Often referenced yet seldom understood, marketing in the channel has long been a contentious issue among partners, distributors and vendors -- a swirling pool of cash disappearing down the ecosystem plug hole on an annual basis.
On paper, the supply chain is in sync but in practice, the problem runs deeper than the age-old adage of, “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, the trouble is I don't know which half”.
The vendors rely on out-dated practices and complex procedures while partners remain anchored to the traditional belief that technical expertise and word-of-mouth alone is enough to acquire net new customer logos. In the middle, distributors desperately attempt to stitch together the best of both worlds to create a coherent strategy capable of delivering strong return on investment.
A somewhat stereotypical and severe assessment perhaps, but when stripping away the rhetoric, marketing remains the soft underbelly of the technology channel.
For Patrick Aronson -- newly appointed as chief marketing officer at Westcon-Comstor -- the path to building a modern marketing organisation starts at the point of data.
“How do you capture it, store it, secure it, analyse it and finally, leverage it for growth?” asked Aronson, also speaking in his capacity of executive vice president of Asia Pacific.
In representing “almost all” of the top 50 vendors across cyber security, networking and cloud worldwide -- in addition to thousands of value-added resellers, system integrators and managed service providers -- the distributor is currently sitting at a crossroads of valuable information in the channel.
“We’re in a unique position,” he acknowledged. “We have spent so much time and money during the past five years deploying a fully integrated, single and global platform, we have a treasure trove of data at our finger tips.
“My goal as CMO is to develop new ways to use that data to help our partners -- both channel partners and vendors -- drive growth through new customer acquisition or better adoption methodologies.”
In theory, such an approach leads to heightened levels of partner success, cited as a key priority for Aronson moving forward.
“For a modern marketing distributor to drive partner success, we must use digital automation tools and processes to rapidly move the channel -- and sometimes the vendor -- towards adopting a subscription and as-a-service methodology,” he outlined.
Aronson assumed the additional role of CMO in early February, tasked with leading global marketing strategy and a division housing 130 employees worldwide, underpinned by a specific focus on analytics, marketing automation and partner success.
In continuing his current role as executive vice president of Asia Pacific, Singapore-based Aronson will also maintain overall responsibility for business performance across Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
“I know first-hand from our partners that they’re looking to us to provide the right tools, process and structure at scale so they can adapt their business models to deliver recurring value to each one of their customers,” Aronson added.
Prioritising partner success
For Aronson, partner success ranks as one of the leading priorities for the distributor in 2022, with a revamped marketing strategy central to driving market growth in the months ahead.
“Partner success is at the heart of our traditional customer value proposition,” he noted. “It is the culture, expertise and mindset of our people which has made both our vendor and channel partners successful for over 35 years. Partner success is also the new, transformative methodology, digital tools and data driven processes that we use to drive customer success through the channel to end-users.”
In assessing both the regional and global landscape post-pandemic, Aronson referenced an “accelerated” pace of change from a business model perspective as customers overhaul buying practices in favour of subscription.
“This creates immense opportunity but also puts significant pressures on the entire ecosystem,” he explained. “For channel partners, transforming from a resale to an as-a-service or subscription model is a major challenge which puts immense pressure on nearly all established systems and legacy partnerships.
“In response, we provide an established workflow methodology -- Solutions Management Lifecycle [SLM] -- which helps partners succeed in a software-as-a-service [SaaS] world when adoption models are critical for success.”
Such a shift is also forcing partners to reevaluate vendor alliances and areas of specialisation, as well as billing and transaction platforms plus sales commissioning models.
“Marketing may be the most impacted as the new models reflect a shift from being single deal oriented to being customer success driven,” Aronson outlined. “This means the ongoing discussions and customer interfaces require a systematic, marketing-led orientation based on data with some level of marketing automation.”
On the flip side, Aronson said vendors also face a similar challenge in the transformation of business models, specifically in the context of a two-tier ecosystem.
“Vendors often sit further from the end-user and their data is even less exact,” he added. “We can solve these challenges through data and analytics to help partners do more, supported by scale and processes to help transform existing marketing focus areas.”
To achieve the objectives laid out, Aronson acknowledged the importance of people, notably the task of finding strong talent, keeping high performers and developing future potential in 2022 and beyond.
“The restrictions on immigration and labour movement during the pandemic across Asia Pacific -- combined with the industry boom in hybrid work, cloud migration, cyber security proliferation and digital transformation -- has put us in the enviable position of constantly looking for more talent to sustain our growth,” he said. “There is definitely a talent gap in our industry so we need to be extra sharp in our recruitment, retention and people development programs.”
In looking ahead, Aronson remains “bullish” about the opportunities materialising across Asia Pacific as businesses emerge from the shadow of COVID-19 to kick-start transformation plans.
“COVID-19 has attached itself like a spike protein to all the pre-existing transformational events that were already in motion and catapulted them forward at nearly warp speed,” he observed.
“This includes the move to hybrid cloud, software eating the world and the growth of the SMB, plus the modernisation of e-Government, the increase in cyber threats and demand for skilled security experts. The list goes on but despite the challenges, as the world recovers from the pandemic, partners face great opportunities ahead.”
In a bid to capitalise, Westcon-Comstor has bolstered solution portfolio capabilities through a process of “hand-picking” select vendors to meet tailored customer needs. This includes expanding alliances with Cisco on the Comstor side of the business, alongside Palo Alto Networks, F5 Networks, Splunk, Pure Storage, Tenable, Juniper Networks and Amazon Web Services (AWS) specific to Westcon.
The distributor has also entered into new agreements with Broadcom, Zscaler and Aruba, while strengthening DevOps and DevSecOps expertise through HashiCorp, Checkmarx, Mirantis (Docker) and SumoLogic.
“Secondly, we have further developed our centralised support capabilities around partner success which includes enhancements to our New Zealand Partner Success Centre,” Aronson said. “This provides regional concierge support services to partners making the move to cloud.”
Meanwhile, the distributor’s new Kuala Lumpur Technical Centre (KLTC) provides level 1-2 support capabilities to partners across the region specific to cyber security, allowing providers to move up the value chain with a focus on managed and professional service offerings.
“Finally, our new Singapore Centre of Excellence runs as an advanced cyber security and hybrid cloud demo lab which is available to our partners across the region who require support running white labelled demos and proof of concepts with end-users,” Aronson stated.
The final piece of the puzzle is centred around the continuous development of partner success propositions to help partners evolve beyond traditional resell.
“This includes our flexible financing solution which provides opportunity to convert traditional vendor purchases to subscription or as-a-service models,” he said. “Our intelligent demand service offers access to our data analytics platform to help understand market opportunities that may exist within customer bases.”