CF: Are [customers] asking for different things than they were asking for in previous years?
Toth: Security is everywhere. If you’re not addressing it with virtually every sale, you’re doing something wrong.
Ludwig: Client needs remain the same: doing more with less, finding ways to optimize, and helping leverage investments across multiple workstreams vs. in silos.
CF: How does your relationships with the suppliers and TSDs compare to, say, four years ago? What’s going well, and where are the opportunities for growth?
Toth: If I answer this question, I’m going to get 20 emails from five levels of people at TSDs. All I’ll say is this – for scaling firms like ours, the value that TSDs bring need to be tailored to our specific needs. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all.
Nelan: Obviously there has been consolidation in the industry, including the service providers, which has forced sales agents out of their comfort zone in a quest to find new alternatives for their “go-to” providers. In addition, as a result of overhiring, many of the service providers have recently reduced their workforces or have seen higher than normal turnover due to the “great resignation,” which has created both opportunities and challenges for sales agents. These changes in the service provider workforce has resulted in fewer knowledgeable staff to support sales agents and has made it more difficult to ensure a cohesive customer experience. Most selling agents and TSD’s/TSB’s are spending more time now than ever, babysitting orders to ensure a good customer experience. Many of the providers have attempted to automate the transactional portions of their business, but that’s been more difficult that then they probably could have imagined.
Unfortunately, midsize and enterprise clients measure their future buying decisions based on previous experiences that they’ve had. Service providers who have struggled delivering basic services, are finding it difficult to crack the code in selling the higher margin services that they are attempting to pivot to. Providers who recognize the importance of relationships and delivering on their commitments regardless of the technology, will position themselves as the new “go-to” providers for selling agents.
Ludwig: TSDs are evolving into much larger organizations vs. four years ago. These firms are looking at where they can evolve their value-add vs. just providing contract protection. While some of the consolidation has come at a cost, added investment has allowed many of these firms to innovate and expand their partner rosters quicker. We do see investment in client-facing tools as a significant value-add, while others are stronger in the back office, eliminating cycles for our support team to resolve issues for both our clients as well as for us. I expect continued consolidation and potentially some blockbuster acquisitions as the traditional hardware/software distributors are eyeing our efforts and looking at ways to get closer to their end customers as well.
CF: All things considered, how are you feeling about the state of the channel? Optimistic? Wary?
Ludwig: Very optimistic. If you look at the largest areas of growth, they’re coming in with more specialized components of network, CX and security. Agents can focus on specific areas and/or more broadly and find lots of places to add value. The smaller growth firms need the channel as a way to gain access to client projects and opportunities.
Nelan: I am very optimistic about the state of the channel. There is a huge amount of opportunity, especially as clients continue to move towards outsourcing components of their services that used to be handled “in-house”. With many of the service providers downsizing their workforces, they are rediscovering the benefits of having an alternative sales channel and are beginning to embrace the agent community again. While there is consolidation in the agent community, and clients are expanding their expectations, I believe that those who can bring additional value to their clients will thrive.
Toth: This is easy for me. First, when we started 14-and-a-half years ago, there were maybe 30 or 40 companies selling through the channel. There are at least 500 through the various TSDs we work with today. More get introduced every day. This means that more tech companies want what we can provide. Secondly, as long as technology continues to be difficult to research, analyze, procure, implement and manage, there will be space for consulting firms like ours that make these experiences better.