Avnet: Increased Verticalization Key To Channel Success

As managed services integrates partners more tightly with the business issues of their customers, specific choices and investments around key vertical markets becomes more important than ever. That's among the viewpoints expressed by Gavin Miller, vice president of solutions sales and marketing at Avnet, the Phoenix, Ariz.-based distributor.

"We launched a number of initiatives aimed at helping partners to transform their businesses," Miller said. "In the beginning, I think they typically sold technology for technology's sake. But circumstances have changed, and those days are over. It's now about using technology to solve business problems. We believe the best way to do that is to understand the end-user's specific needs, and the best way to do that is to look at them from a vertical and business transformation perspective. How do they go about making their decisions? What are the key issues in the industry from a business perspective, and how can we help those partners to solve those business problems?"

Miller advises that partners begin with a detailed look at their customer base in order to determine which vertical markets map the most closely to their offerings. To an extent, this is about looking at historical revenue sources, but it is also incumbent upon the partner to look at how the markets are evolving and are likely to continue to evolve into the future.

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"Consider where the market is growing because you want to participate in that growth," he advised.

Avnet started looking at the healthcare market several years ago. "We realized that they were consuming a lot of technology, so we spent a lot of time figuring out how and why they were consuming those technologies, and how our partners would be able to participate in satisfying those demands. From that, we developed a new practice geared towards helping our partners transition successfully towards practices focused on specific vertical markets."

Such programs have emerged as an important means of distributor differentiation, he added. Whereas success at one time could be gained from squeezing a bit more cost out of the sourcing model, many of those practices have already been optimized. Therefore, successful distributors today need to focus on how to further cultivate and foster the various players in the supply chain.

"If we are not growing our suppliers' revenue, then we are not going to continue to be relevant to them," he said. "If we don't help our VARs and MSPs grow their revenues, were not going to remain relevant to them either. So from the distributor standpoint, it's about finding that sweet spot that serves both of those constituencies."

NEXT: The Path To Vertical Solutions

To that end, Avnet has instituted a number of programs aimed at helping partners to select vertical markets and build successful practices around them. Most of these are organized under Avnet's SolutionsPath program, which provides a series of methodologies for the entrance and optimization of partner operations in several key areas. At the technology level, these would include data center, virtualization, storage, cloud, unified communications and mobility. Targeted verticals include health, retail, government and financial. Playbooks are made available to support sales, marketing, and technical operations. Playbooks typically focus on customer pain points, industry information, sales and technical techniques plus ROI tools.

"SolutionsPath is a proven process to gain an understanding of the market and how to execute in that market," Miller explained. "It's broken down into several components. The first is the analytics phase where we take a look at a partner's business and help them understand where they've been selling in terms of location, customer size and vertical market. From that, we develop a strategic planning program based on their specific value proposition. Next, we move into the training enablement phase, followed by strategic planning that looks at objectives and the corresponding sales and marketing plans and a list of executables. We help to augment all of this with a variety of service offerings that we provide."

Miller added that partners that have engaged in the program have consistently shown higher levels of success in penetrating their targeted verticals and technologies. The distributor charges fees for access to the curricula, but Miller pointed out that is necessary for participants to have some "skin in the game" in order to keep the classes within manageable volumes of attendees.

"Most of the participants are owners and operators of the organizations," he said. "These are usually VP-level people, but also a lot of solutions architects and salespeople. Uptake from the channel has been rising steadily because we continue to make the tracks relevant to what is happening in the partner community and the industry at large."