Up Against The Clock: Solution Providers Need Patience For Longer IoT Sales Cycles

For Internet of Things success, channel partners need to be patient and have the right kind of sales team in place.

That's what several partners have told CRN as they've noted that the end-to-end Internet of Things (IoT) projects take at least nine months to a year to implement, including consulting, developing a proof-of-concept, and implementing the solution.

Partners say sales teams need to be prepared for the challenges that this will create for solution providers, including dealing with longer and more complex sales cycles.

"We're not seeing these big out-of-the-gate multi-million dollar opportunities due to the complexity of the solutions," said Michael Lomonaco, director of marketing and communications at Open Systems Technologies, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based systems integrator. "It's a huge challenge, and it impacts every area of our business, especially at the bottom line."

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[Related: CRN IoT Roundtable: Solution Providers Need To Step Up And Provide The 'V' In Value-Add]

Lomonaco said he sees larger scale end-to-end IoT projects span between nine to 12 months. His company offers consultative services, product development, and managed services for Internet of Things customers. The big challenge behind the longer sales cycle, said Lomonaco, is that this timeframe does not necessarily result in a huge transactional result in IoT projects.

"In the traditional VAR space, you had a journey resulting in a large PO, but with IoT, there is not a huge transactional path at the end, which underscores the fact that VARs shouldn't give away their services for free."

For Tony Balistrieri, regional vice president of enterprise sales at Zones, an Auburn, Wash.-based solution provider, IoT projects span from a year to a year and a half.

"From a sales side, once you identify the potential IoT opportunities there are several steps you have to go through," he said. "You have to show customers the return on investment they're going to get, and for IoT projects like building maintenance, this involves talking to IT, talking to building managers, talking to the real estate side of things. Just getting them to work together and identify a budget is a big, time-consuming hurdle."

Beyond the consultation phase, solution providers then need to work through the implementation phase, including pulling together various technologies and systems and developing a proof-of-concept.

Zones has been working with a big car company to track cars for data about which dealers they go to, what does the test drive look like, what colors customers are picking. The car client could then better understand potential car purchasers and turn that into more smart sales.

The company has been keeping up with IoT's complex sales cycle through building an entire practice around the Internet of Things and developing a focused group that is experienced at identifying opportunities for customers.

"Solution providers are used to selling printers and PCs, all of a sudden with IoT you're going through a whole other level, and you have to understand all the different technologies and how IoT fits into it," he said.

Sandeep Khaneja, vice president at Function1, a Washington, D.C.-based solution provider, said that "getting to the right people" in the customer's business is part of what elongates certain IoT projects.

Function1 worked with the University of Ohio to develop an IoT solution that helped the campus identify missing students utilizing building sensors, wireless access points, and digital cameras.

The IoT project, which used a Splunk interface, had a sales cycle of 14 months – between reaching out to and working with the university and implementing the solution.

"The longest part was getting to the right people… in our case the chief security officer at the university," he said. "For the implantation part of the project, the largest amount of time will be integrating third party systems for solution providers."

One big issue for channel partners is merely that solution providers are so new to IoT, and are still trying to build out their teams and practices around the market, said Tolga Tarhan, founder and CTO of Sturdy Networks, an AWS partner based in Irvine, California.

"The sales cycle for IoT is long because the channel is new to this concept – many don't have the fully-built out teams that it requires," he said. "You need hardware, software, DevOps, and the cloud all working together. It's a big step to get customers from that phase about talking about IoT to getting their feet wet."

Channel partners who are just beginning with the Internet of Things need to build out an effective sales team, with engineers who can understand the problems of their customers' businesses and identify the opportunities for IoT to help solve, said Tarhan.

Zones' Balistrieri said that IoT sales cycles would become easier for the channel as more customers begin to better understand how IoT can help them and become more familiar with IoT budgets: "It will get better… the process will be simpler as more customers begin to understand the justifications behind IoT," he said.