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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.

Red Hat Partner Program accelerating partner business velocity

Markets behave logically, and therefore channel partners exist for logical reasons. Channel partners are essential to intercepting demand, connecting technology to business outcomes, enabling efficiencies, and providing customer relevance. A sizable majority of IT industry sales are concluded through partners and are not likely to slow down soon. As we emerge from the pandemic, it is clear that the cloud has transformed the IT industry by its ability to provide agile transformation, resiliency, and adaptability. The market has shifted from discrete purchase-and-deploy deals aligned with refresh cycles to a 'hybrid IT' approach that blends a limited number of on-premise assets with a growing range of on-demand services. Application modernization, migration, cloud consulting services, and cloud managed services. Containers have become the PoC beachheads, small to enterprise firms are building the Edge. Techaisle data 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. There is a reason why I have written a long preamble before unfolding the main point of the Techaisle Take.

Red Hat is a platform company whose goal is to continue to deliver platforms and the relevant pieces around it that enable a customer to have the maximum flexibility and core capabilities for security, stability, and resiliency. In addition, these customers should be able to deploy applications faster and at scale. Therefore, its open hybrid cloud initiative has to have as broad a partner ecosystem as possible to deliver on Red Hat's promise. Red Hat is still Red Hat retaining its independence and neutrality, but its partner program is changing to tackle the ecosystem challenges. Red Hat has been listening to its partners. Red Hat's Stefanie Chiras, Sr. Vice-President, Partner Ecosystem Success is focusing on partner success. She and her team recognize that partners contribute to creating, shaping, defining demand – in some cases by making customers aware of a new category or product, in others by helping to define solution requirements or specifications. In the hybrid world, the solution deployment is based not on a specified hardware/software configuration but the orchestration of multiple on-demand services integrated with existing legacy systems - a liberating factor for the partner ecosystem in a meaningful sense.

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Lenovo Partner Hub – a one-stop-shop for services offerings – neatly fulfilling Lenovo 360 promise

Techaisle's channel partner research shows a top tier of four must-have vendor attributes to pursue new partner relationships and build on existing ones. These are 1/ease of doing business, 2/ technical support, 3/ competitive pricing, and 4/ well-designed partner programs/partner portals. Each of these elements is considered necessary by 40% or more of channel decision-makers.

Lenovo is addressing each of the attributes. For example, at the center of its partner program transformation under One Lenovo and Lenovo 360 (partner program framework) is its Lenovo Partner Hub, undergoing continuous enhancements since its introduction in 2020. Its most recent improvements integrate managed services to product sales. Partners love the enhanced partner portal because of its simplicity of layout, ability to serve contextual information quickly, easy navigation, and enabling partners to add services components in customer bids effortlessly. It is a one-stop-shop for everything services – training, marketing, and deliverables.

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Five9 driving customer experience solution success with a thoughtful and collaborative global partner program

Survival of every business depends upon customers, and 2020 saw a ground-breaking year when customer intimacy (acquisition, retention, experience & satisfaction) drove technology adoption and business process evolution within the SMB and midmarket segments. Businesses in general, and SMBs in particular, have many poorly automated or un-automated tasks and processes that they could meaningfully improve by using focused SaaS applications. 59% of small businesses, 86% of core midmarket firms, and 95% have prioritized customer experience solution deployment. Still, IT staff within 38% of small businesses, 47% of core midmarket firms, and 55% of upper midmarket firms face challenges in deploying customer experience solutions.

Five9, a cloud contact center software provider, aims to lessen the IT challenge by “reimagining customer experience” through fully customizable solutions that empower customer agents to address customer needs. Deploying customer intimacy is a little bit like making Baked Alaska: the promise is delicious, but the method is mysterious. The journey from IT systems to a better customer experience isn’t a matter of magical alchemy that wreathes unlikely ingredients with an alluring halo. Instead, it results from a roadmap that starts with digitizing data and processes, moves forward through connected systems that encourage and support fact-based customer-facing activity, and result in an organizational capacity to understand and respond to customer needs. Midmarket businesses understand the appeal of the outcome – and they need guidance from suppliers like Five9 that can define the recipe for customer experience.

Five9 knows that contact center software is only one component of a set of sales, marketing, and customer service solutions. It knows that, with customer experience, it’s the mystery of how to aggregate data and integrate it with customer-facing activities successfully. Recent global SMB and midmarket research from Techaisle shows that within US small businesses, customer-focused SaaS business application adoption increased by 49% in 2020 and will rise by another 33% in 2021. Techaisle data shows that by the end of 2021, 76% of new SaaS adoption within SMBs will be customer-focused. Similarly, within the US midmarket firms, the adoption reached 82% in 2020, with 74% planning to add adjacent customer-focused applications in 2021. Europe research shows similar trends. To deliver on the promise of “reimagining customer experience,” extending the functionality of its solutions, and automating entire customer-facing business processes, Five9’s software must integrate with CRM, online retail, automated quoting, eCommerce, social chatbots, email, forms management, help desk, and queue management.

Integration is a crucial impediment to customer experience. Executives often see examples of organizations using data drawn from integrated internal systems, or from social media, from far-flung sensors, or third-party services, or from a mix of all of these sources – to improve the critical operating parameters of their businesses. However, these answers aren’t simply a result of having technology within an organization. Instead, better customer experience results from linking technology (and the data it collects, shares, and enhances) with front-line functions, which requires understanding how to develop technical competencies and integrate them within the organization.

Five9 has identified several partner types, especially CRM solution providers, UC suppliers, and ISVs, to deliver an integrated customer experience solution. Five9 has built an adapter to enable clients of all sizes to seamlessly integrate its CTI with CRM solutions such as Kustomer, Microsoft Dynamics, NetSuite CRM, Oracle, Salesforce, ServiceNow, and Zendesk.

For the CRM solutions providers, Five9 follows three distinct engagement models, each of which can establish Five9 and its partners as a partner of the customer, invested in their business success. At the same time, if executed correctly, the models enhance the revenue stream of Five9 and its partners.

  • Sell into the customers who are already using CRM solutions from one of the Five9 integration partners
  • CRM solution providers get introduced to the Five9 installed base to help with total CX transformation
  • Joint selling into new customer accounts who are evaluating CRM and contact center solutions

The above is not a simple, straightforward set of changes to embrace. However, the changes are central to transitioning to where the opportunity is growing – and this, more than any adherence to tried and true practices, is the goal to position its businesses for long-term viability. The nature of the partner relationship is a critical determinant of Five9 success. From a strategic sales enablement perspective, Five9 is focused on alignment with its sales team to create a better system by educating its sales team on the benefits of selling together with its CRM partners.

Unified communications is another technology area where most SMBs and midmarket firms have high planned adoption rates. However, the inhibitor is the inability of a hosted solution to adequately meet the needs of an SMB organization which demands many feature sets - call hand-off, integration with CRM solutions, integration of vertical applications, group calling/directory, and regulatory compliance. To enable such features necessitates customization or integration expenses which wipes out the cost savings. Five9 has partnered with Nextiva, Microsoft Teams, fuze, Zoom, TetraVX, and Mitel to integrate contact center and back-office, which augments the telephony and conferencing solutions to enable agents to be more efficient in solving a customer problem. Since many UC suppliers work with resellers as well, Five9 has aligned its partner program to understand how to build complementary routes to market options to capture as much market share together as possible.

ISVs are essential to cloud suppliers serving all types of customers. For example, cloud vendors, such as Five9, looking to build an enterprise-level platform need ISVs to provide critical capabilities to the core offering. In addition, vendors attempting to penetrate target markets work with a specific application vendor to demonstrate the relevance of their services; the ISV, in turn, relies on the platform vendor to provide evidence of a trustworthy application delivery platform. And cloud solution suppliers may position cloud applications as an extension of their core relationship with a customer, even as the ISV involved views them as a resale channel with excellent access to a high-value target buyer community.

Five9 has a formal ISV partner program with co-sell agreements, provides development support and accreditation, and promotes ISV solutions via Five9 CX Marketplace. Five9 already has 70+ ISVs in its program. These ISVs get access to the development environment, documentation, APIs, and SDKs to build integrations. Once the ISVs have built their integrations, they get accredited, and solutions get listed on Five9’s marketplace. To drive success, Five9 has a two-way referral initiative along with a co-sell motion. As a result, the program is growing every quarter, with an increasing number of partners wanting to partner with Five9.

Five9 is anchoring its global partner program on white-glove service, empowering partners, certifications, and development support. This year, Five9 is moving to target the right partners and provide new and improved professional certification options. It is also focusing on specific routes to market around certifications. In Five9’s own words, “…our special sauce is aligning with the Five9 sales team, demonstrating value, building mutual interest and trust, through initiatives such internal newsletter.” Partner Loop, a monthly newsletter, keeps all of Five9’s salespeople in the loop on sales wins, resources, all the great things happening with the partners, and why they should continue to win together with the partners. In addition, to accelerate time to market for its sales teams, Five9 has a partner locator, partner profiles, and CRM and UC integration guides to reduce the complexity of sales conversations. Partner Hello is an onboarding and activation concept that is seeing tremendous success and driving engagement. Five9’s amplify education webinar series provides training to its partners on new services and products. Five9 is addressing essential partner requirements. Techaisle partner survey shows that onboarding training and webinars are the two most crucial training options for partners with certification programs and web training modules representing the next-most important training options

To top it all, Five9 has also launched its Five 9 Global Partner Advisory Board and new Five9 Partner Hello Onboard and Welcome Guide in June.

Modern IT generally delivers systems that improve sales process efficiency and visibility. The drive to develop new customers and retain existing ones directly impacts the desire to emphasize solutions that support business growth, including social media, mobility, and analytics. Additionally, growing business confidence affects all business-relevant solution areas, freeing up resources for new solution exploration, adoption, and optimizing or redesigning business processes. Besides pure SaaS business applications, including cloud solutions, analytics, marketing automation, customer service, CRM, and other adjacent solutions, data shows that SMBs are planning to increase spending in AI, Chatbots, voice assistants, UCaaS, and mobility solutions.

Five9 is positioning itself to be a key player in the customer experience solution segment by successfully embracing an industry-wide trend away from rigid solution definition towards fluid, flexible configurations that integrate multiple components and moving from opportunistic to strategic. In addition, it is accelerating collaboration across partners for predictable, rapid responses to customer demands, becoming proactive in building effective relationships with trusted allies.

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The power of P2P partner ecosystem collaboration is a strategic imperative

Management of P2P ecosystems is not a core focus of many vendor channel organizations – but it will be increasingly crucial to success in providing channel coverage for complex technologies. One distinguishing characteristic of a traditional channel firm is its ability and willingness to test, learn about, deploy, integrate and support new solutions as customers need them. However, increasing solution complexity has made it more difficult for channel partners to master all of the different technologies required by their clients. This has, in turn, led the channel to look at partner-to-partner (P2P) alliances as an alternative to the building (through training/certification) or buying (through new staff hires or acquisitions) unique expertise whenever required. Vince DeRose, President, PEAK Resources, Inc., said it very well, "it is difficult to staff engineering/delivery talent for every solution we sell. Training and certification are generally required to have a meaningful and relevant relationship with a manufacturer/OEM." Techaisle research shows that costs are high for staffing skills with certifications. In an increasingly complex market (e.g., IoT, hybrid IT), partners need access to many products – certainly more than they can afford to be certified. Certifications may work for some products, but they constrain options for partners dealing with configurable solutions. P2P collaboration is the panacea for delivering complex customer solutions.

The enduring issue of Partner-to-Partner

PEAK Resources, a 30-year-old DMR, actively believes in and participates in P2P to augment skill gaps – technical and geographical. Initially, most of its IT skills focused around IBM offerings, but now there are many prominent vendors in the market with varying solutions and platforms to meet changing customer demands, such as Cisco, VMware, Dell, and more. In addition, projects are becoming much more complex, requiring many different and complex IT skill sets to solve for the customer. Vince DeRose continues, "a P2P platform, like P2P Global, Inc. is vendor agnostic. It works specifically great for emerging technologies and vendors who have immature partner programs. Vendors are making efforts to develop their P2P enablement programs. Still, most see their platforms filling a gap in their portfolio instead of partners' preference for fulfilling a skills gap. "

Techaisle saw this trend start to take root with security, where deep and diverse protections (and threats) opened the door to mainstream channel collaboration with MSSPs and other specialized security providers. However, the channel partners could not immediately replicate the security experience in other areas. Channel partners often act as gatekeepers, reducing client exposure to other solution sources and internalizing as much of the IT-related business requirements as possible.

Still, though, with the industry-wide trend away from rigid solution definition and towards fluid, flexible configurations that integrate multiple components, P2P collaboration (and from a vendor's perspective, ecosystem alliances) is moving from opportunistic to strategic. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed technology and IT companies to become more flexible and quickly roll out more efficient and seamless digital solutions for partnering and completing projects.

CohnReznick, a 100-year-old firm specializing in tax and audit work and deep expertise in ERP core consulting for midmarket firms, has strategically jumped into P2P ecosystem participation. But, again, the pandemic was the great accelerator. It joined P2P Global, and whose "platform shines as it is laser-focused on curation versus throwing up matches like a job board type solution," says Reed Dailey, Director, Strategy, Technology, and Transformation, CohnReznick.

Partnering To Be Efficient

Techaisle sees solution packaging as a customer choice issue – and customers are choosing to move from turnkey systems to hybrid environments that can align with their evolving needs. In many cases, this requires an accelerated frequency of partner-to-partner collaboration. Real-world demands for predictable, rapid responses to customer demands requires that channel businesses be proactive in building effective relationships with trusted allies.

Karl Kleinert, Director, Advisory Services, CohnReznick, adds, "typically, the vendor solutions are closed ecosystems to their network, but end-customers are not only buying or using solutions from one vendor. We are in a heterogeneous world. The vendor platforms break down pretty quickly in terms of their partner networks as soon as a partner has a project with even a minimal level of complexity that requires ancillary and adjacent technologies. We are very particular about the partnerships that we enter into and make sure we have a route to market model that fits us and that we have good rules of engagement and well-defined roles and responsibilities. Customers are demanding new technologies, which exposes new skill gaps within the partners. A vendor agnostic P2P collaboration platform gives us the kind of flexibility that is important for business success. A good example was a rollout of Infor's Birst data analytics solution supporting a global ERP deployment. CohnReznick owned the overall implementation, and we leveraged another partner for the data migration."

Informed by end-user and partner survey research, Techaisle sees substantial and increasing demand for solutions integrated around data rather than physical system components. The escalating requirement will require changes in channel go-to-market strategies. Channel businesses that are not actively developing P2P capabilities will be vulnerable to gaps in their ability to meet customer expectations, reducing their ability to maintain solid and profitable relationships with existing clients. Results from the 2021 research indicate that channel businesses that are effective in P2P are more likely to experience growth – and higher growth – than those that rarely collaborate with other channel members. Vendors with solid ecosystem management programs with a platform that helps facilitate P2P collaboration have an opportunity to help engaged partners to obtain above-average returns, strengthening the vendor and its partners alike.

The Benefits of a P2P Ecosystem

Connectria, a 20-year-old managed services and cloud migration services provider with 180 partners, is "getting its feet wet" in the P2P ecosystem collaboration space by recently joining P2P Global. Jeff Swartz, Director, Channel Sales, Connectria, said, "our objective is to glue our partners together so not only do they get the benefits of doing business with us, but they also get the benefits of doing business with all of our other partners." For ten plus years, Connectria has been in IBM Power hosting business but has been branching out into managed services for AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud. Connectria is successfully conveying the message to its customers that it is essentially bringing them more value. P2P Global allows it to expand on the relationship that it has with existing customers. "Particularly over the last year, customers want to see more value from the suppliers they are doing business with, not value addition but value creation. Value addition is akin to selling hardware which is a race to the bottom with very little money,", says Jeff Swartz.

One of the core tenets of channel-ready products is that they are 'designed for relevance, rather than elegance' – that they predictably address a defined issue, rather than being designed so that they can be applied to address a range of potential issues. Resellers then build these products into turnkey solutions that help a target audience to achieve a defined outcome. One result of this approach was that vendors connected to partners in a 'hub and spoke' model, where multiple partners relied on one vendor for a component of a turnkey solution, and the vendor relied on numerous partners to deploy their products within well-defined target markets.

Ecosystem Partnerships

John Guido, CEO, and Founder, P2P Global Inc., has a great perspective on the IT channel and provides valuable insight, saying, "We developed P2P Global to help facilitate P2P engagements for channel partners – to help them solve for skill gaps. In the end, while our platform is easy to use and very efficient, it is only a tool. If a solution provider believes they can deliver more customer value and competitive advantage by leveraging an ecosystem approach, then they will also need to create a company culture that embraces scaling partnerships. While we know our platform can help deliver ecosystem value, we also know continuing to scale membership will be critical to further our value proposition. I believe vendors and distributors will be key to scaling and enabling their channel partners to participate in platforms like ours."

In the "as-a-service" world, a solution is based not on a defined hardware/software configuration but the orchestration of multiple on-demand services integrated with existing legacy systems. In an important sense, this is a liberating factor for the channel partner. However, it also means that channel partners have to increase their collaboration with other channel members, not opportunistically but frequently, similar to what PEAK Resources (a DMR), Connectria (an MSP), and CohnReznick (a consulting firm) are doing.

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