Yet crucially for Iles, the problems for partners comes through differentiation, or a distinct lack of, across A/NZ.
Because of the 20,024 IT business operating in Australia, 3,928 have the word ‘cloud’ in the name - consequently, the channel remains challenged to standout in a crowded marketplace.
Delving deeper, customers outlined the top five mistakes partners make when selling, with selling product features over business value ranking the highest.
Followed by a lack of understanding around business problems, coupled with not providing sufficient business case support, end-users are also turned off by poor account management and communication, alongside a failure to provide competitive pricing or suitable customer references.
"Partners know their customers of course but what customers want and expect from partners is rapidly evolving and solution providers they are starting to fall behind,” Iles added. “You only have to look at the recent acquisitions of digital media agencies made by some partners to see where the market is heading.”
Today, customers want deep solution expertise from the channel, a channel capable of delivering solutions ‘as-a-service’, while at the same time being easy to engage and do business with.
“Overall, the market is buoyant and budgets are increasing but spending patterns are changing,” Iles added. “What’s clear from customers however is that specialisation by industry and/or solution will continue to be more important than product expertise.
“As a key takeaway for partners, traditional IT buyers are being surrounded with decentralised technology business representatives with budget control and a focus on operational outcomes.”
Customers crave collaboration, so partner up
Tech Research Asia executive consultant Mark Iles assesses the importance of collaboration in the channel today.
The early 1990s, a time when the PC era was in full swing and new computer resellers were popping up seemingly every day as businesses and consumers couldn’t get enough of the personal computing revolution.
It was also, arguably I grant you, a great period for music with the likes of Nirvana, Chili Peppers and Oasis topping the charts (the less said about ‘MMMbop’ and Vanilla Ice the better).
One song that perhaps you missed from 1990 was the frankly forgettable ‘She Ain’t Worth it’ by Glenn Medeiros and Bobby Brown.
Why all the nostalgia for the early 90s and a long forgotten song by a Hawaiian crooner and an up and coming rap artist?
Well, that particular song is credited as being the first to debut the word ‘featuring’ on a no.1 hit starting an explosion of musical collaborations over the following 25 years.
It’s hard to listen to anything from the current charts that doesn’t credit more than one person and this song has come to be seen as a watershed in changing attitudes between artists on collaboration.
But outside of academia, few other industries have really embraced collaboration.
The IT industry in particular has built a very public reputation over the last couple of decades for its un- collaborative spirit between vendors and partners, much to the frustration of customers.
In part this was driven by a general attitude at the time that all competition was bad and that it was better to lose than to work with rivals.
Anyone who attended large vendor conferences in the 1990s will have seen the level of fury aimed at any and all competitors, which also bled over into competition between the big systems integrators based around who ‘owned’ the customer.
Fast forward to 2017 and there has been a noticeable shift in attitudes and behaviour, perhaps in part due to the rapid emergence of a new breed of cloud vendors and partners.
A large number of new businesses are run by younger Gen Y staff who seem naturally more open to collaboration and remain untainted by history.
Plus, these businesses typically have a very specific solution focus so there is no concept of being a 'one- stop-shop', leading ultimately to a strong need and desire to collaborate with others.
Combine this with growing demand from customers for rapid adoption of ‘bite-sized’ solutions for specific business needs and you have a landscape that is shifting under our collective feet.
Integration is the new byword for IT and in a world where services are increasingly fungible, anyone not seen to be playing nicely with others is much easier to replace than before.
For some the change will be easier to digest than others.
Ask yourself this, how many strategic partnerships do you have (exclude your large vendors)? How many of these are with start-ups? What percentage of your deals involve another party, either introduced by you or by the client?
Any talk of customer ownership in the modern era is nonsense and it is time to move beyond the flawed ‘co-opetition’ model we have been operating on for the last few years and into an arena of true collaboration.
Ultimately, it’s what customers are looking for and they have a nasty habit of being right most of the time.
And finally, whatever you do, resist the temptation to watch the video for ‘She Ain’t Worth it’, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Tech Research Asia, in conjunction with ARN and Reseller News, created three unique and correlated surveys to analyse trends and alignment between customers, partners and vendors in Australia and New Zealand. Over 240 respondents including IT decision makers from a broad range of industries and business sizes, traditional and ‘new’ partners and a broad mix of vendors took part in the online survey conducted from June through July 2017.