PCR Feb issue industry round table: Finding the piece that fits

In a virtual roundtable PCR talks to Dave Stevinson, Group CEO, QBS Technology, David Tulip, Managing Director of Network Group & Technology To Go, Mike Buley, Chief Sales Officer at Exertis and Ben Allcock, Commercial Director, TP-Link UK Ltd. about forging strong vendor relationships, maximising business opportunities through industry partnerships and how to maintain the competitive edge in the current challenging business climate.

We are all missing a good industry together, as this is of course when some of the greatest ideas and best business is done. In PCR’s roundtable with key industry veterans from the likes of tech channel distributor, QBS Technology, Network Group, dealer service and tech channel distributors, Exertis and TP-Link here is some of what came up in the discussion:

What’s the key to success within the tech industry?

Dave Stevinson: “Without a shadow of doubt the tech sector is very hot right now with some huge valuations especially on Nasdaq. The key to success is to be the dominant operator in a clearly defined niche. Relating this back to the tech channel – I would determine exactly where you intend to compete in the industry and then specifically how you are going to win. It is a genuinely tough industry with astronomically huge prizes for success!”

David Tulip: “The most successful tech companies see greatest results when working openly and honestly. In the MSP space this is largely about customer service – having open conversations with customers and adding value through their role as trusted advisors; ultimately, its about forming and maintaining trusted relationships throughout the entire supply chain – with vendors, suppliers and customers.”

Mike Buley: “The tech industry is constantly evolving and adapting, whether that means new products coming to market to enhance consumers’ experiences at home, or products that enable working from home during the pandemic.

“The key to success is ensuring that your business is continually growing and adapting with the industry, ultimately ensuring you’re giving your customers what they want and adding value wherever possible.

“It’s undeniable that the shift to online spending is on the increase, and retailers need to keep up in order to stay profitable.”

Ben Allcock: “Success comes back to the 80/20 rule. You need to nurture long term relationships built on mutual trust and respect. It’s important to keep a close eye on the ever shifting economic and technology landscape to understand how your customer needs are changing. At the end of the day people buy from people which means successful businesses need excellent customer service and a culture of continuous improvement to build mutually profitable and lasting relationships.”

How can companies not just survive but thrive?

Dave Stevinson: “There are many ways – First I would say pick a market which is big enough to matter but small enough to have relevance in it. Understand the barriers to entry, drivers of growth, market idiosyncrasies and when in it – listen hard to the stakeholders to create value in the eyes of the customer. In my business we focus on delivering a fast reliable and responsive service with software and services to solve the business problems for our clients’ clients.”

David Tulip: “With the impact of Covid-19 and shift to ‘work-from-home’, it’s fair to say there’s never been a more challenging time for tech providers, coping with not only increased demand, but also with increased expectation. Services and packages have changed overnight, with MSPs previously supporting one site with 10-users suddenly supporting ten sites, each with individual users with varying infrastructure. Operationally, the ‘new normal’ becomes increasingly complex, simultaneously supporting in-office personnel and a remote workforce.

“In order to continue to grow and meet market demand, it’s important to have good relationships with your vendor partners and maximise all that they have to offer – there is a vast amount of help and support available to businesses in the current lockdown/health pandemic – from advise and training to financial assistance and help making any necessary investments in your business. I’d also recommend tuning into peer groups to stay current on new ideas, share best practice and access preferential pricing.”

Mike Buley: “In order to be successful, companies need to ensure they are putting their customers at the centre of their business model. It’s so important to be proud of the service, support and value that you offer your customers and understanding customer needs is at the core of this.

“Offering great service will ensure business thrives and that customers come back time and time again. Sometimes things will go wrong but it’s how you go about fixing things that’s important.

“That’s why we’re more focused than ever on our people. Since adding value and providing world-class service and support are more important than ever, it’s vital that we support and empower our people to nurture and develop those relationships with customers they truly understand.

“We expect that digital transformation and automation will continue to be huge opportunities into 2021 and companies need to be onboard with this shift.”

Ben Allcock: “2020 tested the most agile organisations. The macro environment shifted and continues to change rapidly, we found that an empowered and committed team enabled individuals to come up with innovative solutions so we were able to respond quickly and take advantage of market opportunities.”

What’s the key to differentiation?

Dave Stevinson : “The key is to engineer the product and/or marketing to have certain attributes that a defined niche is willing to choose over one’s competition. Yet it is easy to differentiate – but being better is better!”

David Tulip: “I think this is largely about understanding your customers and being present to support them. You may know what services you provide but what does VALUE really mean to your customers? What are their real needs? When we connect with customers on an emotional and human level, we can understand their needs and move with them and the market. It also allows us to recognise when relationships need to change and deepen – for example, back in March when there was a sudden reliance on MSPs for core IT support, clients were also looking for best practice ideas and tips on remote working. Those who fared best acted with integrity and demonstrated empathy with customers. We’d encourage MSPs to be proactive, maintain open lines of communication, and above all be human and strive to do the right thing.”

Mike Buley: “Again, our key differentiator is our people. We have a 200-strong retail team here at Exertis and we’re fully committed to investing time and training into our people.

“Our culture is so important, and we have recently implemented diversity and inclusivity initiatives, because we recognise that diversity makes an organisation stronger. A diverse workforce with equal representation supports the development of an excellent, progressive company culture.

“The health and wellbeing of our people is also more important than ever, and we encourage open conversations around mental and physical health. For any company to succeed you need thriving employees, there is no doubt that focusing on employee health and wellness contributes heavily to an individual’s overall engagement and performance within the company.”

Ben Allcock: “During uncertain times customers will naturally favour organisations where they have had a positive experience. Offering great customer service and building a customer first culture throughout the organisation enables the organisation as a whole to focus on efficiency and delivering flexible solutions that customers really want.”

How has the channel evolved over recent months/years?

Dave Stevinson : “There has been more consolidation, the big resellers have got very big and the value of distribution has reached an all time high. Delivery platforms are becoming more critical than ever before with the surge in RPA. It is important to recall that almost every tech company has benefitted hugely from the surge in demand for product, software and services due to remote working and lockdown.”

David Tulip: “I think we’ve seen an extreme acceleration of digital transformation, with plans advancing by ~5 years in a matter of just months. Businesses that saw remote working as impossible or only of limited use before, have had to engage with it, dragging them into the 21st century—and they’ve seen that the technology does work. ‘Work-from-anywhere’ is now no longer a future possibility or a temporary solution, but a working practice that will likely become permanent.

“With work-from-home and digital education at the fore, we’re seeing a shift in the way tech happens e.g. from on-premise to cloud based security, from phone systems to PC/mobile calls. And with the explosion of cloud adoption comes the challenge of cybersecurity and accelerating cyber-attacks…MSPs will certainly have their work cut out in 2021.”

Mike Buley: “Since Covid-19 hit, we have seen a solidifying of working from home practices and a huge and transformational shift to online. Exertis saw an increased level of demand for essential IT equipment during lockdown. We played a critical role in supplying consumer goods to UK businesses and customers, so people were well equipped to stay safe, socially distance and work from home.

“We are a significant part of the UK’s supply chain, and this meant we were supporting online businesses which remained fully operational, and helping to keep the economy moving, whilst fully complying with government initiatives and regulation.

“Over the last year, we’ve evolved our bundle propositions and drop ship services as our priority is to continuously deliver innovative solution-led services for partners.”

Ben Allcock: “In lots of ways but fundamentally speed, efficiency and customer expectations. We’ve all witnessed the transition of on-line buying behaviour throughout the supply chain in recent years, the pandemic has sped this up exponentially and forced businesses to adapt. Return on capital and stock management is more important than ever so again speed, efficiency and good customer service will be vital over the coming months/years.”

What key steps should partners consider when establishing new tech partnerships within the channel?

Dave Stevinson: “Focus on where the growth will be. That involves looking down the field, taking bold steps to anticipate the future and acting on it.”

David Tulip: “There is more choice today than ever before, and finding the right partners and support can be a minefield – with any business defining decision, I would look for a shared alignment of values and culture…when these things marry up, the chances of having a collaborative relationship for the long haul, rather than a transactional one is far greater.

“In the MSP space, businesses are being asked to do more, be more transparent, and provide service faster despite increasing complexity. Those considering making investments in their businesses to better scale and meet business outcomes should take a strategic and comprehensive approach, with the aim of shaping deeper partnerships.

“Don’t underestimate the benefit of peer support when considering partnerships for the future. The benefits of engaging in a community of like-minded individuals can be immeasurable – collaboration, shared experiences, developmental tools and new opportunities – there really is strength in numbers.”

Ben Allcock: “Last year has revolutionised the world of work. It has forced a massive shift to remote working and home working. Along-side massive efficiencies, it has also highlighted technological issues relating to bandwidth and managing the demand on home networks. There is no question that hybrid working practices are here to stay which means organisations need to be thinking about the policies, procedures and technology required to maximise the new working landscape that puts SaaS, video conferencing and home working firmly on the map.”

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