PONCE DE LEÓN, had he found the mythical Fountain of Youth, would have had nothing on channel pros who have been able to stay relevant and grow their businesses over two decades of continual technology innovation, business changes, and market shifts. What’s their secret to longevity?
We asked four industry veterans with a combined 80-plus years of experience. They all stressed the importance of staying on top of new technology, building deep relationships with vendors and customers, nurturing staff, and developing leadership skills. Here’s how they do it.
Leading Edge, Not Bleeding Edge
From reselling PCs and components, to the early days of networking and the internet, and more recently to cloud, cybersecurity, and the Internet of Things, these experts agree that the ability to absorb and adopt new technology is critical. “There’s been technologies over the years that change the game and you need to make sure that you’re in the front of that for your clients,” says Timothy Guim, president and CEO of PCH Technologies, in Sewell, N.J.
To meet that challenge, channel business owners must embrace lifelong learning, according to Amy Kardel, president of Clever Ducks, an IT solution provider in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and chair of the board of directors of industry association CompTIA Inc. “That culture of being well informed is really important in an organization to have longevity, and to teach that to your team as well,” she says.
Kardel adds that IT solution providers need to be leaders to their clients on technology. “To be able to do that, we have to be plugged into the forecast of trends and investments,” she notes.
That’s not necessarily “bleeding edge” but certainly leading edge. Marty Andrefski, president of IntegraONE, of Allentown, Pa., tells his team that he always wants to be on the left of the bell curve for emerging technologies, about a third of the way up, ready to go to market. “When the market starts to mature that’s where we want to be hitting that sweet spot,” he says.
Andrefski adds that developing deep relationships with vendors is one way IntegraONE stays on top of trends. “We listen to our vendors and try to understand where the market is heading, and what the needs are going to be from the customer perspective, and then [align] with what our vendors are saying and [make] sure that we’re working towards that.”
For example, IntegraONE is leaning on its relationship with distributor Tech Data Corp. to put an Internet of Things practice in place. In May, the company brought customers to a collaborative workshop it hosted on the topic at Tech Data’s facility in Tampa, Fla.
Peer advice can be helpful as well, particularly from those channel pros who might be a little ahead of you, says Kardel. “You can’t know it all,” she notes.
Paul Smith, president and partner at Datasmith Network Solutions, in Walpole, Mass., took over a business his father founded in 1986. He agrees that peers are a way to stay on top of trends, and has been active in distributor Ingram Micro Inc.’s Trust X Alliance as a result. Conferences and trade shows are dependable sources of peer input as well, Smith adds. “Talk to some people who have had some successes in other areas,” he says. “Talk to somebody that has started an infrastructure-as-a-service business. Talk to somebody who started a wireless management company. The only way to grow is to see how other people are doing it and then share and collaborate.”
Kardel recommends leaning on resources like CompTIA, which provides vendor-neutral industry information, market research, and education. Similarly, Guim says his technicians have benefited from the technical knowledge provided by IT membership organization The ASCII Group.