How the Emphasis on Customer Experience is Redefining the Channel

    Each spring thousands of agents, VARs, MSPs, distributors, integrators and service providers gather at the annual Channel Partners Conference & Expo to share ideas and drive discussion on the topics shaping our industry. This year’s event, which took place March 16-18 in Las Vegas, was no different in that regard. But what has changed over time are the conversations taking place among the attendees.

    For the past 15 years, I’ve been among those attendees and have watched this particular show grow into a premier industry event. For instance, over time I have seen more VARs coming into this channel to connect with partners and drive MMR. But beyond the types of participants in attendance, the Channel Partners show of even a decade ago was a much different experience than it is today. Back then, it was all about the network, selling long distance, bandwidth, etc. Today, it’s all about delivering the customer experience and how channel partners can help businesses make that experience exceptional.

    It’s truly a transformative time in the communications industry. With all the changes afoot, now more than ever, the end customer views their channel partner as a trusted advisor who can not only help them to navigate change, but also leverage new technologies to the benefit of their business.

    2016 Channel Partners Conference & Expo

    Case in point, the new technologies listed below. No matter who I spoke with at last week’s conference, these three topics in particular kept surfacing again and again:

    1. Unified Communications (UC). UC is a perfect example of how technology can speak directly to a business’ need to improve productivity and, ultimately, its bottom line. The right UC solution can offer simplicity, flexibility and scalability – all powerful and welcome attributes for a business that’s facing constant change. For those reasons and more, UC was a hot topic of conversation at the show. As it continues to heat up and get more interest from businesses, our partners are seeing the benefits as well.
    2. Cloud Contact Center. The channel’s interest and excitement about contact center offerings is a directly linked to the need to improve the customer experience, and the fact that line-of-business managers are now driving the tech buy. Cloud contact center solutions provide organizations with the flexibility and adaptability they need to quickly respond to change and differentiate their business. Plus, it’s one of the easiest applications to move to the cloud. Hence, cloud contact center solutions are really resonating with the channel as they understand the growth potential and welcome these larger sales that can provide new revenue streams.
    3. Hybrid Communications. While many businesses are interested in cloud solutions, not all are willing to move their entire operation to the cloud. For that reason, many companies are considering a hybrid approach to their communications systems. In other words, they’ll combine onsite and cloud communications solutions in ways that address their unique business models and growth strategies. Hybrid communications combines the best of two delivery methods: the resiliency, control and availability of onsite phone systems with the immediacy, ease and flexibility of cloud communications. Many businesses are looking for that ‘on-ramp’ to the cloud, and that’s exactly what a hybrid solution can deliver. It’s yet another offering (and revenue stream) that has the channel talking.

    This year’s Channel Partners conference was truly an affirmation that it’s an exciting time to be a part of this business. While it is indeed a time of great change, it is also a time of great opportunity. To take full advantage of the demand, make sure you partner with a provider who not only ‘gets’ the business landscape, but who also has a true understanding of various offerings along with the expertise to deliver them.

    Jon Heaps is responsible for all of ShoreTel's distribution channels, which includes cloud service distributors and value added distributors. Jon brings more than 20 years of experience in sales, distribution channels, marketing and business management with leading software technology and telecommunications providers, including inContact, CarrierSales, Touch America and Qwest Communications.

    Note: ShoreTel's Phil Chandler (pictured in photo above at left) speaks with attendees at the 2016 Channel Partners Conference & Expo held March 16-18 in Las Vegas.