously in shaping the future.

Simplifying partner experiences

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