You'd be forgiven for suspecting that a large volume reseller such as Insight would be desperate to cut its cost of sale in any way possible in the current climate.
Far from it: the global reseller's £450m-revenue UK arm has been investing full tilt in more expensive, field-based sales staff of late, according to its UK managing director, Emma de Sousa.
"If you walk onto my sales floor compared with three years ago, it's very different. Whereas every office had this huge sales engine, increasingly now people are out in contact with the customer"
The rationale, de Sousa told CRN in an exclusive interview, is the need among tech suppliers such as Insight to act as more than just fulfilment houses and get closer to the customer in the era of digital transformation.
"Today we have three times as many people in the field as we did three years ago," she said. "We have significantly ramped up the amount of time we spend sitting down and talking to our clients.
"If you're really going to get close to your client and understand their true business challenges, that's not a conversation you want to have over the phone - you want to sit down and talk face to face. So we've invested in a transformation of our sales organisation and given them more face-to-face time with their clients. As a result we've got to know our clients better and made smarter decisions."
Insight was ranked eighth in CRN's Top VARs 2017, with UK revenues rising steadily from £424m to £438m to £453m in between its fiscal 2014 and 2016.
Ken Lamneck, CEO of its NASDAQ-listed parent, described Insight's fiscal 2017 as a "very good year", with company-wide revenues rising.
The need to get closer to customers in order to provide a bespoke, end-to-end solution was a recurring theme in de Sousa's overview of how Insight is changing as a business.
Time for transformation
At the core of this is the rise of digital transformation. Every organisation is becoming a "digital and tech company at their core", de Sousa claimed.
Although part of Insight's job is to help customers better manage the 70 per cent of their budget that goes on keeping the lights on, Insight is increasingly being pulled into DX projects that are designed to help customers transform and grow, she explained.
"One of the things we've seen over the last few years is that clients no longer want to buy the ingredients when it comes to IT; they want solutions," de Sousa said. "It's no longer about selling devices to our clients; it's about trying to understand what the client is trying to achieve and building an end-to-end solution as part of that."
Insight's recent sales restructure has seen it invest not only in more field resource but also in a team of sales specialists, enabling customers to have "more resource at their fingertips than ever before", she claimed.
"If you walk onto my sales floor compared with three years ago, it's very different," she summarised. "We've got an agile working policy so there are people working from home and people hotdesking. Whereas every office had this huge sales engine, increasingly now people are out in contact with the customer."
The shift is prompting Insight to "rethink" how it maximises the space in its three UK offices in Manchester, Sheffield and Uxbridge, de Sousa added.
The digital transformation trend has also seen Insight build a new division, Partner Technology Services, which houses a growing array of specialist resellers that can add to Insight's
in-house skills, de Sousa explained.
This development reflects the changing "shape" of the channel, she claimed.
"In days gone by, the route to market would typically have been distributor, Insight, client," she said. "But over the course of the last few years, we have built a significant practice, which is a community of partners to help us create complete solutions rather than using in-house to fulfil every aspect of that solution. Some of [the partners] are offering bespoke skills that are not part of what we have at Insight today.
"It's digital transformation that is behind this. Clients need more from us today. If you look at things such as the Internet of Things, technology is exploding, and the options that are available to our clients are vast. We had partners for many years; we've just introduced a more formalised partner programme because the options are so much broader."
Asked to give an example of where clients have moved from a transactional to a more solution-based relationship with Insight, de Sousa cited Insight's ‘modern workplace' practice and, more specifically, the firm's focus on staff recruitment and retention.
"When I speak to CIOs or CEOs, one of the biggest challenges they face, as do we all, is attracting and retaining talent," she said. "We support our clients by removing a huge impediment to their productivity as we can help them reduce attrition, and we have real examples of where we are reducing attrition rates for our clients."
This chimes with recent Gartner research which found that CEOs' priorities are shifting to embrace digital business. CEOs are concentrating on changing and upgrading the structure of their companies, including a deeper understanding of digital business, Gartner said. Moreover, workforce has risen rapidly this year to become the fourth-biggest priority, Gartner said, up from seventh in 2017. CEOs said a lack of talent and workforce capability is the biggest inhibitor of digital business progress.
One area where Insight is undergoing digital transformation itself is in the arena of digital marketing, which de Sousa pinpointed as a key investment area for the comapany in 2018.
Chatbots are already a regular feature of Insight's North American arm, which is "arguably leading the way in the industry" when it comes to digital marketing, de Sousa claimed. A chatbot pilot in EMEA will be up and running before the end of this quarter, she added.
Insight's EMEA business grew by 21 per cent to $400.4m in its Q1, bolstered slightly by its acquisition of Dutch cloud services provider Caase in September. De Sousa said further acquisitions are "possible" because "the skills gap is real", making it tougher to build its skills and capabilities organically.
While rival Softcat is known for its fun, sales-driven culture and Insight more for its slick systems, de Sousa claimed that her firm has a unique character that marks it out from its peers.
"The culture at Insight is really key and we have three core values - hunger, heart and harmony - that we live by, and they're not just to look good on posters we put up around the business," she said. "We do invest in our tools, and that's an important part to this team, but there's much more to us. If you're trying to understand more about Insight, understanding those core values is everything we stand for."
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