As digitalization spreads into more and more areas of our personal and work lives, it goes about upending conventional ways of doing things and disrupting traditional ways of conducting business.
Looking at the IT distribution channel, one such potential area of digital transformation is e-commerce. Just as e-tailers have been massively successful in transforming the traditional bricks-and-mortar retail space, so this digitally enabled technology will begin to create a viable alternative for channel players to get their products into the hands of their end-user customers.
Indeed, distributors and resellers are having to quickly develop an e-commerce presence, or risk losing potential business and customers.
In the new digital economy, customer service is ‘always on’.
With this comes the realization that customers are now powerfully enabled like never before with product, company, competitor and industry knowledge, due to the high level of access to information online.
Customers are also increasingly looking for the same ecommerce experience already on offer in the business-to-consumer (B2C) world – an easy-to-use website, which is sophisticated and can be accessed and bought from at any time. In the new digital economy, customer service is ‘always on’ and businesses need to be prepared to respond immediately (or as quickly as possible) to avoid disappointing, or in worst-case scenarios, losing customers.
Clearly then this calls for a completely different set of sales skills from the ones which have for so long fitted the traditional hardware distribution model. Resellers and distributors need to employ people with the requisite digital skills to conceptualize, design, build and maintain these e-commerce distribution vehicles, and channel members are increasingly pulling in employees qualified in a variety of new digital technologies such as web designers, software developers and database administrators to get these new platforms up and running as quickly as possible.
Customers are now powerfully enabled like never before with product, company, competitor and industry knowledge, due to the high level of access to information online.
Resellers also need to be up-to-speed with modern digital marketing and communications methods. The traditional event-based marketing model can no longer be the sole way of communicating with channel partners. The marketing process has evolved to include new mechanisms like social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube), email marketing platforms (eg. MailChimp) and internet pay-per-click (PPC) advertising (eg. Google Adwords), and distributors and resellers need to learn how to effectively utilize these to avoid being left behind.
With the shift to digital comes a subtle shift in sales orientation as well. As the market evolves away from commoditized hardware distribution, channel businesses are shifting more into managed services, cloud and mobile-led positions.
This means that focus is moving away from the hard-sell aspects of the sales process, and more into a consultancy role as distributors and resellers combine their technological expertise with the trust earned through their existing and historical business relationships with partners.
Even in today’s digital environment, the value of human face-to-face time must not be underestimated!
Channel businesses are shifting more into managed services, cloud and mobile-led positions.
Perhaps the greatest shift regarding digital though, is the incorporation of data and analytics to profile customers, allowing for hyper-personalised customer relationship management (CRM). Digital tools allow channel businesses to track customer interactions and sales lifecycles through reporting mechanisms like dashboards, empowering sales operations like never before.
Salespeople can now have purchase history, product licensing and renewal dates, and corresponding buyer opportunities at their fingertips when dealing with customers, enabling them to tailor their sales conversations accordingly.
It’s thus clear that resellers need to adapt their sales mechanisms, processes and tactics to the current environment if they wish to make the most of the digital sales and marketing tools available to them. In the same way that the actual products being distributed are changing, in order to keep up, so are core business processes.