Technical Acumen: No Longer Just Enough

It’s no longer enough to simply build a better mousetrap — to succeed you’ve got to build out the entire business, according to CompTIA’s 4th Annual State of the Channel report. Read how managed services and cloud business models are impacting sales and marketing efforts, plus the nontechnology challenges the channel is facing.

The tech industry has always been about building a better mousetrap. Vendors engaged in nonstop product improvement, locked in a constant state of one-upmanship, while IT channel firms assiduously select vendor tools and products to create solutions they hope exceed the sum of its parts.

But as the industry shifts toward services, the better mousetrap or best-combined solution won’t always ensure success. Channel companies wanting to outshine their competitors or reap the benefits of a recurring revenue model need the requisite sales and marketing skills to mirror their technical proficiency.

CompTIA’s 4th Annual State of the Channel report, released in October, looks at how new business models — think managed services and cloud — are impacting channel firms’ sales and marketing efforts. Download the report here.

According to the report, the impact is widespread. Roughly 8-in-10 channel firms said their sales and marketing operations are slated for some degree of change in the next two years, including more than a third planning major overhaul.

Change Like This Isn’t Easy

Solution providers start businesses because they are good at technology and passionate about it. Sales techniques, meanwhile, are often learned on the job and marketing is a complete afterthought. The typical channel firm with $1 million in revenue and 10 or fewer employees is a rare bird if they have a dedicated marketing professional these days. But with IT moving into cloud-based services and channel firms positioning less around their vendors’ brands, marketing has become more strategic.

Here are some other highlights from the report, including some of the nontechnology action items today’s channel is facing:

  • Learning to sell to the non-IT line of business buyer, who increasingly has a seat at the table in making technology purchases. Selling to the vice president of marketing is a very different type of sales conversation, for example.
  • Training and/or hiring sales reps to sell consultatively and to focus on services and business outcomes for the customer. A net 74 percent of channel firms have added to their sales forces in the past 12 months, while nearly as many (72 percent) have taken on additional marketing reps. Also trending: hiring sales reps from outside the tech world. A net two-thirds of all channel firms did so in the last year, including 37 percent of the largest in size. This dynamic is proving that a technology background is not de rigueur for sales rep success in today’s services-oriented industry.
  • Retooling internal sales processes, sales team structures and compensation plans/incentives to fit a recurring revenue model. A net 47 percent of channel firms said the addition of new business models would increase the complexity of sales and marketing structures to some degree.
  • Upping the game around marketing and self-branding, including the use of social media to acquire new business. Social media is cited as the No. 1 activity that channel firms expect to leverage as part of their efforts to polish their marketing approach in the coming year. Social media is an avenue to promote the brand and services, and serves as communications tool to reach existing customers and a demand generation engine to find new ones.

All that and building a better mousetrap. Read the full report, plus download the latest in research and tools from CompTIA, on our Insight & Tools page.

Carolyn April is CompTIA’s senior director for industry analysis.

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