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Solution Providers Can Offer Important Business Insights As Customers Change How They Use Technology

As businesses change the way they buy and use technology, partners can stay relevant by helping them solve business problems with innovative solutions, said Bobby Cameron of Forrester Research, during a keynote at XChange 2017.

Businesses use more technology and have more IT savvy today. As a result, they may not be satisfied with one-size-fits-all solutions, and they might even ask: "Do I still need solution providers to guide my IT decision making?"

Rest assured, they do, but there's a constant shift in the role that solution providers play, according to one keynote speaker at The Channel Company's XChange 2017 conference in Orlando, Fla. on Monday. The demand for the solution provider skill set has never been stronger, according to Bobby Cameron, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research (pictured).

"It's not just about value-add, that's what you have been doing," Cameron told the solution provider crowd here. "It's about how the solution provider is shifting what they do. The knowledge that the solution provider has about the customer has never been more important."

[Related: Solution Providers: Make IoT Less About 'Things,' More About Data Interpretation]

Start by identifying the "customer obsessed" companies and distinguish them from the "customer naïve" companies, Cameron said. The difference between these groups is maturity and the understanding that they have to evolve their businesses to stay relevant to their end clients.

Only about 20 percent of companies today "customer naïve," Cameron said, signaling that solution providers need to pay attention to the evolution occurring in their client roster.

Crystal Sharpe, the help desk service manager at Next I.T., a Muskegon, Mich.-based MSP, said she's noticed clients going from customer naïve to customer obsessed.

"When I first started in IT, customers just trusted their solution provider to take care of them. But now in the age of technology, customers are getting very smart, and some think they know what's best for them," Sharpe said.

While working with tech literate customers can be an asset to any solution provider organization, it can also be a challenge, Sharpe said. "When you're trying to sell your customers a solution, it's because you know that it will work for them, and sometimes it can be a struggle if they think they know what they need," she said.

Next I.T.'s approach is to make sure its most knowledgeable customers get more individual attention. The company pairs specific solutions consultants with customers that are asking it to be deeply involved, Sharpe explained.

"These consultants know these customers and know their personalities," she said. "This way, we have a chance to make these customers happy with special attention while still remaining profitable."

The most mature companies, the customer obsessed ones, are leading in reducing costs and improving business operations, Cameron explained. "The more mature a company is in dealing with their customers, the more it's going to be a well-run company. And a well-run company need solutions that help them deliver that performance," he said.

The secret is not responding to the needs that a customer has today, but by knowing what can advance their business before they even think of it, Cameron said.

Solution providers offer a plethora of services that are touch points between how their customers interact with their own customers. This is where partners can really add value, he said.

"Recognize that your value proposition today likely has a huge component of your knowledge of your customer and build on that," Cameron said.

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