Customer understanding brings intelligence to channel sales

Today, tailoring interactions to customers and understanding their pain points is crucial to make the sale. Sakkeer Hussain, director, Sales and Marketing at D-Link Middle East and Africa explains.

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Customer understanding brings intelligence to channel sales Sakkeer Hussain, director, Sales and Marketing at D-Link Middle East and Africa.
By  Sakkeer Hussain Published  March 7, 2016

It’s no secret that the current political situation in the region is volatile and has been for a while in some countries in the Levant and North Africa. This has had adverse effects on the IT sector as a whole and in particular channel partners that are involved in the export trade of IT products to the affected countries.

Aside from that, the other issue impacting resellers in the channel today is the usual cash flow, credit squeeze and the volatility of currencies especially in emerging economies in the Middle East and Africa (MEA). Another issue that is a thorn in partners businesses is the prolonged payment cycles which can have adverse effects on cash flow management.

Given the current uncertainty in the market, partners are being urged to adopt new ways of interacting with their end user customers as generic messages to clients and prospective customers are losing their effectiveness and no longer guarantee new business wins.

The art of selling is not by good fortune but needs to be mastered by every channel partner involved in the IT industry.

Understanding what exactly clients want and recommending solutions that suit them best will not only win partners new business but ensure that their customers view them as their trusted business advisor and not just an IT solutions provider.

And given that sales in the PC sector have dipped over the last eight consecutive quarters, growing sales in a market which is volatile, IT spending is down and most importantly customers are demanding more from resellers for less money, it can be hard to strike the balance. So how should partners navigate this?

I believe value-adding and not just pitching a brand and its hardware products is what is needed in the channel. Far too often, resellers get into the comfort zone and rely only on the vendor brands or hardware products they sell.

Certainly from a D-Link perspective, we constantly urge our channel partners to be offering value-added services, such as pre- and post-sales services, scoping and designing of solutions, consultancy, proof of concept (PoC) and offering professional services as in when the client needs such services.

That said, to be able to do this, reseller partners need to invest in training or areas of their business that will be enable them to competently provide these much needed value-added services in the market.

Channel partnering is nothing new in the IT industry. To grow any business, one needs skill sets to deliver comprehensive technology offerings. What I have discovered over the years in this business is that the hardware business is a good source to drive a recurring revenue services business. Any partner that serves their customers competently and efficiently will be more likely considered or asked to offers services by the same customer because it becomes more practical from a relationship and account management standpoint. Also, partners need to be very active and get updated with the latest trends and technologies in the market. Staying abreast with what is happening in the market ensures that you are able to recommend the right technology or solution at the right time.

With the pace at which the regional channel and IT market is evolving, resellers cannot afford to rely on their past accomplishments. In this cutthroat market, savvy resellers are always looking for more opportunities at times even in segments they normally don’t serve or target. Staying abreast with the latest offerings, emerging technologies, training and technical updates all help in guiding a partner on which areas are trending and which ones are not.

At D-Link, we work closely with all our distribution partners across MEA to ensure that resellers are properly developed, supported and enabled in the market. This is achieved by urging partners to enrol in the company’s partner programme, where they receive regular updates, resources and tools needed for them to be competitive in the market through our comprehensive training schemes.

We also guide our partners to carefully look at the product line to find opportunities that fit their own goals and business outcomes.

A one size fits all approach doesn’t work and will not yield anything if you are looking to grow your business.

Understanding your clients’ needs and providing solutions to the challenges they face will not only bring intelligence to your business but also help you to have a health sales pipeline with a high success rate. This implies that channel partners need to diversify their focus by having the right mix of offerings to suit their target market and business delivery model. Resellers should focus more on bottom line than just growing revenues hence the vendor partners they select also plays a significant role in growing sales and having a healthy pipeline even in times of a challenging business climate. Developing a philosophy where you have complementing brands is also helpful and resellers need to heed that.

Going forward, resellers should focus on identifying timely opportunities and providing professional guidance and support to their end user customers as trusted business advisors not order fulfilment partners. Offering cost-effective solutions will win them their customers’ trust and in turn, grow their sales, revenue and overall profitability of the business. Planning and implementing new strategies during hard times should be a fruitful way to move forward.

Channel partners must reshape their roles while focusing their organisations on flawless execution. There is no time to waste. The time is ripe to define your alliances with vendors and distributors on the one hand and customers on the other.

The views expressed in this article are Sakkeer Hussain’s own opinions and not necessarily those of ITP.Net.

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