Solution providers that want to succeed in a new paradigm of converged and collaborative cloud services selling will need to re-evaluate their offerings, honestly examine their marketing and understand a partnering ecosystem that's very different from even a few years ago. They'll also need to seek out new partnerships, particularly with carriers who, thanks to the services-led sales model, are more relevant to the IT channel than ever before.
That was the word Wednesday from Motorola Solutions' David Green, who said that if the way customers are buying technology is changing, solution providers have to in turn change the way they sell, tailoring their sales to what Green termed a "perfect storm" for the channel thanks to cloud computing.
Speaking at XChange Public Sector in Jacksonville, Fla., Green, senior director of global solutions readiness and alliances at Motorola, told an audience of several hundred solution providers and integrators that regardless of their customer base -- enterprise, government, SMB, developing nation -- they can't expect to get by on outmoded reselling models.
"We can't sell the way we did in the past," Green said, emphasizing that in 2012 and beyond, solution providers will have to contend with less confident customers, a technology and solutions ecosystem that's gone from standard to highly complex thanks to the promise of the cloud-based delivery model, and a sales model that once required point product excellence but now requires solutions excellence.
In short, Green said, customers want to know three things: what the cloud is going to do for them, how the solution provider plans to deliver it, and, when the cloud gets there, what it will actually do for business outcomes.
"It's not a point product, it's not a service, it's not a cog, it's not a widget," Green said. "It's all that put together [in a way] that solves a customer's needs."
Solution providers, Green said, now have to wrangle a set of technologies that includes mobile devices, application platforms, wireless systems and converged infrastructure, and account for everything from video to the wireless wide area network (WWAN) in the types of solutions they design.
Where partnerships are concerned, the ecosystem of solution providers includes next-generation ISVs, resellers and integrators, but also, increasingly, carriers. Without the quality and robustness of service guaranteed by carriers, a mobile device is "a piece of solid state circuitry that sits in the hand and may look nice, but that's it," Green said.
Green acknowledged that there's a lot of hype around both the convergence of telecom carriers and IT channel partners, and the question of whether that convergence bodes well for partnership between the two.
But carriers are looking to IT solution providers as potential business allies, Green insisted.
"My firm belief is that they're going to need you," he said. "You have the bench strength, you have the capabilities to bring the carriers to areas they don't have. Partner with them. Seek out the carriers."
The differentiated solution provider of the future may be one who not only resells hardware or integrates systems, but one who can, for example, partner with an ISV for enterprise applications, offer hardware-as-a-service or software-as-a-service to expand a potential solution, present an offering in partnership with a carrier, provide scalability for a business through multitenancy, aggregate the parts of an increasingly complex IT ecosystem, and secure the entire solution.
The way in which VARs separate themsleves from the pack, Green asked, will be more important than ever.
"Are you truly blowing the competition away?" he asked. Always, Green said, ask for feedback from those who know your solutions best. "Ask your customer: Why did they pick you?" he said.
Take an honest look at your business, Green advised. Among five tips for solution providers he provided, Green told VARs: first, know your customers and use those relationships to make yourself credible; second, develop and use a business plan that covers your entire product and solution set; third, develop competencies early, showing customer commitment through what you're truly good at; fourth, promote your position and offerings; and fifth, remember to focus.
"It's very easy to overthink things and be all things to all people," he said.
The solution provider of the future needs to be distinctive, and not only focus on the pieces of business that show good return on investment, but also divest areas that don't, Green added.
Said Green: "You will not deliver tomorrow's growth and technology with yesterday's methods."