Cries of potential channel conflict have long hounded comms suppliers with both direct and reseller sales strategies, but Node4 has turned perception on its head with a well modelled Seminar in a Box programme.
The cloud and hosted services enabler has over 300 channel partners whose customers make up 40 per cent of its £40 million turnover, and Channel Sales Director Andrew Wilson and COO Paul Bryce fervently maintain that Node4's remaining direct customers provide a resource that can be leveraged via ‘referenceability'. We meet at the company's Northampton data centre, one of three spaced across the east Midlands, while the company's TransformIT seminar is in full swing with speakers from suppliers and customers providing education on the benefits of digital transformation and Node4's enabling technologies.
Wilson has been with the company for just over a year since joining from Virgin Media where he was Head of Indirect Channels. Before that he held the same role at Daisy. Wilson was eager to explain why he firmly believes the channel can benefit from Node4's direct customer relationships and the inspiration he gained from Comms Dealer's annual Comms Vision education and networking event. "People see having a direct sales force as a negative, but I see it as a positive, especially in a complex IT environment because we have true proof-points," he stated. "From today's perspective it's about taking customer case studies to describe how and why we won their business. People want to see how new technologies are being bought and consumed.
"At Comms Vision you had a large enterprise customer talking about what he liked from his supplier and how he likes to be approached. I distinctly remembering him saying if you cold called him he would never answer the phone. It was all about how you fit into his strategy and that really got me thinking. We have many case studies of our own with enterprise and mid-level customers who have gone on journeys with us, where it started with one product and lead to us supplying multiple services and becoming a key part of their IT strategy. I thought... ‘How have we done that? Let's hear it from them', so I launched Seminar in a Box six months ago.
"I have pre-canned content and go-to-market messaging for the channel and given them the ability to have access to our data centres, a presentation suite with all the AV facilities and all the key note speakers such as those at our TransformIT event. All they need to do is top and tail it, invite some customers along and we'll help them do the rest."
Wilson says the programme will help resellers develop their status and lead to face-to-face customer introductions where Node4's support team can help close deals. "I did some research with Virgin based on interviews with resellers on what they wanted from their supply chain," added Wilson. "One of the resonant points was that they needed help promoting their business and services and building their brand rather than the suppliers'. At the end of the day if a partner gets us in front of their customers with them, we win. That's what we are good at."
Bryce is certain the Seminar in a Box concept will give channel partners the confidence they need to open new customer conversations. "The channel has always been a route to market for us and it's a large part of our success - 40 per cent of our business comes indirectly," he added. "Andrew's appointment was an acknowledgment that we could do better to support our partners more. We have been trying to equip and enable partners more effectively and Seminar in a Box will give them everything they need to present to their customer base. It's never been done before. They can forklift the whole event into their brand and business and even use our venue if they want.
"Our strapline is ‘enabling business to do business' and we absolutely see ourselves as an enabler. We are in a fortunate position where we have been able to make a lot of investment early on. We've built data centres, cloud platforms, collaboration solutions and security operations centres. All this infrastructure adds up to a great end-to-end capability and we believe our partners should make the most of this investment and add new solutions to their portfolio because the customer conversation is changing. It's now more about strategic direction and digital transformation, and partners need to adapt to that conversation."
Pictured: Paul Bryce and Andrew Wilson