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Are the Tech Services Distributors Really That Different from One Another?

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Tech services distributors are in an arms race to give partners the best resources in the industry.

The technology advisor channel, more colloquially known as the telecom agent or broker channel, relies heavily on tech services distributors (formerly known as master agents). The TSDs play an indispensable role for their agent partners by generating enough sales volume with their supplier partners to maintain agreements that the agents use. They collect commissions from from these suppliers and pass them down to the agents, who engage with the customers. But in recent years the TSDs have been proclaiming that they offer much more value than that. The largest players are touting the pre- and post-sales tools they offer, in addition to deepened financial programs and engineering support.

Although consolidation has narrowed partners' amount of choices, the remaining players nonetheless present varying strengths and weaknesses. Agents will benefit from learning about the differences between these TSDs. To that end, Jamaal Savwoir, Intelisys vice president of partner experience and marketing, and Bana Qashu, Avant regional vice president of sales for East and Canada, will participate in the "The Great Technology Services Distributor Debate," Sept. 15 at the MSP Summit/Channel Partners Leadership Summit.

IQwired CEO Darcee Nelan will moderate the conversation.

Nelan and Savwoir previewed the discussion in a Q&A with Channel Futures.

CF: How have TSDs historically differentiated themselves from each other, and how is that changing?

Darcee Nelan: Direct selling agents (subagents) have had a longstanding, symbiotic relationship with technology services distributors/brokers (TSDs) whereby they leverage the service provider agreements that the TSDs have in place to sell services to their clients. Until a couple of years ago, there were many TSDs in the marketplace, each having a different value-add to offer their subagents in key areas of the customer life cycle, including: product training, pre-sales, post-sales and commissions. In recent years as a result of mergers and acquisitions, there are fewer TSDs in the marketplace, and those who remain are facing increasing pressure to provide additional offerings that may include proprietary software, enhanced sales and marketing tools, specialized technical training and differentiated financial commissions offerings.

IQ Wired's Darcee Nelan

Intelisys' Jamaal Savwoir

Jamaal Savwoir: Historically: who got in first, early adopters, regionally based, supplier availability, relationships with a start of education/training. That moved to commission splits and SPIFF pass-through. Creating less loyalty around the relationship. Differentiation started with tools, platforms, and programs that can help partners understand the supplier/solutions. Continued differentiation – investment (not private equity-based, but financial support), education will continue to be required, marketing support, lead-gen and of course, data strategy around solution adjacencies. I will add hybrid because I believe we can support the partners that will make this conversion to selling SaaS, hardware, in addition to current cloud and connectivity services.

CF: It seems like most agencies have historically balanced relationships with at least two or three TSDs. Is that a correct assessment, and do you think the average number of TSD partners will increase or decrease?

JS: Many partners had one (very loyal), and over time, and looking for ways to gain benefits once they maxed out current benefits, would add an additional TSD. I generally see two (which is where tools and enablement programs become valuable). Pushing to three really happens (in my opinion) when a supplier technology isn't available in the primary or secondary TSDs.

DN: Direct selling agents have historically maintained relationships with multiple TSDs to create a diversified portfolio and reduce risk. As the consolidation of TSDs has accelerated, there are fewer TSDs to choose from. Therefore, it’s a logical assumption that the majority of the direct selling agents will ultimately maintain relationships with the largest of the few TSDs that are left standing.

CF: What should a partner be looking for as they interview potential TSD partners?

JS: Supplier portfolio – availability for agency and resell; tools – marketing support; content support; data strategy support; engineering – who can help sell the deal/support the tech structure; financial support; commission – support/data, order reader/efficiency around payment/visibility; project management – around deals/installs.

DN: As a direct selling agent, the first step in determining which TSDs you should consider running your business is to assess your own strengths and weaknesses as they pertain to delivering services that will create long-term value for your clients. By identifying your own strengths and weaknesses, you will be able to determine the areas where you are lacking knowledge or skill sets which will be critical when determining which TSDs can best support your needs. Perhaps your biggest concern is in the pre-sales process, and understanding how to sell nontraditional next-gen services to your clients. By understanding your own needs first, you’ll be able to interview multiple TSDs to gauge the level of support they are able to provide and the associated cost of that support in order to determine which TSD will be the right fit for your individual circumstance.

It’s important to recognize that the TSDs (just like the service providers/carriers we represent) each have their own area of specialty and/or focus. Making sure that you have the right alignment from a support and cultural perspective will be the key to having a successful relationship. Solicit feedback from your peers to better understand their experiences with the TSDs, and ultimately if all else fails, try a proof of concept (POC) by putting a small amount of business through those TSDs that you’ve identified to be on your shortlist to see if they are able to support you in the areas where you most need help.

Lastly, stay informed by joining a peer group. The marketplace is changing rapidly based on a variety of factors including new preferences in the customer buying experience. The remaining TSDs will need to continue to evolve their service offerings to reflect these changes in order to stay relevant.

CF: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

JS: The future of TSDs depends on thoughtful people making data-driven decisions that reinforce relationships and deliver exceptional outcomes.

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