One of the IT industry’s most rapidly evolving sectors was the centre of attention at Birmingham’s NEC arena recently. It played host to the ninth Comms Channel Expo (CCE), attracting vendors, distributors and resellers to assess the latest developments in the communications market.
The exhibitors were given the chance to showcase the opportunities available in the sector to a concentrated base of channel delegates. The two-day event, which took place on 10 and 11 May, was run parallel to the equally popular Computer Trade Show, Technology Retailer Show and the Office Technology Expo.
One exhibitor keen to push its channel-friendly approach at the show was ISP Tiscali. Speaking to CRN at the event, Marcus Gallo, product marketing manager at the firm, said: “Over the past 12 months, we have become 100 per cent indirect. We have evolved our business partner programme, and we do not clash with partners.”
Tiscali’s top priority for the show was to push its recently launched online partner portal, designed to support its channel partners.
“The portal provides information for partners. They can get quotes for services and orders,” Gallo said.
“This process offers lower administration costs, and resellers can provide the first-line support. The portal is available 24 hours a day, and resellers don’t even have to interact with us directly for any off-the-shelf products.”
The portal aims to provide partners with sales and marketing support materials, ordering and provisioning tools and real-time service updates.
Gallo claimed that Tiscali has now laid the solid foundations of its partner programme, and the launch of the partner portal underlines this dedication. Nathan Francis, general manager at Tiscali Business Services, said: “We built the portal to give even more structure to our partner programme and improve communication channels. Since we made the move to sell solely through business partners we have implemented a support system that was designed to provide our partners with all the information and tools they need to be able to service their customers.”
The rise of convergence in the channel has turned the heads of VARs from a range of sectors. However, the best business method to approach selling convergence technology is still uncertain. Vendors with both a voice and data heritage are moving to reposition themselves as convergence leaders.
One show exhibitor competing for the title of pure convergence vendor was Timico. Matthew Gimlette, commercial director at the firm, said: “We are all about convergence as the telecoms and IT worlds begin to understand each other.”
Gimlette said CCE was an opportunity for Timico to converse with potential new resellers keen to move with the times.
“We have 80 channel partners, and we are looking to expand on that,” he said. “We want business SME resellers because we are not in the consumer game at all. I suspect by the end of the year we will have 200 partners, with 120 really focused on us. This will be a split of voice and data VARs.”
Gimlette warned that VARs will have to find new revenue streams to survive in the comms channel; key to this is to maintain a close, re-occurring relationship with customers.
The CCE was an important tool to help Timico raise brand awareness, the firm said. The convergence market is fiercely competitive, so for vendors it is essential to ensure that the right partner programme is in place.
Gimlette claimed: “We offer partners a trading portal, an account manager and training courses. Resellers have been impressed by getting an end-to-end solution, including voice over IP [VoIP] and broadband.”
He added that he hopes the show will lead to 20 to 30 new VARs signing up to Timico’s partner programme. Another vendor that has made no secret of its plans to work with the channel is German VoIP software vendor Swyx. CRN reported earlier this year that Swyx had promised to spend half of its marketing budget on attracting new resellers (CRN, 22 February).
Swyx used the show to launch the latest version of its IP telephony offering, SwyxWare Version 6.0. The vendor claimed the latest launch will enable partners to target firms of all sizes.
Stuart Noad, director of corporate marketing at Swyx, said: “We were focused on the SME market, but we are launching a new solution suite for all types of users. Margins are greater in the software model: there is no stock holding and the IP-model market is growing.”
Version 6.0 signals the combination of two previous versions of Swyx product range, SwyxWare Essential, for firms which only require a standard IP PBX feature set, and SwyxWare Professional, which provides higher-end users with a broader set of options.
Swyx has claimed its IP suite is now easier to install and manage, while providing the same functionality to firms of all sizes.
“The new suite will attract new resellers,” Noad claimed. “However, we only want highly active resellers. We currently have 40 in the UK. There is a qualification process for our resellers.”
Another German VoIP vendor exhibiting at the show, Funkwerk, was keen to raise awareness among UK channel players.
Morris Becker, international sales manager at Funkwerk, said: “We have invested in our technology, and now have 100 to 120 active UK resellers. We want to double this figure by the end of the year.”
Becker added that Funkwerk is looking for resellers with both voice and data technology knowledge to join the vendor’s structured partner programme, which includes full training courses.
“Resellers will get other benefits from partnering with us, including additional funding and advertising,” Becker said.
Guy Goodman, director of international sales at Funkwerk, said: “People want one-stop shopping, rather than having to sign up numerous vendors. We can do this while building closer, longer relationships with customers and partners.”
Goodman also hinted that Funkwerk could be signing a distribution agreement in the UK. The vendor is having “serious discussions” with both Ingram and Unipalm, he added.
“The UK market is an important focus for us, and the biggest challenge is getting the right channels in place,” he said.
A late addition to the exhibitors’ roster was Matrix Communications Group, which was hoping to push its newly formed Virtual indirect Network Operator (ViNO) division. CRN exclusively revealed Matrix’s plans to form ViNO earlier this month (CRN, 8 May).
The move involved Matrix rebranding its Network Partners distribution arm to provide white-label services to its partner base. Ian Smith, chief executive of Matrix, told CRN at the time that it was looking to recruit new partners. The CCE gave Matrix the opportunity to recruit some of the new partners it needs.
Dave Everest, sales director at Matrix’s ViNO division, told CRN: “We have touched 200 resellers in the past six years, and we have 90 active VARs at the moment. I want to grow this as much as possible. If we can get 50 new partners by the end of the year, that would be fantastic.”
Everest added that ViNO is planning to continue growing its business through indirect channels. He also said it is the right time to rebrand Network Partners, which Matrix acquired in November 2004.
As the CCE drew to a close, Paul Taylor, sales and marketing director at voice vendor Frontier Systems, said: “We were impressed by the show and managed to get 65 new leads. We hope to sign 30 resellers from the show.”
Taylor said the show gave Frontier the opportunity to showcase its offerings in SIP Trunking, which Taylor claimed is a growing sector, although there are limited SIP providers in the market.
Scott Dobson, managing director of Vcomm, hailed the event a success for the VoIP distributor.
“The event went really well,” he said. “It was all about increasing brand awareness for us, so hopefully we did the trick.”
Dobson added that Vcomm gained 50 to 60 new leads from the show, which he hoped will transfer into new reseller partners.
“There was the right audience at the show, and we will definitely be attending next year,” he added.
Dobson’s reaction reflects what many in the show told CRN. Exhibitors and delegates were positive, with most saying that the show’s specific audience was a big advantage.
Optimism from comms channel players is high, and there is a bona fide thirst from both voice and data resellers for products and end-to-end offerings. And trade shows such as CCE provide part of an essential tool to help VARs understand more about what is on offer to them, and to help vendors and distributors reach a captive and very targeted audience.
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