Gina Daniel-Lee, vice president of strategic alliances at Stratix Corporation, recently spoke with Business Solutions president Jim Roddy about overcoming current challenges in the channel, transitioning to the as-a-Service business model, and understanding the importance of consultative selling.
Roddy: Gina, I’d like to ask you about the channel in general and about the shift to the as-a-Service business model. First, can we talk about the channel? What do you see as the biggest threats to the channel today?
Daniel-Lee: From a Stratix perspective, one of the biggest threats we’re seeing are partners who say they have a full portfolio of managed mobile service capabilities but they have not made the investment in resources and in infrastructure to support that. They position the total end-to-end mobile managed services offering without really having the operations and the infrastructure to support it.
Some key examples that we see in this area are some large OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), large systems integrators, and carriers. There is also a great threat in customers who have a do-it-yourself type of mentality and want to take on all of those services in house without having the infrastructure to support it.
This also opens up a really huge opportunity, though. If you can look at your environment, you can look at partners who seemingly have been competition in the past, and you can look at the strength of their offerings, you can come together and partner to provide a solution that gives you a much more unique and robust offering to your customers.
Roddy: So, as always, a threat can lead to an opportunity. What other opportunities are you seeing in the channel today?
Daniel-Lee: We are seeing other opportunities to work together and to collaborate like never before — to look at mobility as an end-to-end solution opportunity. Where are those gaps in our portfolio that we could fill with partnerships? Where are those gaps in a partner’s portfolio that we could help support? It really creates this whole new world of “co-op-etition,” which I think is really impactful and really powerful for the industry and for the customers today.
Roddy: Before we actually began this interview, you made the statement of “one plus one plus one equals more than three.” What do you mean by that when you are talking about partnerships like this?
Daniel-Lee: When I think about that, Jim, I think about the strength of the Stratix brand and the Stratix service offering. I think about the ecosystem of partners that we have at our disposal and that we have the capability to leverage. I really like to look at what their strength is and how we can leverage that — and vice versa.
Like you said, we can create this three-legged stool, if you will, that is really a dynamic offering in the market place, where one plus one plus one creates a whole lot more than three and a much more robust and unique solution for our customers, and gives them a better solution at the end of the day.
Roddy: At Business Solutions, we have stressed partnerships for a while now, but a lot of resellers have a fear of being taken advantage of. Are there any actions you would recommend that they take to make sure that they have beneficial partnerships and they won’t hurt their businesses?
Daniel-Lee: Yes, partnerships are key to our business model. I think we look at it a little bit differently. You will never see a line card from Stratix that has 200 partners because partners for us are strategic. Partners for us are only best in breed, and we look for partnerships where we can invest in each other’s businesses. You have to make that cross-pollination of investment in each other, or it is not going to work.
You have to be very transparent in your communication and go-to-market strategy, or it is not going to work. You really have to be partners, not just vendors together, but rather really create the transparent communication and partnership scenario and investment in each other’s businesses in order to be successful.
Roddy: So don’t just jump at the first partner or jump at every partner — you have to make sure it is the right person, the right fit, and make you have the right agreement. Right?
Daniel-Lee: Yes, absolutely. You have to look at how you can invest in each other’s businesses and leverage something within each other’s portfolios to strengthen your solution.
Roddy: Let’s talk about transitioning to the as-a-Service business model. It is an important goal nowadays for many solutions providers, and I know Stratix offers managed services to its customers. Can you tell us about your journey from being strictly break-fix to adding managed services?
Daniel-Lee: We are so fortunate in that our journey has really been an evolution. We have been in business for 30 years. If you think about that, there are not very many businesses in our space that have been successful for 30 years. People ask us why that is so. I think it is because we’ve stayed maniacally focused on one thing — and that one thing has been mobile. If you think about that, what was “mobile” 30 years ago? It certainly was not these sleek and sexy devices that we carry around in our pockets today. It was more of a laptop and a printer on a cart and if you could lug it around a retail environment, they called that mobile.
Even though the technology and the form factors certainly have changed over the last 30 years, a lot of the complexities in deploying that technology into the enterprise are still very much the same. You still have to decide what technology you are going to acquire and how you are going to acquire it. What applications are you going to put on that device to make it valuable to your associates? How are you going to deploy that technology, and then how are you going to support it?
So, we really have been focused on mobile, but expanded our managed mobile services portfolio as the industry changed to meet the needs of our customers. I think this focus is what led us on this journey and this evolution of diversification, the support of consumerization of IT, and the ability to create a true, end-to-end mobile managed services portfolio for our customers. We also have to be creative in how we do that. We have to offer new technologies, new ways to purchase devices, and new service to offerings, and we constantly have to look at how that model continues to evolve, even though we are staying focused on mobile.
Roddy: I like how you said, “Maniacally focused on mobile,” and it also seems like a fundamental focus continues to be on the customer’s needs. Before, it was really hard to turn the screwdriver to install these things. So, that is where the majority of the revenue came from. But now, what you are talking about is just a little on product selection and more focus on the other things you mentioned. Is the shift to services based on those changes in the technology landscape?
Daniel-Lee: Absolutely. You hit on something really key, Jim, and that is the customer. We have to sit and listen to our customers. We have to understand their needs, their strategies, their directions — or lack thereof. If they do not have one, we have to be thought leaders to help guide them and provide them with a road map for success.
Roddy: I have a question about the customers, but I want to ask one more, first, from an internal standpoint. Can you talk to the audience about how you price and bundle technology with services? Was there a trial and error period for pricing or bundling or have you stuck with your original model in order to sell services along with hardware and software?
Daniel-Lee: Yes, you know technology today is really being looked at as more of a utility instead of a fixed asset. Because of this shift in perception and shift in how technology is being used, we have to have a business model that is agile and allows the means to serve the customer and support their technology needs in a creative manner. In other words, we have to offer more options and more services.
We have to look at how we can create a more creative financial model. Even more than before, we have to be creative in our approach with the customer, and we have to be able to support the total life cycle of the technology — and that extends beyond just the technology to how the customer is going to consume that technology and acquire it.
Before, we had an environment where we had a single device with a single operating system and a single line of business application and a single way to deploy and support that. Oh, by the way — most of the time that was through some capital expenditure.
Today, we have to be able to support this rapid change and provide our customers with creative options in technology operating systems, applications, deployment support models, and creative financial models so that they can purchase technology either through the traditional capital expenditure or maybe through some kind of creative operating expense model. So, we have to be able to be flexible and agile and creative in our approach to our customers.
Roddy: So, flexible and not just in the technology you are going to provide to them but flexible in financing as well.
Regarding your customers, are you hearing objections when you are selling them on a new services model? If you are hearing objections, what is the most effective way to overcome those — both from a sales standpoint and a marketing standpoint?
Daniel-Lee: It is interesting, Jim. We really have not had any objections but I think that is because of we have a customer-first approach to the market. The key to this in my mind is really spending time upfront with the customer and understanding their needs, their business model, and their business objective and then helping them tailor a creative business and financial offering to meet their needs. I think when you do not spend the time up front — helping them plan and helping them build this mobile road map — that is when you end up with objections because you try to force them into a one-size-fits-all model of service and support instead of really looking at the needs of their particular business and how you can help meet them.
Roddy: So it sounds like what you are saying is there are brand new, evolving business models, financing models, and new technology, but there is still that fundamental of consultative selling — you could probably grab your consultative selling book off your bookshelf, blow the dust off of it, and a lot of those principles still apply to help you sell this new model. Is that what you are saying, Gina?
Daniel-Lee: Absolutely. Our sales teams are challenged every single day to become more consultative and become more solution sales experts in mobile and in technology, and we are taking that same approach from a marketing perspective, too. The message in the marketing that you are going to see coming from Stratix is really going to be around this whole consultative selling, this whole solution sell, and how we can bring together those elements for our customers to create an end-to-end mobile managed services portfolio, and really look again at that creativity and how we provide those solutions for our customers today.
Roddy: There is a good book called “The Challenger Sale” that really talks about learning your customer’s business and then teaching them something and teaching them what they need — as opposed to, like you said, just rolling out the catalog and bringing in a piece of hardware and say, look at this, do you want this?
My last question for you, Gina, is can you share one recommendation for other solutions providers, based on the lessons that you and Stratix have learned through adopting managed services?
Daniel-Lee: Yes, going back to something I have said throughout this conversation, Jim. Managed services providers today have to have a flexible, creative, and nimble business model with the back end operations and infrastructures to support it.
If they do not have that, they have to be smart enough in evaluating and analyzing their own business to identify the gaps and leverage partnerships — broad partnerships, strategic partnerships, alliances in the industry — to round out their services model.
The industry is changing so rapidly and if we are not nimble enough to support this change, we will not be able to provide our customers with a level of competitive differentiation and create a value-added service and product and solution scenario for them. At the end of the day, being able to provide our customers with this level of competitive differentiation and value add allows our customers to get back to the business of managing their businesses.