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

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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."

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