Westcon-Comstor is transforming the way it works with its partner network through launching a new multi-vendor marketplace called PartnerCentral.
The marketplace allows partners to configure, quote, and order complex hybrid solutions spanning software, hardware, services, or a combination of all three in a single checkout.
According to the distributor, PartnerCentral is designed to accelerate and simplify the move to cloud and 'as-a-service' business models while offering advanced data insights, automation and self-service capabilities.
In development for the past 18 months, the marketplace combines the distributor’s previous Partner View portal with its cloud subscription service platform, BlueSky and has been amplified to create PartnerCentral, Westcon-Comstor CMO Patrick Aronson told ARN.
“Our partners want us to provide a digital interface to help their transformation into more efficient, data-driven businesses. They want insights which help them understand the opportunities before their customers ask for them,” Aronson said.
“They want a marketplace to help them easily procure and manage hardware, software and services. But they have made it very clear through our development process: they don’t want Westcon-Comstor to stop providing the value and expertise that has been our hallmark for almost 40 years—and the foundation of partner success.
“We are bringing a new marketplace to the channel community, but we’re doing it in a way which ensures we keep, and build on, our value-added, customer-focused heritage.”
A compelling element of PartnerCentral is providing partners with access to data – dubbed Partner Insights – that offers business and customer data required to help capitalise on new opportunities and market trends. As a result, the distributor is investing in a new CRM refresh using Microsoft Dynamics that will be launched later in the year, Aronson said.
“Our big vision as a company is to be completely data driven,” Aronson said.
“In distribution we sit at this crossroads, behind the scenes of data of all the vendors of what’s being sold, and multi-customer purchases. We can provide tons of analysis and understanding in areas like buyer intent and what is the next logical purchase.
“This will become more critical for our value proposition as we continue to grow and expand it, and adoption by our own people is just as critical for our success as it is for our customers.”
There were 18 New Zealand partners that were involved in trialing the new marketplace, collaborating and providing insights into its development. This included Wellington-based Telesmart.
“Using PartnerCentral has been transformative. We’ve significantly streamlined our engagement with key suppliers and simplified our sale-to-order process,” Telesmart CTO, Geof Robinson said.
“Rather than the typical three-to-four days to complete, our deals are now closed in a single day. It’s truly a great customer experience.”
Westcon-Comstor New Zealand managing director Dave Rosenberg added the trial was conducted in two waves, with his own team using the marketplace, tapping into the insights and information provided to partners.
“It is a level above what partners are seeing from other distributors in the market and I think that's critical feedback coming from our partners,” Rosenberg said.
Westcon-Comstor Australia managing director, Phil Cameron said Australia and New Zealand have always been early adopters of automation and the marketplace holds true to its specialist distributor DNA.
“Our team has already gone through internal training and will assist partners in getting the true value out of it by addressing the complexity, multi-vendor solutions and data insights,” Cameron said.
The role of distribution marketplaces
In tandem with launching its new marketplace portal, Westcon-Comstor also released a research paper Navigating the shift: The role of distributor marketplaces in Partner Success.
The report was conducted over the last three months and reveals that while almost every channel partner is shifting to subscription and recurring revenue models, the vast majority indicated they are facing a myriad of challenges and have more to do to make the shift.
Aronson highlighted there was a key opportunity to use marketplaces to manage that conversion from the traditional hardware resale model into everything as-a-service subscription.
“There was this confirmation we got through the report, and it is one of the key capabilities that we've built into Partner Central, that partners want to be able to combine both hardware and software, or a subscription, into a single cart to start to build the solution,” he said.
The report, based on a survey of almost 300 channel partners in the UK and Australia, explored the challenges of changing market and business models, looking at both macroeconomic factors and changes specific to the channel—plus what is needed from distributor marketplaces.
The report found that despite a challenging environment, most channel partners have started their migration to subscriptions and services. Only 21 per cent, however, say that they have gone as far as possible. This leaves the majority (78 per cent) part way through this journey and facing a variety of challenges in realising full migration.
With the shift to subscription and recurring revenue models comes complexity, and this is reflected in the challenges partners face. Just over half (52 per cent) cite the need to manage a complex multi-vendor portfolio as the biggest challenge they face.
According to the report, channel partners are looking to distributor marketplaces to help overcome these challenges with 60 per cent saying that a single platform to buy hardware and software will help accelerate this shift. Yet, currently less than half (49 per cent) of partners are using distributor marketplaces.
Those partners who have started to use distributor marketplaces cite self-serve stock availability (49 per cent), online ordering (49 per cent) and pricing (42 per cent) as the biggest advantages and are looking for better access to customer data (55 per cent), market data (39 per cent), and customer success training (46 per cent).
“Our experience is that channel partners are keen to modernise and embrace the recurring revenue and subscription business model,” Aronson said. “As a distributor, insight into the challenges our partners face is key to creating the right marketplace solution they need to serve their customers as best they can.”
Brisbane-based Truis director of business growth, Mark Loparow added a distributor marketplace that can truly help manage the complex multi-vendor environment it operates in, would be highly beneficial – not only for managing complicated technology purchases, but for helping deliver long-term business growth.
“Plus our teams have different needs so breadth in capabilities is important. Simplified sales processes, self-serve capabilities plus the data insights and information we need to achieve customer success; now that would be a game changer,” Loparow said.