Content is king
By Diane Krakora, CEO of PartnerPath
As I was winging my way back from a week in Las Vegas at the Channel Partners Conference and Expo, I reflected on several insights from the event. In addition to the ever-present life lessons you gain at a large conference like: drink lots of water (seriously, lots), wear comfortable shoes (but still look good) and don’t mix hard alcohol and red wine (this is key) I came up with ten takeaways from the event. In no particular order:
- Despite time and company changes, this is still a telco/agent-focused event. Considering Channel Partners used to be called Phone+ and the title sponsor is AT&T, you would think this is obvious. But with Informa’s (Channel Partners’ parent) acquisition of Penton (The VAR Guy, MSPmentor, etc.) and keynote speakers like Microsoft’s channel chief, Gavriella Schuster, Channel Partners is clearly trying to widen the spectrum of partner business models that attend. I met some very interesting people at strong and growing partner organizations.
- 5G, IoT, SD-WAN and cloud, cloud and more cloud are the hot topics. Note, as the title sponsor of the event, AT&T might have had significant influence in sessions that spoke to product technologies (and possibly also those that spoke to channel business models). Every speaker used examples that involved IoT and/or cloud solutions. I think the partners in the audience get it: move to cloud.
- Attendees come for thought leadership. I talked with over 50 channel partner attendees during the three days (and three nights, see reminder about red wine) and nearly all of them told me their priority was the speakers/sessions over the product demos and discussions from the expo hall. The speakers, panelists and facilitators matter and the attendees are paying close attention to who brings value and insights and who does not. If you are asked to be a speaker or a panelist – bring your A-game.
- The attendees want discussion on how to execute strategic initiatives in addition to the thought leadership on what to do and why to do it. For example, Jay McBain, Principal Analyst – Global Channels at Forrester, presented that 65% of technology sales are being driven and/or influenced by line-of-business departments (marketing, sales, HR, etc.). Many of the partners I spoke to after Jay’s presentation clearly understood this was a direction they should grow in. However, they were left with the question of how. How do they act on these trends to future-proof their businesses? Though I suppose I should take advantage of this opportunity. We consultants, along with service providers are good sources to help them with the how.
- CMOs spend more on technology that CIOs. Whoa. As mentioned above, Jay did indicate the growth in line-of-business sales. However, I was surprised when Art Wittman, Senior VP of Content for Informa, shared that CMOs spend on average 3.5% of the total company revenues on technology purchases where the CIOs only spend 3.4% (according to Gartner). Okay, it’s only .1% difference – but that certainly hammered home the shift to line-of-business selling in IT. How do channel partners start morphing their businesses that direction? Wait, did I already mention that?
- 40% of the channel is going to retire in the next decade according to a recent study by CompTIA. There has been a lot of chatter in the channels industry over the past five years about partners transitioning (or not) to cloud business models. One reason this transition might be slower than expected is that the owners of partner companies are aging into retirement. Most channel partners are small businesses (< $20 million) and most have been in business for 10-30 years. Having gone through several business model transitions, they just don’t want to do it again now that they are in their 50s. If 40% of your channel goes away, how will that affect your overall sales?
- There is still a huge talent drought in the channels. Every single partner I talked to is hiring and could not find people with the technical skills to fill their positions. The industry continues to look to outside sources to recruit and develop talent. Channel Partners invited the organization Train our Troops along with several military veterans to the event to try to help fill some of these gaps. I was very excited to see this investment in our veterans, not only because I’m married to one, but because these men and women have awesome skills that can absolutely be leveraged in high technology companies. Veterans just need a little coaching on how to communicate their technology and leadership skills in corporate-speak instead of military-speak.
- The role of distribution is shrinking. Broadline distributors are particularly having a challenge in communicating their value-add in a growing cloud-based world. As I walked the show floor chatting with Tech Data, Westcon (Synnex), D&H – it was clear to me they were struggling for proof points on their value-add to subscription-based solutions. Cloud distributors such as Pax8 are filling in the gaps with subscription management and metered billing solutions, which are tied directly into managed services tools like ConnectWise.
- The role of channel partners is growing, even with the ability of customers to purchase subscription-based services directly from the vendors. Yes, I knew that one. But it’s really cool to continue to hear speaker after speaker talk about the value the channel plays with the customer – particularly in putting together the full solution to meet the customers’ business needs – which are increasingly outcome based. Daniel Saks, CEO of AppDirect summed it up eloquently: “People buy technology from people they trust.” We call them trusted advisors for a reason.
- Jeans are now conference wear! Woo hoo!! That is, unless you work for AT&T (slacks and a sport coat) or IBM (always in a tie). Maybe it’s because there was so much focus on engaging the next generation of talented millennials that I noticed nearly everyone on stage was wearing jeans (some even with holes in the knees!). Up until about three years ago, a client (or prospect) never saw me in jeans. After the display of denim on Tuesday, I traded in my stable black slacks for my ever-so-much-more-comfy blue jeans. I’m sure the change in attire made me smarter if not hipper.
Were you one of the 7,000 people in attendance at Channel Partner Conference & Expo? What did you learn? Reply here or email me. And if you are one of those folks with a bunch of “how” questions I’m happy to help.Diane Krakora is CEO of PartnerPath with two decades of experience defining the best practices and frameworks around how to develop and manage partnerships.