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Champion Solutions CEO Chris Pyle: The Channel Must Be 'The Tip Of The Spear' In Cloud Market

"Don't let anybody [make you think], 'I'm a little VAR and this is my little patch and I can't go anywhere else,'" Pyle told solution providers at The Channel Company's XChange 2017 conference in Orlando, Fla., Sunday.

Chris Pyle, CEO of Champion Solutions Group of Boca Raton, Fla., doesn't want solution providers to sell themselves short on the cloud.

"Don't let anybody [make you think], 'I'm a little VAR and this is my little patch and I can't go anywhere else,'" Pyle told an audience to kick-off the Channel Company's XChange 2017 conference in Orlando, Fla., Sunday. "That's B.S.," Pyle said. "I do more cloud business outside Florida than I do inside Florida," including a recent deal in Kuwait.

Still, successfully evolving from the world of traditional hardware sales to cloud sales and services is fraught with challenges, and today one of the key challenges is that vendors are threatening to marginalize the channel, Pyle said. Cloud vendors like Microsoft have to be reminded that in may cases, the services being provided to their customers are provided by channel partners.

[Related: XChange Security University: 5 Ways Partners Can Talk To Customers About Ransomware]

"We have to be the tip of the spear, not our vendors," Pyle said. "That's the challenge. At the end of the day, we don't want to be where a vendor reduces our commission to zero one day because the vendors have the needle so far in the client's arm. Who gave them the needle? We did, and we have to really turn them on."

In a way, Pyle's willingness to go toe-to-toe with the largest cloud vendors in the world is a sign of Champion's success. Pyle had to transform the company from a traditional hardware reseller to a high-profile Microsoft cloud solution provider with its own software IP. Along the way he had to overcome resistance to change among Champion leadership, sales teams accustomed to banking big checks on hardware sales and customers skeptical about a traditional reseller's ability to sell cloud.

He did it by sticking to a simple strategy: acquire, engage and monetize.

Under Pyle's leadership, Champion acquired MessageOps, and the platform became Champion's Microsoft Cloud business unit. MessageOps helped transform Champion into a strategic solution provider that migrates customers to the cloud while helping unleash the business value of the cloud, Pyle said, by offering productivity tools, orchestration and offering platforms like CSP Boss, which offers customers on-demand training and services for Office365.

The shift, along with new branding, helped the company overcome skepticism among customers that were hesitant to begin buying cloud software and services from their traditional hardware reseller. Champion now more fully engages with its customers, and with potential customers, and Pyle's team fields calls from around the world.

"In five years, we went from zero, to now 90,000 MessageOps members, and now our salesforce is getting all these inbound leads," Pyle said.

Pyle said evolving into a strategic cloud service provider doesn't mean traditional VARs have to give up on selling hardware, but they do have to recognize that the hardware business is changing in ways that can't be reversed. The server, he said, is "going the way of the buggy whip."


"I love hardware; I don't care what they say. It's not a dirty word, but price and availability was your value-add," Pyle said. "We had to evolve. We do $25 million in maintenance in our business, but now hardware is self-healing. It calls home. That might sound good, but as an integrator, it's a challenge."

Jonathan Gibney, vice president of operations at Southbridge Technology, a Brookfield, Conn.-based solution provider, said his company has evolved into selling hosted Microsoft Exchange and hosted cloud space, and has wrestled with the challenges Pyle described.

"It's a work in progress," Gibney said. "We deal in that small market area and we're still fighting people who believe [Google] Gmail is a great business app. So there's still lots of opportunity to move people to a better solution at a reasonable price. "We know servers are going the way of the buggy whip,"Gibney said, echoing Pyle's comment. "We see servers for the average user going that route, so there are a lot of opportunities to be that implementer, to convert people to the cloud, but also to remind people what the cloud is. We're in the process of converting a client from the cloud back to their own solution. The cloud provider they chose wasn't our choice, and they actually all of a sudden went dark. We have to remind clients that the cloud isn't something very theoretical, it's just other people's equipment, and at the end of the day if they go out of business, you could be in an equal amount of trouble. If you've got that strong relationship with the client, if you're that trusted advisor, I think you can fill in most of the blanks for them."

Michael Goldstein, CEO of LAN Infotech, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based solution provider said the channel should take Pyle's promotion of VAR empowerment as a call to arms. "It's good to hear that whether you're a two-user firm, or a $100 million firm, we all suffer from the same things. You have to look for the innovation and take that next step. You can't listen to the vendors too much; you really have to follow what you think is best."

Goldstein said LAN Infotech has gone through similar challenges in its evolution to the cloud, but is enjoying good traction in the market now. "We've broken a tooth or two on some of the offerings that are out there. We suffer from the same Microsoft issues of shrinking margins, and we're always going the route of 'super-size it' because we have to pay the bills. Azure has been great for us, and a lot of smaller companies are adopting the cloud as it becomes more mainstream. It's not only for the big guys anymore. We're looking to move a lot of workloads up to the cloud and figure out how to better monetize it and stay on top of the security aspect of it."

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