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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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COVID-19 Impact - Time to revisit pure-play MSP recurring revenue model

Consider these statistics from Techaisle’s recent worldwide channel sizing and channel trends studies. 62% of MSPs have less than 25 employees, 92% of MSPs have less than US$5 million in annual revenue. A large majority of these MSPs sell to smaller SMBs who are currently experiencing gut-wrenching disruptions to their businesses. MSPs are not immune to the COVID-19 crisis. 15% of MSPs either want to sell their business or wind down and 52% of MSPs need external capital to grow and remain viable or are seeking M&A opportunities. While MSP business model success is predicated on recurring revenue, profitable MSPs drive more than 40% of revenue from non-recurring sources. Pursuit of recurring revenue is not a bad idea as it provides a foundation for future revenue and it is important to business valuations. But data shows that recurring revenue is not the sole indicator of business success.

Recurring revenue can predict earnings thereby reducing risk, however, selling licenses or seats alone does not create a high margin business. MSPs who have moved to predominantly recurring revenue model are more likely to run out of operating capital than they are to reap the benefit of enhanced business valuations or the ability to manage cash flows during an episodic global crisis. Techaisle’s survey data clearly shows that channels with high percent of recurring revenues have been consistently unsuccessful in managing uncertainties in business climate. MSPs that lack margin also lack the ability to invest in improving their capacity to innovate and compete in the long-term and for weathering business interruptions. MSPs that do have meaningful margins, on the other hand, have the ability to invest in capabilities that enable them to expand into new market areas or overcome periods of economic crisis.

A typical pure-play MSP’s 84% to 90% of recurring revenue is spent on human capital, RMM/PSA solutions and other overheads, leaving between 10% to 16% for margins.

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Channel and Vendors must shift from turnkey to ecosystem collaborative solutions by 2020

The core changes in the demands on different areas of the channel business are critical and challenging, but they can be seen as more effect than cause. In all aspects of channel business, long-held business tenets are being replaced by an emerging reality that has been ushered in by the move to cloud and amplified by many other trends – changes in buyers and buyer behavior, as well as management and process changes, and evolutions in service/technology delivery – that are reshaping how technology is acquired and used, and how suppliers need to act to meet buyer requirements.

NEXT channel

Techaisle has identified twelve areas where channel partners must abandon ingrained behaviors and move to new approaches that will enable NEXT (Networked, Engaged, Extended, Transformed) channel businesses.

Partner-to-partner relationships are important to cloud business success

There are seven imperatives that impact all areas of channel business operations, there are two imperatives that relate to internal management/process items, two that impact service/technology delivery, two that affect go-to-market and customer relationship management, and one – the shift from ‘turnkey solutions’ to ‘ecosystem collaborative solutions’ – that touches on all three areas. Let us discuss this last imperative.

Solution packaging isn’t a ‘religious issue’, it’s a ‘customer choice issue’ – and customers are clearly choosing to move from turnkey systems to hybrid environments that can be aligned with their evolving needs; this will also require an accelerated frequency of partner-to-partner collaboration (not opportunistically but strategically).

techaisle channel partner ecosystem collaboration new

The chart above illustrates an important feature of this migration: it increases both the scope of projects that the channel partner can engage in and the profitability of those engagements. As the chart demonstrates, 65% of channel firms that consider themselves to be “very successful” in selling cloud report that they frequently collaborate with other channel partners; firms that struggle with cloud success are much less likely to proactively work with peer channel firms.

Drilling into the data from 2014 to 2018, we find that the opportunistic collaboration has increased by 69%. There are many sporadic efforts but no single vendor is formalizing and enabling this P2P collaboration.

What is the new Turnkey solution:

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