I’ve seen the channel from both sides now

I’ve always been aware of the channel, but last week as the first time I’d really got an inside peek at the industry.

At we cover technology from the point of view of the small business user. More often than not when writing stories about this space, I’ve heard about IT services delivered to SMBs through a channel partner – a managed service provider (MSP), a value added reseller (VAR), a solution provider, etc.

When an entrepreneur talks about working with a channel partner, it’s a means to an end – a way to solve a problem that was beyond the capabilities of the small business. So I had only a one-dimensional understanding of the industry. Until last week, when I played pinch-hitter for my colleagues at Computer Dealer News and went to cover the N-able Partner Summit  in Arizona.

Now I’ve filled in all three dimensions of what the channel is all about and how it operates. It was an illuminating experience and I wanted to share with my business audience what I learned.

The channel is a gentleman’s club

When interviewing business people and entrepreneurs, I come across a pretty even split of males and females. So it struck me when I looked around the exhibition show floor and saw that the attendees were around 90 per cent male.

As if to illustrate the demographic, N-able had its employees stand up on the conference floor during the opening address, to introduce them to the crowd. There were 10 people standing up and nine of them were men.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the IT industry is so dominated by men as I’ve been reading about it for a long time. But it was different to see the reality of it. It also brings home why CDN’s Women in the IT Channel featureis so important.

N-able certainly knew who its demographic was. The main event night at the conference was an evening of smoking cigars and drinking whiskey. Men stood around in suits doing these things when surprised by the event’s feature entertainment, scantily clad showgirls.

The channel speaks its own language

I thought business jargon was bad, but then I’d never covered a channel event before.

Did you know that MSPs can maximize their ROI by using a freemium sales model to recruit SMBs? The trick is to up-sell and cross-sell using reports illustrating key metrics. And of course, always lead with value.

The scary part is, that paragraph actually made sense to some people.

The channel really does care about you

The people I met at N-able were thoughtful, well-meaning and dedicated to their clients. Any frustration they expressed at not being able to sell more of their product was less about lost opportunity to profit, and more about knowing what the clients really needed.

In one anecdote that I was told, a small American credit union refused for years to accept any services from a managed services provider that was pursuing them. Whether the credit union didn’t believe the risks that came from computer security threats, or were suffering from the delusion “it won’t happen to us,” it refused any help to secure its systems.

Until it was breached and its servers become a hacker’s tool to send mass amounts of spam messages. Then it quickly came back to the MSP and got its full service offering. Too bad that value couldn’t have been illustrated in a less painful way.

So consider that the next time an IT service provider cold calls you in your office. It’s possible that IT company isn’t looking to bamboozle you with complicated technical services, but could have a unique insight into how to grow or protect your business.

I’ve seen the channel from both sides now. But still somehow, it’s dancing show girls I recall.

I don’t really know the channel, at all.

Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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