Vineeth Sebastian, regional sales director, MEA, MMD and AOC, talks about the company’s channel strategy for the Middle East and Africa, and why he is bullish about business in 2015.
AOC’s ability to see market transitions and constantly reinvent itself have kept it thriving and made it a better channel partner than any peer in the monitor segment. Given that the past 24 months have been particularly challenging for the monitor and display panels segment, in part because the global PC market has logged eight consecutive declines in revenue, vendors in this sector have had to reinvent themselves to make the channel to believe again.
For Vineeth Sebastian, regional sales director, MEA at MMD and AOC, that belief in making sure that the company continues to curve a niche for its offerings, has seen him spend the past 12 months meeting channel partners in the Middle East and Africa to reassure them that the monitor and displays business is here to stay.
The former Emitac Distribution sales and marketing head understands that for MMD and AOC to make significant inroads in the market, channel partners are the ones that have to power and be behind the monitor sector turnaround. So Sebastian has made the decision to personally oversee a new channel structure for MMD and AOC to ensure that the company’s partner strategy and programmes are bearing fruit for the channel. Not only, he decided, did MMD and AOC need to reinvest in product innovation to restore the company’s legacy as one of the biggest monitor and displays vendors, it needed to reinvest in channel partners to restore its rich partner heritage globally.
The tireless Sebastian, who has been working around the clock, has been doing more than his fair share to move the company’s channel sales needle in MEA.
“We focused most of 2014 on structuring our business in the Middle East and Africa. We paid more attention to the fast growing region, which is Africa and South Africa is an important market for us on the continent and we address that market with people on the ground,” he said. “We have divided Africa into four zones comprising West, East, North and Southern Africa also known as SADC.”
Sebastian said the SADC region has been the company’s biggest business block so far. “We are ranked in the top three monitor vendors in South Africa and we would like to keep it that way as we aim for the top spot with both AOC and Philips offerings in that market.”
He said the markets in Africa where the company is eyeing for growth are North, West and East Africa. “Last year we did extremely well in North Africa especially in countries like Algeria and in Egypt. We are getting a foothold in Egypt and tied up with a partner for local assembly,” he said. “For East and West Africa, we have managed to open an account in those two regions and are hopeful of growing the business this year and beyond.”
Sebastian’s hard work is beginning to pay off. So far, all of AOC and Philips partners are on boarded on a dedicated web portal called PartnerNET.
He added that TPV Technology Limited the parent company of AOC prides itself not just as a monitor specialist but a displays expert as well. “Displays I believe will never go away whether the desktop PC market is growing or is in demise. Displays may vary and when we say displays it opens up a whole array of products for resellers to make decent margins on,” he said. “We are also looking at tablets and mobile phones to add to the displays and this will enhance the portfolio and product offerings to the market. This is how we see the market going forward in terms of keeping focus and cementing our position in the displays segment.”
Sebastian explained that AOC has managed to grow healthily in the regional channel because it controls the quantity it supplies to partners. “We have made sure we don’t have our monitor range over traded in the channel for both AOC and Philips. We are very strict that we don’t do cross border trading hence we go with exclusive in-country distribution partners,” he said. “This makes certain that there is no over trading or product stuffing. It also ensures that distributors are selling in markets where they are authorised to supply our products.”
That said, Sebastian pointed out that the biggest challenge in the region is that in countries where the economy is heavily dependent on crude oil revenues, government and public sector projects have been affected by the drop in oil prices so the funding on these projects has been shelved. “Although this doesn’t affect the channel directly, any slowdown in infrastructure projects roll out will eventually impact the channel business,” he noted.
He said because of the volatility of the markets in the Middle East, the company is getting different feedback from partners. “The African market currently is going through a currency crisis, where most of the big countries’ currencies are depreciating against the US dollar hence there is volatility and that affects pricing structures and stock management,” he said.
He said once stability is achieved, these markets will bounce back and the company remains optimistic it will continue to do business in those markets. We also see volatility in South Africa, where the rand has come under immense pressure and depreciated against the dollar. However, business is still going on quite strongly despite the currency depreciating.
Sebastian added that in the Middle East the company’s strengths are into the channel business and it has consolidated that business. “Although we haven’t grown in leaps and bounce, we have maintained a solid business in the Middle East. In addition, we have the Iran business with AOC and that business is growing for us as we also do assembling in there.
It is not trivial that Sebastian has used some of the lessons he learned in his previous channel roles at Emitac Distribution and HP to restore partner faith in MMD and AOC.
“When you are explaining, you are losing. When you are talking about how we are going to grow the business together and what the opportunities are in the market, what is the innovative technology the company is bringing to make the business life of partners easier, that’s when you are winning. That is the big difference between us and our rivals.”
It seems this philosophy is having a positive bearing in changing partner mind sets across the company’s MEA operations.