Chambers to the Channel: It's Time to Change
Line-of-business influence, cloud's emergence, and the Internet of Things are among the drivers of the new reality for all vendors' channel partners.
Most channel partner events I've been to have a certain theme to them. For example, a few years ago under the rainy skies of Vancouver, Cisco promoted the concept of "Rattle and Hum," meaning it was time to rattle the competition and get the business for both Cisco and its partners humming. At this year's event in Las Vegas, the theme of "change" was heard loud and clear, over and over.
During his keynote, Cisco CEO John Chambers mentioned frequently that change might be uncomfortable, but today it's necessary. Wise words from a man who has seen his own company change several times before and is currently undergoing its own transition.
For Cisco's channel partners, change is definitely needed now because the IT environment has changed. I could say this isn't your father's IT environment, but we've seen so much change over the past few years that this isn't even your older brother's IT environment. While a number of factors are driving this change, I think a few stand out more than others. These include:
• Line-of-business influence (LoB) over IT. Historically, IT departments have made decisions on what technology to buy without really understanding the business requirements. I'm not saying that the needs of the business were not considered, but it was often an educated guess. The channel, though, rarely interfaced with the business units directly, as the internal IT department acted as the bridge between LoB and IT.
Today however, LoB managers, corporate executives and business leaders have much greater influence and/or decision-making authority over IT projects, meaning companies that sell technology must learn to speak the language of the business.
• Hybrid IT. In the IT industry, it seems we're always thinking in terms of absolutes. "Everything's moving to the cloud" or "the all wireless enterprise" are terms I hear often. The truth is that businesses always adopt the new stuff and keep the old stuff for a long time, sometimes decades.
The term "hybrid IT" has been used to describe a scenario where business provides and manages in-house infrastructure but also uses cloud based services where appropriate. The hybrid approach enables enterprises to maintain centralized management and governance while using the cloud. For resellers, this means that no matter how much of the business had consisted of selling infrastructure, shifting to a hybrid model and adding cloud services to the portfolio is an absolute must.
• The Internet of Everything (IoE). Clearly we're rapidly moving into a world where everything is connected, and by that I mean not just more devices but things that have historically been not connectable. Factory floor equipment, farm vehicles, irrigation systems, you name it and it can be connected now. Accelerating the path to IoE is that the price of the sensors used to connect the once un-connectable has dropped through the floor, and now for under $1, things can be connected.
The value of IoE isn't really the connections, though, as much as it is the analytics and the use cases that take advantage of the data collected through these connections. Given that Cisco has been one of the loudest advocates of IoE, partners of the company must understand how to position IoE best, in terms the business will understand.
The above changes are significant and require channel partners (not just Cisco's, but any that want to remain) to act, think and sell differently. Keys to making this shift are first and foremost, learning to speak the language of the business. I've interviewed many resellers who tell me that they can often get meetings with C-level executives but when they do, they're not sure what to say. It's critical to be able to sell with business outcomes in mind, not just technology goals.
Also, resellers must adopt a services-led engagement model. Do not lead with technology, or even presume to know what technology the business wants. Build a consulting organization that can lead the sale with the business outcomes mentioned above in mind. Equally important are back-end adoption services. Having your customer buy lots of stuff but then not use it does no one any good. Adoption services are post-sales services that ensure the customer is actually using the technology properly and getting the ROI that was expected.
Lastly, partners must be willing to sell cloud services as well as infrastructure. There are many challenges here for partners that historically have lived off of hardware. The go-to-market model is different, compensation to the sales professionals must change, and even the buyer is different. But in this hybrid IT world, it's going to be hard to compete without cloud arrows in the quiver.
Channel partners that choose to get out in front of this shift and lead the transition will remain viable and healthy. Those that don't are risking going the way of the voice interconnect. As John Chambers said up on stage, change is coming to IT. Change is hard, change is uncomfortable but it's also necessary--now more than ever.