There has never been a better time for office equipment dealers to launch an ECM-MSP practice than now. Demand for ECM has never been higher, especially among the office equipment dealer customer base, and a lot of the cost and technology barriers that once prohibited dealers from launching their own successful ECM business have fallen. ECM solutions present dealers with the opportunity to add a recurring revenue stream to their business that has the potential to grow exponentially — something that can serve as the core for the next generation of your business. The best part is, it doesn’t even require a big investment from dealers, and they can sell directly into their base (and beyond) right away. ECM vendors are looking to partner with and support dealers as they embark on their ECM-MSP journey. 

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An outstanding opportunity

Dealers are sitting on top of an ECM gold mine, with virtually all their customers prime targets for ECM. Most dealers who do sell ECM sell it to less than 1% of their customer base. So, I want you to imagine what your bottom line would look like if you added ECM to 1% of your customer base this year. Now, imagine what your bottom line would look like in five years if 10% of your base was paying you every month for an ECM package. 

ECM presents dealers with the ability to build an annuity model that will pay dividends long into the future. It can be the gateway into new accounts (an easy win with ECM could be the birth of a long-lasting hardware relationship) or the growth vehicle in your existing accounts.  

Today’s solutions to yesterday’s problems

In the past, dealers have struggled to get their ECM business off the ground for a variety of reasons. Getting started was expensive. Motivating salespeople to sell ECM (and figuring out how to compensate them) was a tricky nut to crack. Finding and retaining talent with strong technical skills AND expert knowledge of varying business processes was even trickier. And on top of all that, dealers struggled to adapt to a new product — one that is quite different than what they already sell, requiring a different sales and delivery model for success. 

In the legacy ECM model, the high cost of entry to the ECM- space was staggering, and it fostered unrealistic expectations among many resellers who added it to their portfolio. To launch an ECM business, dealers would have to pay their vendor-partner a reseller fee, hire/train technicians and SMEs, and shell out a bunch of cash to market the business. And that’s all before they have made a single sale. And as it turns out, SMBs — a large chunk of the average dealer’s customer base — didn’t have the financial or technical resources to take on an ECM solution — even if they had a great desire to. In other words, dealers spent a lot of time, money, and energy to provide a product that their customers couldn’t afford or learn how to use. It wasn’t uncommon for the dealers that didn’t have immediate success selling ECM to abandon the project or shift their focus elsewhere when they struggled to offset the high cost of entry. 

But ECM isn’t a get-rich-quick scam. It’s a long-term investment that takes time to build. You need to achieve a critical mass before it starts to pay off (but once it does, it can be exponential). The great thing about ECM these days is that you don’t have to make a big investment to start, so you can afford to be patient and grow organically. There are plenty of ECM vendors who would be more than happy to partner with office equipment dealers and help them get their ECM business off the ground. 

Learning how to sell and deliver ECM was one of the biggest issues that dealers ran into when launching their ECM business. Finding and retaining the right people was very difficult (and expensive), and frequent turnover made it difficult to successfully deliver an ECM product that customers were happy to pay for. Some dealers struggled because they applied a “blank canvas” approach to selling ECM. You might get the customer’s attention by telling them that you can build them whatever they want, but you’re setting yourself up for failure. In some cases, what dealers would deliver did not align with what was promised. Other times, projects would be scoped improperly, which results in the business providing services at a loss. This has made it difficult to get buy-in from the sales teams. They can be resistant to selling ECM, because properly scoping a project is time consuming. Most reps don’t want to hold up an equipment deal for an ECM sale, especially those who fear that a failed ECM project could jeopardize their relationship with the customer. That goes double when the added time and perceived risk of ECM doesn’t come tied to a hefty commission. 

That dynamic can change through strategic partnering, making selling and delivering ECM much easier. With the right partner, dealers can get into the ECM business doing what they do best — selling — and leave delivery and support to the ECM provider. As dealers grow their business, they can reinvest their earnings into training their staff to deliver and support ECM managed services, which yield higher margins. 

Regardless of how dealers choose to sell ECM, today’s simplified, purpose-built cloud ECM solutions make it easier to approach customers and follow through on your promises. Canned solutions for common business processes like accounts processing or HR onboarding fix the “blank canvas” problem. These solutions are focused on and optimized for processes that virtually every business must handle. The customer can see exactly how the solution works and understand what they are buying up front, so there is no misalignment on deliverables. And since these solutions are prebuilt, what used to take days to weeks to develop and deploy can now be implemented in minutes. Canned solutions eliminate lengthy scoping tasks, so sales reps might be more inclined to upsell or even lead with solutions. This also means that your sales reps don’t need to have an expert-level understanding of ECM and a variety of business processes to sell ECM solutions. It could be an easy win at a new account that you can expand on and upgrade over time as well as yield more hardware business down the line. Launching an ECM business is much easier now than it was a few years ago. 

The keys to success

ECM requires a focused and stated plan — there is no “half-in.” Leadership needs to have a lot of patience and dedication to get it off the ground. You need a clear direction for business and a way to track your performance to see if you’re meeting key goals. You’ll also have to take a hard look at your compensation model, ensuring that compensation and incentives are in line with your business goals. It’s important to think exponentially instead of incrementally. You didn’t build a successful copier business selling one device at a time. ECM is no different. Success is predicated on building volume and achieving a critical mass, and only increasing your investments as your volume increases. 

The ECM-MSP landscape of today is much different than only a few years ago, with the cost and technological barriers that once inhibited dealers from launching a successful practice now much lower. And as the ECM market has matured, we’ve seen smarter, viable ECM sales and delivery models emerge, enabling dealers to cultivate long-term, exponentially growing recurring revenue streams.  

But more importantly, since the onset of the pandemic, demand for ECM and remote work solutions have skyrocketed while office print volumes have plummeted. Customers are increasingly interested in digitizing and automating business processes in the cloud and ensuring that they are able to work no matter what the world throws at them (including a pandemic). Although print volumes in the office are increasing as restrictions have eased and workers flow back into the office, volumes have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels, and it’s unlikely that they ever will. Print is not going away tomorrow — there is still plenty of money to be made selling print. But now is the time to start building the next pillar of your business while the core is still stable. 

Stephen Young is president and CEO at Square 9 Softworks