Guest Column | January 28, 2021

8 Trends Channel Partners Should Look Out For In 2021

By Wayne Monk, ASG


We made it through 2020! Now what? While 2021 has already been painted as a year of recovery – and in many cases, playing digital catchup – there are, in fact, new and exciting things ahead. Yes, many trends will arise in direct response to the pandemic. However, others will surface as companies embark on their steep and accelerated trajectories toward modernization. The pandemic struggle is not over, but there is now potential for business progress.

As organizations and their channel partners look to push ahead in 2021, there are eight trends they should pay attention to.

Committing To A Digital-First, Virtual-First World

While the shift to a digital-first, virtual-first world started in 2020, it will be coming to fruition in 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic made companies aware that their businesses were not ready to be fully digital. Despite claiming to operate in the digital economy, many were not prepared to support a virtual workforce in addition to a virtual business. Moving to a digital-first, virtual-first world will become even more important to end customers in 2021 as they define their sets of business requirements, as well as their expectations for customer service. Any companies and partners that were hoping the “new normal” would eventually resemble the old normal, must commit to a more permanent change to their business.

Channel Partners Are Moving To Hyper-Automation

To service these new demands from end customers, many channel partners are transitioning to hyper-automation, which is imperative to delivering a digital service because it builds resilience and improves the experience. Automation is top of mind because people aren’t in offices or data centers anymore. They’re confronted with manual tasks and human dependencies and need to stitch them together in an automated way. The use of hyper-automation is converging with robotic process automation (RPA), business process automation (BPM), decision support, and presentation layer – all through a single design studio. It enables services to be available faster digitally. In the race to a digital-first, virtual-first world, partners that can keep pace will pull ahead.

Digital Dust Will Be An Even Bigger Deal

Every person leaves a trail of digital dust – also known as a digital footprint – showing how we view the web, the forms we filled out, etc. Following the dust, companies are harvesting the data and using it in both good and bad ways, from commercializing to hacking it. In 2021, focusing on privacy will be critical. As more regulations come out to protect digital dust, companies must know what data they have, where it is, and how to ensure compliance and privacy-aware governance. There will be no sweeping the digital dust under the rug.

Content Management Will Be The Key To Privacy

As these data privacy regulations increase, more and more consumers will have the right to understand what data companies are harvesting, how they are using it, and be forgotten. When companies receive these requests, they not only have to acquiesce, but they must also show their work. Content services will be a critical tool to accomplish both. Organizations can establish privacy-aware governance to ensure they can locate all consumer data if and when there are deletion requests. Based on the industry policy, companies can delete, redact, or hold/archive the data as needed. Policy-based redaction also can be federated across multiple data sources, so companies can be thorough in their compliance efforts.

Self-Evaluation Is Evolving Into Self-Purchase

While the pandemic outmoded many predictions for 2020, one trend did get realized: customers’ preference for self-discovery evolved to an expectation for self-evaluation. Now, in 2021, self-evaluation is shifting to self-purchase. COVID-19 put even more pressure on customers’ autonomy. So now, they can self-discover, play with, and evaluate a tool, go to an online marketplace, and get the product delivered physically to their desk or via the cloud. Ecommerce already transformed experiences for consumers, and now it’s changing the way businesses operate, too. Channel partners must think about how they can play in this world and where they can make their money.

The Salesperson Is Now A Customer Care Pro

The role of the traditional salesperson is diminishing due to the shift toward self-discovery, self-evaluation, and self-purchase. Simultaneously, business priorities are changing. While customer adoption always has been important, customer retention is even bigger. With an increase in consumption-based and subscription licensing models, there is pressure to retain and earn customers’ business every day – or in some cases, every year. So, salespeople are no longer just selling, they are retaining. Customer adoption is just the first part of a long game of customer support and care.

Channel Partners Are The New Influencers

The traditional partner model of reselling is under pressure. Profit models are changing. How do partners make money around influence, one might ask? Some partners are shifting their business to provide more advisory and architecture-oriented services, while others are electing to innovate and sell their solutions. Vendors are now challenged to evolve their partner programs benefits to reward partners that can influence customer decisions to incorporate their technology into the customers’ requirements and help users realize the value to ultimately make a purchase. If channel partners can influence the influencers at end-customer companies, they can shift their model from sales and acquisition to influence and retention.

Partners Are Teaming Up

There always has been ample teaming in the federal government, where it takes a lot of skills to architect and deliver large-scale programs. Now there is more partner-to-partner teaming in the commercial market segments. The commercial markets are demanding solutions that scale across many silos. Often one partner can’t do it all. Digital transformation appeals to that trend, in fact – touching on multiple parts of the business, infrastructure, and breaking down siloes. To deliver the outcomes customers are looking for, it will take collaboration.

2021 is demanding a level of change that many companies and partners – even the channel at large – have not undertaken in recent years, at least not in such a short time frame. From adopting new technologies, to rebuilding sales strategies and roles, to contending with a newly structured business world, there is no shortage of room for growth. Partners that embrace these changes will maintain and improve their businesses and relationships. Those that ignore the trends may be ignored by the market soon enough.

About The Author

Wayne Monk is SVP, Global Alliances and Channel Sales at ASG.