Guest Column | September 28, 2018

Distributors Delivering More Than Products In XaaS Era

By Timothy J. Curran, Global Technology Distribution Council

Gears In Hands

When the channel was churning along three decades ago — basically installing wired networks as fast as Ethernet cables could be unfurled into LANs — the role of distributors was pretty clear: Provide acceptable price points and financing, then pick, pack, and ship the goods to where they are needed, on time on demand.

Some still view distributors in the same fundamental manner, as “box movers” in a world that increasingly relies on services and solution providers for answers to difficult questions surrounding extraordinary technological advancement. It’s no longer about powering up and maintaining network connectivity. Today’s focus is squarely on solving complex business problems while addressing new service-level expectations.

End customers are demanding more from their trusted advisors. Whether you’re a VAR, MSP, system integrator, cloud services provider or other type of specialist, you already know the pressures. You understand the implications and consequences of wrong choices, whether that pertains to the products you choose or the specific value proposition you espouse.

Where you can get a helping hand may not be clear: technology distributors. If you’ve not considered how they can make a difference, now is a more than sensible time to do so.

Why? Because distributors have introduced a far-reaching range of services in recent years that can supplement your current offerings and/or support expansion into new markets, both geographically and strategically.

None Created Equally

Technology distributors have historically navigated some treacherous waters, from direct model disintermediation threats to misperceptions about their actual value. The reality is distributors withstood those storms and solution providers still count on fast access to multi-vendor solutions to effectively do their jobs. It’s their brands customers identify with — not the labels on the puzzle pieces they assemble, whether in the cloud or here on earth.

It’s easy to lose sight of all the cogs that turn the channel wheels these days. However, it’s plain to see the mechanisms are far more sophisticated compared to the channel’s infancy. Fast access to key products, good prices, and on-time delivery are table stakes. Vendors today also more fully grasp that indirect means unmatched reach and efficiency in serving mutual customers. Where technology distributors now have far greater impact relates to the services they provide, either direct to solution providers or on their behalf to end customers.

Although you can expect some consistency on product delivery timetables and perhaps even pricing, when it comes to services all distributors will remain unequal. These companies weren’t created by the same leaders, owners, and other visionaries, nor can you expect them all to pursue the same types of opportunities in the same ways.

A Little Homework Goes A Long Way

Explore the differences. Get to know the strengths and weaknesses more deeply. Technology distributors are making numerous investments to address the needs of their channel and vendor partners, as well as targeted vertical markets, for example. Acquisitions are also redefining the distribution landscape. The variables between distributors are much more prevalent than similarities.

In today’s highly interconnected ecosystems environment, where distributors now engage in a more centralized role, partnership innovation is as critical as technological breakthroughs. To help vendors better understand concurrent new channel directions and business models, the Global Technology Distribution Council recently completed a study that underscores the challenges solution providers face today and how they believe distributors and vendors can help them succeed.

The research behind Priming Partnerships for Changing Channels is based on extensive interviews with senior management from all channel perspectives. “Tips from the Top” are included to help vendors, solution providers, and distributors all better understand how to thrive in this period of unprecedented change.

As we look ahead to the types of programs, services, and solutions that will prevail it’s clear distributors, vendors, and solution providers can all work better together to strengthen overall offerings, as well as cost efficiencies. This has been an underlying and rejuvenating hallmark of the channel, regardless of how technologies evolve. It always comes back to the total solution.

Sum Of Parts Not Greater Than The Wholesaler

No individual parts or products seal the deal. That’s perpetually changing, of course, and demonstrated by GTDC members adding more than 400 new vendors over the past two years.

What truly distinguishes the solution provider channel is the inherent collective contributions and collaborations that make end customers happy. They typically don’t care much about what happens behind the scenes, how all the players participate, and ultimately enable the best possible outcomes.

It often comes down to having one neck to choke, however, with solution providers’ necks on the front line. That fact cannot be taken for granted, as letdowns by anyone in the equation can be catastrophic for everyone involved. Make sure your voice is heard — and get the support you need from distribution partners who align with your long-term strategic ambitions as well as your daily product delivery requirements.

About The Author

Timothy J. Curran has more than three decades of leadership experience in high-tech sales, strategic planning and reseller channel management, including with top distributors and technology companies. As chief executive officer of the Global Technology Distribution Council, he is responsible for the strategic direction of an international trade association that represents members with more than $150 billion in annual sales.