The channel’s future is full of uncertainty. To develop a fruitful partnership with technology heavyweights, partners must be prepared to shift gears, diversify, and not underestimate the growth potential that comes from serving smaller and medium-sized customers, said panelists at the “Ultimate Channel Partner Panel” held recently at the Channel Partners Expo & MSP Summit 2022.
“There’s a lot of unknowns, even for Microsoft,” said Tyler Bryson, the company’s corporate vice president of Global Partner Solutions US. As Microsoft increases its cloud offerings, it creates new opportunities for existing channel partners. This means Microsoft must think more broadly about what’s possible for every single partner, whether it’s business applications, communication services, or security, all of which are converging, he said.
For AT&T, routes to market are critical, even for a company with a lot of direct sales, said Chris Jones, assistant vice president of channel sales for AT&T Alliance Channel & ACC Business. Some partners want to wholesale or resale, while others are aggregators or embrace an agency model. AT&T aims to be flexible so it can support how a partner wants to go to market because some customers want to buy products and services in a manner other than direct, he said.
Threatlocker has evolved quite a bit over the past five years, starting with a handful of clients and expanding to 23,000 businesses using its services, said founder and CEO Danny Jenkins. MSPs account for 80 percent of Threatlocker’s channel program. “One of the things we try and focus on with the channel with our MSPs is to identify their customer’s problems and align products with solutions,” he said.
For Cisco, the channel is becoming more important than ever, said Andrew Sage, vice president of global distribution and small business sales. “We want to give customers the choice of how they get the solutions they need to drive the business results they’re after.” Managed services providers potentially are becoming the largest route to market the company has, he said.
The evolution in the channel differs for each panel participant. For Threatlocker, it’s meant moving to larger partners, while keeping and nurturing smaller ones because they are more likely to become public advocates, said Jenkins.
It’s not just the smaller partners that matter; it’s the smaller end customers, said Sage. “If we don’t have the right solutions designed for that typical, small and mid-size customer, which is more often where the small partners are selling, then it’s a non-starter of a conversation.”
Bryson said the days of designing a great product and hoping it works out are gone. This became apparent to Microsoft during the pandemic when it tried to get Windows Virtual Desktop to more small businesses without IT departments through enterprise-focused market routes. It’s imperative to design products with the needs of small businesses and smaller partners in mind, he said.
Sage said small business and mid-size customers are driving more growth for Cisco. “The small and mid-size customers are going through this incredible transformation right now. SaaS and cloud have opened opportunities for them to deploy technology they never had before,” he said.
Jones agreed that small businesses is where the growth opportunities are, and that’s where the channel and supplier communities need focus. “Small businesses are more technologically forward-thinking. They’re willing to take risks with the business because they don’t have a big, embedded infrastructure. They want to make things happen,” he said.