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The New Sales Target: Line-Of-Business Managers

Solution providers need to shift their sales strategies to target lines of business, according to participants in the CRN Channel Chief Roundtable.

That message rang loud and clear during the CRN Channel Chief Roundtable at March's XChange Solution Provider 2013 conference in Orlando, Fla. Along with other trends such as cloud and machine-to-machine, the need for solution providers to target lines of business with their sales strategies, rather than just IT, was a major talking point for channel executives.

"I saw an interesting statistic that said in last year's IT decisions, 70 percent of the funding came from line-of-business and 30 percent came from IT budget," said Richard McLeod, senior director of worldwide collaboration channel sales at Cisco. "Line-of-business shifted the money to IT, but they drove the decision."

McLeod dubbed this model a major "flip flop" from how IT decision-making occurred just three years ago.

Janet Schijns, vice president of medium business and channels for Verizon Enterprise Solutions, agreed.

"What is the decision-maker looking like and who is the decision-maker? It's really fundamentally changing," Schijns said. "It's the line-of-business decision-maker. [Solution providers] need the technical competency and they need to be able to go in there and take ownership of an owner of a business, an operations manager, a health-care clinic provider. It's a different sale."

To do this, solution providers need to focus their client conversations not on the technologies they are selling, but on the business outcomes those technologies drive, Schijns added.

"You don't lead with how the cloud is built, how the network is built, how machine-to-machine is done, how wireless networks work," Schijns said. "You lead with what they do for the customer."

These conversations should also hone in on specific vertical markets, where applicable, Schijns said. When selling a cloud solution to a health-care company, for instance, solution providers should highlight industry-specific features such as HIPAA compliance over others.

What's more, many solution providers need to broaden their understanding of who, exactly, a line-of-business professional is. Schijns said most solution providers narrowly define line-of-business as being a CFO or a vice president of sales. But, in many cases, IT decisions are being influenced by users even further down the stack, like operations or warehouse managers.

This shift in decision-making from IT to line-of-business results from a number of things, roundtable participants said. But one of the biggest drivers behind this transformation is the vast array of information consumption models now available for the end user's taking. Many users, for instance, now choose the devices they want to bring to work, the applications they want to use on those devices, and more.

"Our more successful VARs have always sold in parallel to line-of-business," said Mike Kozel, vice president of partner management for SAP America. "We're evolving that and encouraging and driving everyone to sell to the line-of-business, especially as we start talking about this customer choice [of] consumption."

Cognizant of the new ways their partners should approach clients, some vendors are updating their partner training initiatives to help solution providers talk the new talk. Again, training around how to communicate the business value of a product, rather than its technical specs, is more important than ever.

"We've actually built out a curriculum with a series of consulting-oriented partners that are providing business architect, business discussion, business value conversations to help our partners identify that," said Cisco's McLeod, adding that Cisco is rolling out new partner tools for line-of-business-oriented demand generation.

Craig Schlagbaum, vice president of indirect channels at Comcast's Business Class Services, said Comcast's most successful partners today are those who have already changed the tone of their client conversations to fit this new model.

"Our most successful traditional partners -- they're very much less about the technology and very much more about how to sell to customers," Schlagbaum said. "Knowing all the [speeds and feeds] of the technology is not how they approach customers. It's very much oriented around sales."


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