A Blast from The Past: What Have Tech Companies Ever Done For Resellers.

Revisting a Speech

I have been trawlin… sorry, that should read “researching”, through some older papers to see what would make good material for new blogs or updated white papers (ala the “Resurrecting the Digital Nervous System Concept” audio blog in the VoiceWORKS section) when I found this transcript from a talk I did to around 350 top executives from the likes of Microsoft, IBM, Bull, HP, Compaq (you do remember them don’t you?) etc all the way back in 1999.

I sat here laughing my head off when I read it and wonder how I ever got out of the place alive! Funnily enough however, it went down so well I was asked to moderate some discussion panels later in the day. What’s interesting to note is how much have things changed, if at all, in the intervening years. Sadly, Powermark no longer exists, but I can probably locate the original slides somewhere as I archive everything- though to be honest, the transcript works as a standalone speech. Enjoy, make comment, let me know if the situation is any different today!

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Slide 1: Title Slide

Good morning Ladies and gentlemen. Let’s try that again: Good morning everyone! That’s better. Ok, my name is Darren Smithson and I’m the Product Marketing Manager with Powermark plc, and I’m here today to deliver the “Your Resellers Speak” presentation, or as I’ve re-titled it “You’re having a laugh aren’t you?”

Oooohh I can see some folded arms out there. Don’t worry. Things aren’t that bad. I just wanted a title that made sure I had your attention, seeing as it’s still relatively early in the morning. As I said, things aren’t that bad. They’re not good, but not all that bad.

Slide 2: Agenda

So, what am I going to cover this morning? First of all I’m going to give a very brief intro to myself and my company, to explain why it is I’m up here talking to you all. Then I’m going to look at what is wrong and what is right with your channel policies at the moment, before I tell you some of the things that we really want. Don’t worry- there won’t be any references to the Spice Girls. Then I’ll be around for the Q&A session later. By the way, I will be using the term “you” in its most generic levels, so bear with me if your organisation isn’t included in some of my assumptions from time to time.

Slide 3: Why Me?

So, why am I here presenting to you? Okay, despite my youthful appearance I’ve now been in this industry for some 13 years, working in a variety of roles but specialising in Product Management and marketing. In that time I’ve worked for channel partners and manufacturers- you can read as well as I can- so I think I have a sound base from which to draw upon this morning. In other words, I understand where many of you are coming from, what your own issues and demands are, but I also see where you’re going wrong with your channel policies- and because of my channel experience, I can see what needs to be done to put things right.

I think the other reason why I was selected was because, ladies and gentlemen, as you will discover, I am very passionate about my industry, I take events like this- where I have a chance to work with you all and improve things- I take them very, very seriously.

And finally, I think I was also the only person available.

Anyhow, moving on, the last company listed here is my current employer, Powermark plc.

Slide 4: Powermark

Powermark is probably this industry’s best kept secret. Top 20 reseller, loads of accreditations, a key partner to many of you out there today- yet, how many of you have heard of us? I think that’s going to change in the coming months, but for information of who we are, how we work- and we do work differently from most resellers – then visit our website. In a nutshell, we are specialists in IT management services, focussing on two market segments: 150 to 500, and 501-1000 seats. This is how we define SME and ME businesses. We have our own services division, Sapientia, who specialise in delivering the managed environment. In other words, Powermark sell solutions and products that enable our clients to implement a managed environment , while our services division help the clients in that implementation. By the way, in case you were wondering, Sapientia is Latin for either knowledge or wisdom, depending on which school you went to- although I’ve since discovered that it’s also modern Italian for smart arse.

Slide 5: The Good and the Bad

Now, let’s get into the meat of the presentation- and I think we’ll start with the bad, the things that are being down wrong. First of all, information. Man, we need information so badly. Information about you, your products, your solutions, your roadmaps, your business and technology strategies. What do we get?

We get hype!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have to tell you now, the reseller channel have a very special breed of sales people. They are the most cynical bunch of people you could ever wish to avoid! When you send out your bulletins, and marketing bumph, the one thing that is guaranteed to send them into complete and utter apathy is “hype”. They don’t want hype. I don’t want hype. You know, I love this industry, I love the technology- yes I am a geek and proud of it- and I love my job. But all the hype I get now even makes me feel like, “yeah yeah- so what else is new?” If your marketing is making even people like me feel like this, you’ve got a problem! I want useful information that I can use effectively- and I want to be able to get to that information quickly, not have to wade through reams and reams of “marketing”! You must instruct your marketing departments that your reseller channel need different messages to your end-users.

So, what do I want? (and I’m using the word “I” to mean my company here!)

I want information.

But like Patrick McGoohan, I am not a number.

I wouldn’t say I was a free man either, but there is a tendency for you to see your channel partners as all the same. We’re not. We all have little idiosyncrasies, and we need you to understand that although your planned campaign is the best thing since sliced bread, if we aren’t able to tweak it to match our own messages and culture, the campaign will fail.

The same goes for the markets you seek to address. You need to understand for example, that the needs of the SME market are worlds apart from the needs of the corporate market. Now you would think this is fairly obvious, but I have to laugh when I hear some of the statements you guys make when you move into new markets. For example, a well-known PC manufacturer starting with C announced a few years ago that it was going to move into the home and soho marketplace, and the top UK guy was interviewed about the launch of the new products- in which he said, “We are obviously targeting the type of user that would buy an Amiga 500.” Obviously? Especially as at that time the A500 had already been dead for almost 3 years. And so it goes with the SME market, boy, are some of you in for a shock. I’ll return to this later, so, let’s move on.

Slide 6: Good and Bad

You’ve got to get the right people in the right job, and you’ve got to, at all costs, avoid public disagreements- not just internally, but with your competition. You might also think that I’m trying to teach your grandma to suck eggs here, but you’ll be amazed about how much we do see! For example, there’s a well known comms and networking company out there. They were doing great! In fact so great that we were going to make them our exclusive network platform. Then they reshuffled. Brought in a lot of new people who, to be honest, were simply not right for the job. Then the argument’s started, the good people left- in fact virtually all their corporate sales team left citing the fact that their new boss was a complete schizophrenic! So then the bad people blamed them for leaving, while the good people resurfaced with the competition and… well you guessed it, we changed our minds.

The lesson here: give us stability! If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

You also have to learn to trust us. We are closer to our customers than you are, we understand our market, we know what we’re talking about! An example: another well known software company, starting with L, had a fairly large licensing agreement- so large in fact that the account had a dedicated account manager. This account manager thought everything was going fine, both with his product and the supplier at the time, and figured that he would just get the repeat business when the contract expired later that quarter. We had a meeting in there about an unrelated services requirement and, after a discussion went off on a tangent, discovered the situation with the software support was bad, so bad in fact that the customer was considering a competitive platform! Did the developer listen to us? No. Did they trust us? No. Only when we forced a meeting with the customer, us and the supplier did they get the full picture. If we hadn’t done that, the customer would have been lost!

So please, listen to what we have to say- and don’t just listen, act!

Slide 7: Time

The other key thing that you sometimes forget, is that your five year game plans bear little or no relation the SME market place. This market, and the channel to it, is in such constant flux. The channel has to move very quickly, because our customers move faster! For example, you have your five year plan with your one year marketing plan, while we have a one year marketing plan adapted quarterly because of the ever changing dynamics of our marketplace. Please, please, please, bear this in mind when we come to you for quick responses and a more flexible approach!

Slide 8: The Good

So, that’s enough about the bad for now. What are you doing that’s good?

Well, you have obviously realised that you should be listening to your channel, which is great! Otherwise, why would I be here? Initiatives such as these are good, but we need more, although I think some of you realise this. For example, that well-known software company starting with M recently launched it’s Reseller Panel programme, where every quarter or so, 20 of us sit around a table and talk about specific problems affecting us and what this particular company could do to help. I’m pleased to say that I’m already seeing some tweaks to their programmes that are as a result of those discussions. More please!

The other great thing at the moment is the fact that you’re talking amongst yourselves much more, and this convergence between the worlds of IT and Comms with Telecomms and entertainment as an example is really fantastic. It makes the implementation of a true managed environment much easier- both for us and our customers. Although I have to say, you’re about 5 years behind where we’ve wanted you to be! But it’s a start- and some of the recent announcements- BT and Microsoft as an example- will usher in a whole new era of technological development.

I hope.

And we’re seeing much better communication to the channel than we’ve ever seen before- although please, please, please, stop telling our customers about new products before you tell us!

Slide 9: What do we want?

So, given all these points, what is it that we want from you?

The first thing is, is that you need to change your attitude- on the most fundamental level. Corporate or SME UK may well be your customers, but hey, guess what? We’re your customers too!

You should also know that we most probably understand our market better than you do! It’s not arrogance, it’s experience! We’ve grown up with this marketplace, we’ve grown up with the very customers you are now targeting- I think we have a lot more in common with a 750 seater organisation than you have! So don’t come steam-rolling in and try to tell us our job. Instead, listen to us, and try to help us with our initiatives.

Don’t come to us with the attitude that “hey, we’re XYZ Corp, and you should be over-whelmed by the fact we want you to be a channel partner”, cos we’ll just laugh in your face. In this case ladies and gentlemen, size really isn’t important! We’re more concerned with your strategic fit with us, we have to ask are we going in the same direction, have you got what we and our customers want and need! Don’t be surprised if you come with the “hey” attitude instead of a well thought out case as to why we need to be your partner, you find we turn you away.

Now, I’m not sure how much more carryon-type innuendo I can get into this point so I’ll move on.

Slide 10: What do we want?

Ladies and Gentlemen: the most important message I hope to leave you with is this one: Partnership is the key!

We’re not stupid. We know that there are times that we have to align ourselves to plans that you aren’t able to share with us. But in return for this “blind” trust, don’t abuse us, or your sometimes monopolistic positions. What comes around goes around, and if we all understand this caveat then the world will be a better place. Or at least a more reliable one! I guess it comes down to this: when times get tough, what would you rather have? An ally or an unwilling accomplice?

And understand that the market really does need us. For example, there is a direct PC vendor out there that is working through us in our accounts because they realised our customers needed the customer support and services that only resellers such as ourselves can provide.

Slide 11:

We want proper information dissemination! Not hype! And not marketing and technical jargon. Give it to us in English! I may sound like Geoff Boycott, but my first language is still English- and oddly enough, it’s the first language of the majority of your customers too. And you should also avoid criticising the competition- tell us what your product can do for our customers, not why it’s better than the one from so and so plc.

Meet with us regularly: there’s so much we can learn from one another- partnership being key remember, and there will also be an unforeseen benefit to you. Sales people are good selling what they feel good about selling. If they feel they know little about your products, or don’t know what kind of support or even interest you have for them because they don’t see any presence from your account team, then they simply won’t sell your product. They will sell your competitors product because they do know it, and they do have that personal contact with Jim in the Reseller team because he’s over at the office fairly often. The more presence you show, the more revenue you will earn. It’s important you take this on board.

Slide 12

Be flexible! As I said, we’re not all same. Don’t assume that our requirements for a successful marketing exercise are the same as So & So Ltd. Allow us to tweak them to suit us.

Perhaps more importantly, be prepared to work on bespoke campaigns based on our own ideas. Not just to work with us, but to work with us quickly! We can’t wait weeks for sign-offs- opportunities in the SME marketplace last only for a few weeks!

Slide 13

Be consistent. You are either channel focussed or not! Don’t be wishy-washy and don’t chop and change.

Actually, this leads me back to a point I started to make earlier. I have to tell you- well most of you- you really shouldn’t play with things you don’t understand, and most of you surely don’t understand the SME market. Yet, there is a trend out there at the moment to announce that you are going to move to a direct sell model into the corporate and SME market.

Long term, we’re not worried. But short-term… unless you are really sure about what you are doing, boy are you going to set everything back a couple of years. Let me explain what I mean. This is how it usually works when one of you decides to go direct into markets that are not a good fit for your own culture- and remember, there are many of you out there that have tried on numerous occasions to break from the channel.

Step 1. Throw lots of money on marketing your products and/or services to the SME market place.

Step 2. You realise that there’s still a low volume of sales going through the SME market. Seems that those SME customers don’t really understand your support strategy, and don’t like the fact they get pushed around your phone system when trying to locate which account manager is supposed to be helping them. So throw some more money at it.

Step 3. Take the money from the few good deals you get, but then fail to react quickly enough to the SME customer’s support needs, mostly because you don’t understand those needs anyhow. Lose the accounts in the next wave of tenders.

Step 4. Throw some more money at it.

Step 5. Just as you’re winning the battle in terms of perception and acceptance, lose your bottle and go back to a channel strategy.

Have you any idea how confusing this is to end-users and resellers alike? The amount of good faith you lose? Be consistent. If you want to go direct, fine, go direct, but get out of the channel and stay out.

Don’t choose one partner over another- and especially don’t stitch one of us up because you happen to go to the golf range with the guy that runs one of our competitors. You might think you get away with it, but we know 100% of the time what just happened.

Now, if you do for some compelling reason have to choose a particular partner for a particular opportunity, don’t rub the rest of us up with it. For example, a recent consultant recruitment alliance was announced by a well known software company and a fairly large reseller. Now, personally, I think this whole agreement was a bad move by the software vendor anyhow, but to add insult to injury- the day after the announcement, this software company had a major marketing event, where resellers and their customers were invited to hear the latest news and views in different events, but in the same location. What do we find when we get there? Adverts all over the carpark for this reseller. Arrgh!

There were some very angry people that day I can tell you.

Slide 14: Conclusion

And so, to conclude. Well, things are getting better. There’s a lot of good initiatives being undertaken right now. We just need to see more of them.

Stay out of our markets unless you really understand them. Leave it to the experts- and we are the experts.

Be consistent. If you are a Channel led organisation, then this must be enforced from the top. If one of your account managers breaks the rules and either takes a deal direct, or switches over a partner because of personal preference, fire him!

Don’t view the channel as purely a fulfilment house- unless of course it’s Computacenter. No, just kidding. A bit. Anyhow, as I was saying, we’re not here simply to fulfil orders. We’re here to provide a service. It really would be in your own best interests to understand that, and work with us on developing those services around your products. This is particularly true of the SME marketplace.

And finally, give us more opportunities like this to talk to you!

It’s been great.

Thank you.

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Hope you enjoyed that- and if you were in the audience, please share what you thought!

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