How the Service Provider can work with their vendors to create differentiation and challenge the competition.

Channel expert Barry Turner from Agile Programmes shows how to differentiate working with vendors

Barry Turner is a well-respected business development professional who is pioneering new models for cloud service revenue growth from the tight integration of service creation, sales and marketing.

Differentiating your company from the competition can be the Holy Grail for many CEO’s, Sales Directors and Marketing leaders, particularly as IT moves rapidly to a service consumption model where the vendor brand shrinks into the background and technology solutions can look remarkably similar. In doing some market analysis for a business associate I found that 63% of UK based mid-market IT managed service providers offered a very similar mix of generic services from the same range of vendors and only 6% differentiated themselves by focusing on a particular customer segment. Prior to joining the IT industry I was a sales leader in the paper distribution business where the customers were printers producing high quality marketing collateral. The MD at the company was very fond of saying that “when we invoice for a pallet of paper 85% is for the paper and 15% the service and it’s the 15% that makes us different”. Here’s five common sense steps to leveraging Vendor resources to creating that difference between yourself and the competition.

How the Service Provider can work with their vendors to create differentiation

  1. Expertise: the majority of vendors have sales and technical training and certifications; some free, others such as technical accreditations involve a fee. Encourage your people to build expertise by taking these. Your customers want to talk with informed experts. I’m currently working my way through the Amazon Web Services business and technical courses because it enables me to understand my customers at a much deeper level.
  2. Joint selling: your team probably sell a wide range of technology solutions from networks to cloud based disaster recovery and few people can be expert in everything. Many vendors and their distributors have experts available to work with you. Find them, befriend them, make them successful and they will transfer that knowledge to your people. Utilise the technology to create joint selling opportunities, whilst face to face is always the most productive, use of web collaboration tools such as Webex overcome many of the logistical barriers.
  3. Customer case studies: case studies can be used in so many ways - customer proof points, conversation openers, web site content, blog content, exhibition stand take flyers to name but a few. Most vendors will find funds to help with creating user case studies featuring their technologies
  4. Customer focus groups: work with key vendors to host customer focus groups to get constructive feedback on what additional services and features customers want and also what you currently do that they want improving. Working in a neutral, comfortable, facilitated environment will result in a host of customer insights that will help you shape your proposition portfolio moving forward.
  5. Target a particular customer segment: Use vendors vertical and market data to migrate to a more customer focused market positioning this could be based on geographic, vertical, technology or any other set of customer attributes and values. Some vendors will have access to market data to help with these decisions and many will have vertical and technology based material. Customers want to have a conversation with someone who understands their industry and technology challenges. The 6% of mid-market service providers mentioned above, who focused around a customer segment automatically stood out from the crowd because their stories were all based in the language and challenges of their chosen market. Ask yourself a question, whatever your passion is, where do you go to buy equipment and clothes and why?

Finally, a story from another non tech industry that underlines the importance of service. I love to run and whilst not fast, competitive or elegant, it has been a big part of my life for a long time. Any runner will tell you that the key piece of equipment is the running shoe, the wrong one stops you running, the right one make you feel as if you are flying. I get all my running shoes from one shop in Bristol which is run by runners for runners because their knowledge is vast, the fitting service is excellent and if there is a problem once you have the shoe they resolve it quickly.