channel noun chan·nel \ˈcha-nəl\ A strait or narrow sea between two close landmasses; a means of communication or expression as (1) : a single path along which information passes (2): a fixed or official course of communication.
One very cool benefit of being headquartered here in Phoenix is our proximity to Avnet, one of the world’s largest (100,000+ customers, $27.9B in revenue, Fortune #108) and most respected (nine years as one of Fortune’s “Most Admired Companies”) players in the IT channel.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit their corporate headquarters, one of the very first things you’ll see is a 1,000 square foot museum right there in the lobby. Commissioned in 2005 by then CEO Roy Valley and Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, the museum commemorated Avnet’s 50th anniversary with a collection of treasures that practically takes you through a hands-on history of information technology. You’ll find a 1941 Motorola car radio; a 1949 GE 14” portable TV; a 1957 Guild Starfire III electric guitar; original products from Macintosh and Apple; microprocessors from 1972 to 2005; even modern-day, state-of-the-art IBM blade servers. If the Cloud could be bottled, this is where you’d find it.
The Avnet Museum is an amazing portrayal of the role that IT, and more specifically the IT distribution and sales channel, has played in the development of our modern world. It’s also an amazing portrayal of the extreme changes and tremendous advancement that have taken place within the industry. And perhaps never before has change and advancement in IT and technology been more rapid or disruptive that what we’re seeing today.
But that change is eating the channel for lunch.
In days past, channel sales and marketing were focused on management and control. It was a back-and-forth, linear communication relationship from the customer to the vendor and back. Familiar, comfortable and steady, it was a tried-and-true method of doing business. However, I believe technology and changing business patterns have altered that model forever.
“The Word ‘Channel’ is No Longer Relevant”
Let’s give Avnet one more relic to add to their museum – the word “channel.” As I started writing this article last week, I nearly fell off my chair when a colleague forwarded this recap of a Channelnomics and CRN interview of NetApp UK&I Managing Director Elliot Howard at NetApp’s Insight event in Berlin. In summary, he said:
“The word 'channel' is no longer relevant…the phrase does not reflect the changing role of the way the vendor works with partners … it’s a phrase of the past.”
Put simply, selling nearly anything today takes an ecosystem – exponentially so when selling IT solutions. In addition to traditional partners and resellers, influencers typically include:
Vendors and manufacturers
Shipping and logistics partners
Partners of partners
Freelancers and contractors
All of these vendors, partners and influences are now involved. On top of that, companies with multiple departments may be involved in a single partner-led sale, such as:
And we haven’t even mentioned multi-technology solutions yet, where we personally have seen solutions comprised of 50% Cisco, 25% VMware, 10% IBM and a smattering of others.
Cooperation Over Competition
So you may be asking, "How I can manage this checkerboard of relationships? How do I focus?" I think it's useful to conceive of modern channels as more cooperation than competition, especially in IT. All these interconnections make the whole relationship more of a collaboration than ever. I believe there needs to be more transparency and adaptability. Companies have to be more flexible with "old school" rules, more transparent with who has access and more open about visibility into data.
It’s time we start focusing on real innovation and collaboration amongst the ecosystem of influencers in a modern buyer’s journey, resulting in customers who are likely to stick around for a long, long time. And for those in technology sales and marketing who decide to keep doing things the old-fashioned way? Well, I know of a nice little museum here in Phoenix where you may end-up a little sooner than you’d like.