COLUMN: Channel Chiefs Need To Be Bold And Get Strategic

CRN’s Jennifer Follett says that these times create a tremendous opportunity for technology manufacturers to gain both mindshare and market share within the channel for those daring enough to grab them.

Now is the time for channel chiefs to be bold.

As uncertainty around the global economy continues to swirl and companies across the tech industry make headlines left and right with layoffs by the thousands, it might be tempting to hunker down and play it safe when it comes to channel partnerships: Stick with what you know, maintain the status quo. But in reality, times such as these create a tremendous opportunity for technology manufacturers to gain both mindshare and market share within the channel for those daring enough to grab them.

Winners and losers in the Everything-as-a-Service revolution will be decided during this downturn as customers gravitate toward more cost-effective, efficient and flexible solutions and Capex-only deals continue to lose their luster.

That’s why it’s critical for technology vendors to do everything in their power to position themselves as strategic partners to the solution providers they work with rather than just building transactional relationships. That means creating new services opportunities, offering tighter collaboration, sharing quality leads, or any of a number of other things that prove valuable to channel partners.

In our cover story on Palo Alto Networks, CRN Senior Editor Kyle Alspach looks at the journey the security company has embarked on to transform its product line since naming Nikesh Arora as its chairman and CEO in 2018. Now that Arora has assembled the cloud services portfolio he wants, he’s ready to focus on the go-to-market strategy in general and the channel in particular.

Solution providers told CRN they are already reaping the benefits of the security vendor’s efforts, which have created high-margin growth opportunities in professional and managed services for the channel. Multiple partners throughout the piece describe the ways Palo Alto Networks has shifted to make itself a more strategic partner for them.

Meanwhile, in CRN’s 2023 Channel Chiefs project, our reporters talked to a slew of solution providers about how vendors such as Amazon Web Services and VMware, among others, are taking steps to drive closer alignment and bolster services opportunities for the channel, moves that stand to benefit both sides of the partnership.

The “smart” vendors will move past the knee-jerk tendency to pull back from channel investments in uncertain economic times and instead leverage the channel’s wealth of talent, according to Scott Winslow, president and founder of Waltham, Mass.-based Winslow Technology Group.

“We have sales, engineering, marketing, finance services, managed services folks that we are employing on our payroll that are available to our [vendor] partners. What better way for them to become more efficient themselves than to do more with a channel?” Winslow said in the article.

We asked our Channel Chiefs honorees for up to three of their top channel goals for 2023. The top three answers— each selected by roughly 33 percent of respondents—were adding more qualified partners, increasing the number of net-new accounts coming through partners, and increasing the overall percentage of revenue that comes through the channel.

Sitting just below those at Nos. 4 and 5 were improving partner profitability (29 percent of responses) and increasing the amount of recurring revenue going through partners (27 percent).

While the first three could be interpreted as channel executives focusing heavily on what partners can do for them, the next two certainly point to awareness that it’s also critical to focus on what vendors can do for the channel.

What’s also essential is to not only become a more strategic technology partner to the channel but also to communicate that strategic sales strategy to them to drive partner engagement.

Fortune favors the bold, as the adage goes. In 2023, the boldest channel executives will get strategic.