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Distributors Playing A More Pivotal Role In Channel Operations


Suppliers are beginning to turn to distributors more frequently in an effort to increase brand awareness, market penetration and overall relationships with end-users.

During her session at the 2012 SiriusDecisions Summit, Maria Chien, Research Analyst for Channel Management Strategies at SiriusDecisions, spotlighted how suppliers can use distributors to drive communication and engagement among partners, prospects and even end-users.

The session, titled “Using Distributors to Drive Channel Demand Creation,” reaffirmed distributors’ growing importance in the channel. “As suppliers broaden their reach across more partners,” Chien said, “they find distributors hold the key to those partners and whether or not they accomplish goals.”
New requirements for channel marketers — especially within organizations that follow a two-tier channel sales model — include:

1. Fill the gap in partner marketing skills; 
2. Generate repeatable, scalable demand for partners; 
3. Drive partner adoption for supplier offerings; and
4. Gain visibility into sell-through business.

“As we look to see where distributors can add value, you have to consider that distributors are in the same race to revenue as suppliers,” Chien explained. “They can aid in the suppliers’ efforts to go-to-market.”

Since distributors are more “in the trenches” of specific markets and verticals, they have the knowledge and ability to identify top performers. They also have the competencies and solution expertise, as well as the mindshare and stance as established sources for industry trends. Moreover, distributors hone in on developing long-term relationships with VARs and resellers by providing optimal products, as well as sales and marketing resources to sell these products effectively.

As a value-added distributor, ScanSource has developed its business around providing products, services and support to resellers. Specializing in point-of-sale, automatic identification and data capture, as well as radio-frequency identification technologies, the company has “a deep understanding of our vendors’ products and programs so we can help partners quickly work through configurations, manage deal registration and special pricing requests, and help them navigate through the partner programs,” Paul Constantine, President of ScanSource POS and Barcoding, told Channel Marketer Report. “We also give them access to a sales and technical team that specializes in point-of-sale and barcoding products and solutions, and provide in-depth technical and product support on a ‘need it right now’ basis.”

This overall need to offer high-level resources and services quickly and efficiently is key to distributors across markets. From technical support, to in-depth training online and in person, as well as always-on access to marketing collateral for improved sales results, distributors play a pivotal role in connecting vendors to their partners.

“Our sales and technical support teams are specialized and consistently trained, allowing them to learn every aspect of our vendors’ products,” Constantine explained. “As a result, they can counsel resellers on the available solutions that will best meet their needs, and provide vendors with a peace of mind that their products are supported in the best manner possible.”

Distributors also can play a role in managing standard channel operations, such as tracking MDF usage and compliance, processing orders and reporting purchase information to resellers. Additionally, distributors are known to track certifications and specializations in the VAR community, according to Gavin Miller, VP of Marketing for Solutions and Sales Acceleration for Avnet Technology Solutions, Americas.

“We believe knowing how the end-user buys solutions, and training and enabling our resellers around that, helps the resellers sell more, which ultimately helps suppliers sustain growth in those markets,” Miller explained. As a result, the distributor also can act as a partner to suppliers, providing demand generation guidance to aid in lead development.”

Helping Vendors Tackle Market Opportunities
Suppliers and vendors are faced with a crowded marketplace of new and emerging solutions, leading to increased competition to gain mindshare among partners and prospects. To help these organizations navigate within the space more effectively, distributors must establish a concise understanding of target markets and geographic locations for further market penetration, according to Bob Stegner, SVP of Marketing for SYNNEX Corporation’s North America branch.

“A well-matched distributor will work in — or work to move into — verticals where the vendor has potential growth, whether that be in health care, government or mobility,” Stegner explained. “A good distribution partner will sit down with vendors to map out where they are, where they want to go and identify what success looks like, and work to match them up with resellers that are in ‘emerging’ markets the vendor wants to tap, as well as existing markets that they can grow in.”

Distributors also have a hand in ensuring that partners are going to market effectively and are tackling the appropriate end-users. For example, Avnet has a business services group that analyzes geographic markets for VARs based on their respective verticals. “We then conduct a strategic planning session with each partner,” Miller reported. “In all cases we help them fine-tune their approach and in some cases even implement a different approach all together in how they attack market expansion.”

Moreover, Avnet dives into VAR business structure, sales and marketing planning, quarterly targets, and provides potential resources based on verticals. “As we go through that planning, we determine training and enablement opportunities from a sales perspective, and develop a plan to complete training and enablement to close any gaps,” Miller said. “Then we roll out custom lead campaigns on those specific markets defined with the partner and continue to look for growth opportunities within markets for partners, and determine whether they have the optimal resources to close those opportunities.”

To ensure they have optimal resources to help VARs go to market effectively, distributors constantly train their teams on the latest products and technologies provided by suppliers. Aiding its reseller partners, ScanSource sales teams focus on helping with solution selling “and are armed and ready to assist resellers with any pre- or post-sale need, enabling them to effectively meet the demands of their end-user customers,” Constantine noted. “We also have a marketing services team that specializes in helping resellers take our vendors’ products and technologies to market, providing consulting and project management for end-user lead-generation campaigns in partnership with our customers.”

Innovative Distributors Roll Out Cutting-Edge Strategies
Distributors are constantly rolling out new sales and marketing initiatives to ensure VARs are prepared to tackle opportunities.

A sample of these new and emerging strategies include the following:

ScanSource: The company initially rolled out SUMO, a partner matching tool, in 2010. This year, ScanSource is re-launching the tool to create a more seamless user experience, according to Constantine. SUMO was developed to provide a single online location where technology channel members can connect and find partners that fit their wants and needs, and ultimately, achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

ScanSource also has rolled out MobilETC, which is a program designed to “consolidate our years of experience in selling and supporting mobile solutions, and package solutions in a way that makes it easy for our partners to take advantage of the incredible growth in the mobility marketplace,” Constantine said. Included in the program are services, software and hardware components. Also recently rolled out, the Payment Solutions Program, was developed to provide retail resellers with a turnkey POS solution. As a certified “Encryption Services Organization,” ScanSource can inject payment devices with pin debit keys.

Avnet: To create a more seamless and compelling training experience, Avnet leverages a university approach, which helps partners understand market trends, developments and opportunities in specific markets. For its health care installment of the university, Avnet held a three-day event. The first two days focused on specific market developments, while the third day honed in on how resellers can work with specific suppliers to tackle the trends and opportunities addressed.

The company also implements an internship concept, which allows resellers to “look into the eyes of the patient,” Miller explained. During the journey around Scottsdale Healthcare, resellers learn about key business challenges from executives, including Chief Nursing Officer, the head of radiology and other key players in the health care environment.

SYNNEX Corporation:
Creating new and innovative campaigns for vendors is key to SYNNEX’s ongoing strategy, Stegner noted. For example, through the
“Good 2 GR8” campaign for Microsoft’s pending release of Windows 8, SYNNEX is partnering key hardware vendors with Microsoft in a series of floor days, call campaigns and other awareness building activities to boost demand and increase knowledge of the Windows 8 release on Oct. 26, 2012.

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About Alicia Fiorletta

Alicia Fiorletta is Senior Editor for Channel Marketer Report. Working closely with industry analysts and experts, Alicia reports on the latest news, technologies, case studies and trends coming to forefront in the channel marketing world. With a focus on emerging marketing strategies, including social, mobile and content for demand, Alicia hones in on new ways for organizations to market to and through their partner networks. Through her work with G3 Communications, Alicia also acts as Associate Editor for Retail TouchPoints, a digital publishing network focused on the customer-facing area of the retail industry.

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