A Practical Look at Channel Evolution

I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of doom and gloom — prognostications or ultimatums about what you must do just to stay alive, right? But in the end, you are going to make up your own mind about your next move. So it’s time to hear a different message — a practical message that shares practical insights about the channel’s current state of evolution.

Seize the Opportunities

Business owners that realize increased value and ultimately succeed do so because their companies adapt and evolve to be more competitive. They also learn from failure. Despite setbacks, they get back up, take inventory, and adapt — adjusting strategy until they are successful. It is this mix of dogged persistence and an ability to adapt — to read the landscape for new threats and opportunities — that set the stage for successful evolution. The real question is whether you are ready for the rate at which change is increasingly occurring. Today, it’s that rate of change that provides the kinetic energy to fuel rapid shifts in strategy — yours, your customers, and your competitors. Like the ground beneath our feet, tectonic forces shift and roll. Your ability to capitalize upon the movement is key to your success.

Newton’s second law of motion tells us that an object accelerates when there are unbalanced forces acting upon it. The presence of these unbalanced forces accelerates the object — changing its speed, its direction, or both. In a very tangible sense, these unbalanced forces complicate decision cycles, intensify competitive pressures, and increase the potential for anxiety and indecision. They also can create opportunity gaps upon which you can capitalize.

Whether you are the force unbalancing the market or taking advantage of another force unbalancing the market, change provides an opportunity for growth. Those who fear change are those who fail to see it as an opportunity for gain. For instance, some are polarized — believing the end of an era is close at hand. Perhaps they are right, but one thing I’ve learned is opportunity is never truly absent. It simply manifests in other forms. Others believe that you won’t survive the next big shift, as if it will happen in one giant event. But I think they are wrong. You have an amazing capacity to seize upon the tectonic opportunities happening right before you.

Success requires focus. So where should you focus?

Digitization: Dig Deeper

For decades, the imaging channel has excelled at monetizing the production of documents. Naturally, the ongoing digitization of document workflows is of keen interest to those who have benefited from a document being printed or copied.

“The biggest disruption … is that documents are going digital,” said West McDonald, vice president of Business Development at Print Audit. “What our channel considers a “document” is changing — and changing fast. Not all documents are going digital, certainly, but enough that we need to learn how to manage them even if they aren’t composed of toner and tree fibers.”

What should you do to position for success?

“Many customers see benefit from the digital shift of document workflows,” he said. “As such, this shift will continue to accelerate, causing competition for the pages that remain to increase.”

That doesn’t sound like new advice. In fact, it’s the same advice you’ve been hearing for years. The key point is that you must position yourself to monetize these new revenue streams. This likely requires new acumen and new packaging. The way in which you bill your packages today wasn’t always the norm, and won’t be tomorrow — if you want to be able to profitably seize the opportunity digitization offers. If you aren’t realizing more than 20 percent of your revenues from implementing and managing digital workflows, there is untapped opportunity waiting for you. Dig deeper.

Focus: Print or IT?

Greg VanDeWalker, senior vice president, IT Channel and Services at GreatAmerica Financial Services offered this advice: “After living in the IT channel for the last six years, I’ve realized the one thing you need to keep in mind — first and foremost — is don’t take your eye off the [copy and print] business. It’s not a double-digit growth industry like managed services, but it will continue to generate cash flow and margin for many years.”

Clearly, VanDeWalker believes focus is key, but what about all this talk of managed IT?

“I rarely see an MSP enthusiastic about getting into print — let alone getting into the copier space, ” he said. “When a copier company wants to get into managed services I like to use an analogy. I live in Denver, and two sports legends played there for years. Patrick Roy, nicknamed Saint Patrick, was one of the greatest goaltenders of all time, winning four Stanley Cups in his career. John Elway, one of the all-time-great quarterbacks, led his team to two Super Bowl wins. I don’t think that Roy could’ve been nearly as effective at quarterbacking the Broncos, nor do I think Elway could’ve been an adequate goalie for the Avalanche. It just takes different sales approaches, technical skills, and understanding of each of the businesses. Sure, managed [IT] services is a way to achieve higher valuation for your company if you become proficient at selling monthly recurring revenue,” VanDeWalker continued. “The multiples for a profitable managed services company are very high today. However, managed services are a different business and many copier organizations don’t appreciate the level of difficulty it takes to be successful in that space.”

Before you step into the wide world of IT, be sure you have solid partners to help backfill key gaps in knowledge and expertise. Meanwhile, refine your print- and copy-centric delivery models.

Sales: Alpha and Omega

“It’s all about three things: acquiring net new business, competitive differentiation, and aligning to the C-Suite,” offered Larry Levine, co-founder at Social Sales Academy.

What sounds like conventional wisdom is Levine’s passion — helping copier sales reps be successful. He’s not bashful about what he does and is on a singular mission to transform the way sales reps deal with acquiring and maintaining business.

“The silent killer to sales success lies with one word … complacency,” admonished Levine. “[You have to] focus on why [you should] start adapting to a changing business environment as opposed to focusing on the why not. Successful sales reps learn to adapt. You must learn how to adapt inside a digital sales world. It’s not the sales rep’s fault, it’s the dealer principal’s fault [for letting it happen].”

What’s the recipe for success? According to Levine, “Great salespeople do the same thing every day. They are purpose-driven. They focus on the success and happiness of their prospective and current clients. They are able to see the business world through the eyes of the other party. They are naturally curious and love serving their clients.”

It’s imperative that sales reps be equipped to embrace change. All too often, leaders equip their reps with a fractured and incomplete message that winds up being cheap talk in customers’ ears. This means leaders must equip their sales teams with the correct message for the market, the proper tools and motivation to succeed, and ensure support teams are set to deliver on those promises. It starts and ends with sales — period.

Four Questions to Change Your World

Each of these very different experts has their own view of the market, shaped from whom they interact with every day. In the end, it will be up to you to decide if, and how, you will evolve.

Practically speaking, you have a choice to make. Do nothing, or steal away for 30 minutes and think about where you can make a significant impact. I’d suggest you review these four questions to get you started:

1.  Is there a lack of transparency and trust between buyers and sellers in your market?

2. What do customers distrust or what pain points aren’t being solved?

3. Is there too much complexity in your current fulfillment model? What can you make easier?

4. Is the opportunity substantial enough for competitors to take notice?

Evolution is the process by which organisms develop and diversify, adapting to survive in their new environment. The channel certainly continues to evolve and change. I encourage you to be part of — to lead — that change, and not simply turn the page.

Contributor: Ken Stewart, ChangeForge LLC, http://www.changeforge.com

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of The Imaging Channel