Fear of nothing
- 27 October, 2009 16:09
To some, 13 is an unlucky number. In fact, there are people are so frightened by it that the fear of 13 has been given a name – Triskaidekaphobia.
Express Data is not Triskaidekaphobic. Now in its 13th year of trading under its current name, the company has sailed itself through the global financial crisis with a steady hand, and emerged on the other side as ARN’s Software Distributor of the Year for 2009.
It also picked up a highly commended in the Hardware Distributor of the Year category, and staffer, Niall Connell, won a personal award in the field of Customer Service. Managing director, Ross Cochrane, was also inducted into the Hall of Fame for his work across the distributor and broader IT industry.
Key to its strategy in winning business (and awards) is its employees, general manager of marketing and operations, Peter Masters, said. Express Data puts a lot of effort into making its staff happy, which has been reflected with a Hewitt Best Employer for 2009 award – a prize it has now won three years in a row.
When you’re leaning on your staff to ramp up their engagement with vendors and partners, that award means a great deal.
“In times of uncertainty, the levels of trust and being a trusted advisor, and getting it right the first time, are critical,” Masters said. “It plays into our hands a lot, when we’ve already built that level of trust. People are more likely to gravitate towards us – by partnering with us, they’re going to be more confident they’re not making a wrong decision.”
It is no secret that the wholesale IT business is a challenging game and the margins can be razor-thin. Selling the overall experience is what makes a distributor popular with reseller partners and their customers, Masters claimed.
“If a reseller partners with us, we understand that they want to have a great customer experience – someone to talk to, prompt attention and quick resolution of problems,” he said.
Adopting a guidance role with resellers leaves no room for epistemophobia (fear of knowledge). Express Data invests heavily in education and training so its staff know more about the products and thus are more effective in selling them.
Just recently, to increase its knowledge resources, the distributor brought on five new business development managers. In some cases, these were co-funded with vendor partners. The company has highlighted plans to bring on more.
“I think and hope that’s the reason in the end why we’ve received a lot of support as Software Distributor of the Year [at the ARN IT Industry Awards 2009] – because I think and hope we understand what our customers need,” Masters said.
In addition to winning over resellers, having a deep understanding of the products it represents allows Express Data to make far better margins than a mere box mover.
“I think a lot of resellers have realised that they’re in tough times, and are not going to make an easy living out of selling commodities,” Masters said. “That has helped us as well – those resellers are moving towards more complex solutions. These, as well as new and emerging technologies that are typically more complex, has meant the partners need to understand how they’re going to benefit the customer.”
Looking forward, Express Data is not planning to radically change the formula, Masters said. It takes a lot of effort and commitment to build a deep enough expertise to become a trusted advisor, and that’s where the distributor’s energy will continue to be funnelled.
It sounds strange in an industry as dynamic as IT, but another area Masters highlighted as a key concern and differentiator for Express Data was its lack of neophobia (fear of newness). Software-as-a-service, for all the concerns that it will cut distribution out of the picture, is something Express Data is embracing.
“We see software-as-a-service as starting to come into its own soon,” Masters said. “Some 13 years ago, people thought there would be no great role for a distributor in licensing, and it would cut the reseller out and we’d see users going directly for their licences to vendors. The reality is the channel found its role didn’t change – customers still needed education and trusted advisors to deal with complexity.”
Ultimately, as long as distribution exists in the IT industry, that is how distributors will survive and thrive, Masters claimed – by having a proven record of successfully engaging with enough clients, building a level of trust and therefore getting return business, even in the tough times.