A Chinese proverb notes that there are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same. The road to success for the channel may similarly have many twists, turns and variations, but the final goal, weather permitting, of course, remains much the same: sales, profits, customers, growth and, hopefully, the satisfaction of having finally ‘made it’.
Andrew Harman, co-managing director and co-founder of reseller Annodata, along with his brother Tim (pictured below left, with Andrew on the right), might well agree. The company has recently basked in accolades from vendor partner Canon, which awarded the London-based company its highest software solutions competency. In addition, it named Annodata the top Premier Partner in revenue terms for the first six months of 2012 -- beating all other Canon Premier Partners in Europe and becoming the first UK partner to do so.
Harman says Annodata is not what you would call a run-of-the-mill print solutions reseller, however. Although it retains an interest in printing and documentation technologies, the company bills itself now as a “business communications provider” - as opposed to, say, a reseller of print offerings or even a telecommunications supplier. And it is this very refusal to be pigeonholed, he indicates, that is key to its ongoing success.
“We have been a Canon reseller for 23 years, and I worked at Canon before that, for five years,” Harman says. “I used to work with a lot of major clients, and they all said ‘we want other things too, other than Canon products’.”
Providing what customers want
Customers were not dissatisfied with the Canon products, they simply had other purchasing needs as well, and it is surely easier as a customer if you can do all or most of your IT procurement in one spot, rather than having to run around from vendor to vendor. Being “quite a strong-willed person”, Harman soon decided to seize the day and set up his own company, melding his sales and marketing acumen with the IT and finance background of his younger brother.
“Over time we started to move our business away from the old world of printer sales,” Harman says. “In terms of our approach to customers, we have a sales force of more than 65 salespeople in different parts of the business and over the past 18 months or so we have rebranded our organisation to provide more of a consultative approach.
“We go to clients and ask them to tell us what their IT strategy is over the next couple of years and we will tell them if we think we can help them. That might involve print, it might involve WAN.”
That sounds very much like the truly customer-driven approach that is often put forward as the long-term future of the reseller channel. In an increasingly complex IT world, organisations do not know and really don’t want to know what their different bits of IT do - they just want it to work, and help their business.
So far, this strategy is working. Over the past 12 months, the company’s revenue has expanded 23 per cent to £65m in the year to 30 June 2012, despite also suffering the universal channel challenge of profit margin shrinkage in these tougher times.
Today Annodata works with vendors from Canon, Ricoh and Kyocera to telecoms specialists such as O2 and Mitel; Siemens and BMP for financing; and software specialists including Nuance, RS, Equitrac, PlanetPress and so on. People want to print fewer pages and do so in a more efficient way - perhaps remotely - but the reseller has not taken its eye off the print solutions ball either, Harman says.
Its new Advanced Office Solutions certification is the highest level of software solutions certification in the Canon Partner Programme, and is awarded in recognition of a partner’s consultancy, sales and customer support capabilities in the more sophisticated parts of Canon’s office software offering. Professional services are key to this as well, according to Canon.
Meanwhile, managed solutions in a broader sense, as well as professional services and unified communications (UC), have become a bigger part of Annodata’s success.
“We have been able to demonstrate we can support various services, whether in the cloud or wherever. And we have a support team that covers WAN, UC and print. People are not going to invest with a supplier if they cannot talk support and services,” Harman confirms.
According to Canon, Annodata is one of Europe’s largest independent business communications suppliers, with 6,400 customers spread across corporate, commercial and government markets. Matthew Searle (pictured, above right), director of the partner channel at Canon UK, indicated that its first-half results also built on a successful 2011, where Annodata achieved the number two spot in revenue terms across European Canon resellers.
“Annodata had to be in the top 60 in Europe, and also be an Authorised Partner. And it sells the whole range,” Searle says. “But the market as we know it has changed; it is in a stage of transformation.”
Print used to be a very traditional reseller marketplace, but today it is increasingly about value-added services - and that is the way to find, support, and retain loyal customers. Annodata has adopted an increasingly consultative approach, which has been reflected in its recent successes, and due to ongoing market transformation, tailored services will become ever more important, Searle says.
“There are still profits to be made from selling MFDs and break-fix, and services around that. But it is more from MPS and busi-ness process optimisation as well,” he adds. “That is where Annodata has kept its business growing over the past few years.”
When asked whether most resellers could benefit from a more diverse portfolio, Darren Lewitt (pictured, left), audiovisual director of distributor Midwich, said yes. Lewitt spoke to CRN at its annual Technology Exposed showcase at Ascot Racecourse, which was held this year from 19 to 20 September. All businesses must change in order to survive, he said, and that is a mantra Midwich has held dear in recent years.
“If you fail to evolve as a company, you will not survive. If you look at Midwich as a company originally we were selling storage, printers and PCs. And over time we have evolved and now we are getting into selling solutions. As well as the devices, we sell the bracketry, the control systems, the connectivity, and put products together to make a solution,” Lewitt said.
“We are now encouraging resellers to move into security and other new category areas. Although we still sell printers as a group.”
Emerging categories still developing
Security is one area that the distributor believes will be increasingly profitable for IT resellers offering audiovisual - and that includes IT or IP-based security as well as physical security offerings such as cameras and alarms. A variety of product offerings across a range of categories is continuing to develop that can add value to print or audiovisual sales, Lewitt noted, and more resellers can and should get more involved. Midwich can help with advising on the latest developments.
He said Midwich can also get related solutions “specced up” for a customer. “We believe that sets us apart,” he added.
Despite concerns about generalists being jacks of all trades and masters of none, certainly customers prefer not to have to deal with a multitude of technology providers, agreed Lewitt. And, of course, it reduces complexity for the customer -- even if they do not make the same upfront cost savings they might if they shopped around and bolted together offerings from different specialist resellers or suppliers.
In line with that, the distributor’s Technology Exposed showcase aimed to cater to verticals including leisure and hospitality, healthcare, and command-and-control applications. The expo featured 75 vendors, from Dell to Atlona to Marantz, Denon, Samsung and Ricoh, specialising in professional or consumer audio, displays, smart TVs, videowall applications, printing, managed solutions, scanning, auto-ID and barcode hardware and related apps, surveillance technology, tablet PCs, kiosk technologies, projectors from pico up to cinema or stadium size, and videoconferencing.
Lewitt said the show was not just for custom installers or audiovisual specialists but all resellers looking to grow their businesses. At press time, the two-day expo was on track to see 1,000 resellers and customers pass through the doors, he said, suggesting the interest in adding new streams of revenue may well be there.
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