Bringing in the experts

What types of consultancy services do CPs, resellers, MSPs and distributors rely on? Comms Business finds out more.

As you would expect from an industry built on partnerships, channel companies often team up with external specialists to help them make a range of business improvements. Consultancies support the Channel with a range of business services ranging from legal and financial services, through to marketing or engineering support.

Channel companies can find themselves looking for external expertise for a number of reasons. Elizabeth Sparrow, founder, Blabbermouth, explained, “Business owners can’t know everything, and there are many scenarios where consultants are absolutely essential to reach goals.

“Like any other industry, many aspects of running a channel business may require external assistance, and consultants can provide far more value to their clients compared to hiring a single person in-house. [Working with a consultancy can provide] a specialised team, as well as bringing more nuanced knowledge and a broader skillset to the table.”

Steve Kingdom, CTO of Xantaro, said, “As a specialist industry ourselves, wise channel operations recognise that they need support in other nuanced areas such as legal and financial, as well as more day-to-day aspects such as HR and marketing. They can also need support around more technical areas like cybersecurity engineering and network infrastructure.”

Kingdom emphasised the success that can be achieved by bringing in the experts. He said, “Only by leveraging the insights and services of all these specialisms can channel operations truly thrive and establish the values and principles of long-lasting business success.”

Chris Widocks, founder, WWoW PR, added, “There are many different consultants that work with channel companies. They combine flexibility with bespoke expertise and experience which can be turned on and off when required. This can often be much more cost effective than full-time internal recruitment.”

Widocks said that marketing and public relations is a “growing area” for the Channel. He explained, “Many of the big channel players have dedicated PR resources, whether in-house or external consultants. Smaller companies can benefit just as much as too.”

Sparrow also discussed why channel companies might require external marketing support. She said, “Marketing and sales success are intrinsically linked, of course, but marketing has a key role to play in creating memorable and credible brands, as well.

“With such a competitive landscape and a fairly limited range of services to sell, surfacing unique values within a channel business and their service level becomes just as marketable as their products.

“By extension, those efforts extend into go-to-market and strategic planning, encompassing everything from developing product messaging and identifying customer archetypes, to honing the best channels in which to deliver a campaign.”

Rising demand

When asked what consultancy services are in demand in the Channel, Kingdom, from Xantaro, discussed the engineering and infrastructure support that many channel companies rely on. It is not always possible to recruit the experts needed, so working with a consultancy can be vital.

Kingdom explained, “Xantaro’s services are vital for all levels of the Channel’s supply chain to achieve the key goals of Gigabit Britain. For example, many carriers, altnets, ISPs and aggregators alike are unable to source the right talent required – at the right price – to overcome the technical challenges required to scale their networks while ensuring resiliency and QoS.”

“This is especially problematic given the wide range of network topologies, technologies and hardware available; each challenge uniquely nuanced, and each potential solution presenting its own pros and cons, required certifications, lead times, etc., leading to a baffling number of options to choose from.”

With channel companies needing to compete across more technological areas and geographical locations than in the past, they also have broader communications needs than ever before.

Widocks, from WWoW PR, said, “Marketing and public relations remain very popular services especially in a digital-driven world where multiple forms of communication are needed to raise awareness and drive a brand or company further forward. Social media continues to have a big impact alongside web content management, video, photography, newsletters and general press release creation and distribution. An integrated approach works best.”

Blabbermouth’s Sparrow added, “In the last couple of years, we’ve found that leadership teams relish this opportunity for a fresh pair of experienced eyes to advise and hone their high-level channel and operational marketing tactics.”

She highlighted the importance of ensuring marketing efforts continue across every stage of the sales cycle. She explained, “Marketing plays a key role in accelerating the sales cycle, keeping prospects engaged and focused on a particular brand rather than their competitors. Integrating CRMs deeply into the sales cycle can create a more hands-off process, too.

“Creating this more cohesive strategy from the top then filters down to all elements of sales and marketing, enabling channel businesses to deliver a far more balanced approach to lead generation where both benefit each other while also surfacing optimisations across all elements to maximise resources and results.”

Finding the right support

For channel companies that require external expertise, bringing in support at the right time and finding the right partner is vital.

Kingdom, from Xantaro, explained channel companies can identify the need for external support when no one within the business can deliver a needed outcome.

He said, “Especially as rising business costs are prompting operations to embrace leaner headcounts, automated processes and maximise available cashflows, external consultancies and services are essential for businesses to remain agile.

“The most basic ‘canary in the coal mine’ is when a decision needs to be made but no one in the team has ‘the answer’. Or when the team as a whole isn’t equipped to deliver the agreed-upon solution on its own.”

The next step in finding the right support rests on ensuring you are clear on what outcome needs to be delivered. Kingdom said, “Identifying the best partner to support a channel business depends on the end goal. But broadly, decision-makers must find a consultancy that has tried and tested experience in solving the immediate challenge, as well as genuine expertise in the field.

“However, simply holding the answer is not enough. The knowledge must be accompanied by a genuine client focus, as well as flexibility and availability of the team and commercial to ensure the relationship is frictionless and fruitful.”

Kingdom discussed how Xantaro works with new customers, with close customers often “acting as our promotors” by “providing recommendations and spreading the word about our mutual successes via word of mouth”.

He added, “Testimonials, case studies and references should be key focuses for consultancies looking to build credibility. The role of key vendors in surfacing the opportunities is important too.

“For example, we’ve impressed some of our suppliers by fixing infrastructure hardware bugs that they couldn’t figure out themselves, making us the first port of call when they identify a particularly nuanced challenge that needs a fresh set of eyes.”

Widocks, from WWoW PR, explained it can be beneficial to start a relationship with one project before pursuing a longer-term collaboration.

He said, “I’d always advise channel companies to do their homework and seek specialists with a proven track record in a particular discipline. Ask for recommendations and perhaps start on a project-by-project basis to build confidence and a rapport between both parties.”

The next step, Widocks explained, is to track costs whilst building a good working relationship. He said, “Keep a close eye on costs and budget as project prices can vary greatly depending on if you need a big agency with bigger overheads, compared to more individual specialists, working independently.

“You also need to work with people that can quickly fit-in with your business culture and become an extension of your team.”

Sparrow, from Blabbermouth, discussed the importance of ensuring single projects link to a broader strategy or outcome. She said, “If businesses want to get the most value from their marketing efforts, campaigns must be seen as part of a wider whole.

“How do you connect everything from social and blogs to emails and direct mail, awards, events, and PR together so they all enhance each other, rather than standing alone?

“This interconnectedness can be the difference between a campaign that only just limps over the line or lands with impact and amazing results that produce additional income to reinvest and further grow the business, creating a self-perpetuating engine of increasing brand recognition and revenue.”

In terms of finding the right partner, Sparrow emphasised the importance of finding a consultancy with the right experience to support your business objectives.

She said, “As a marketing agency that has specialised in supporting IT and telecoms operations for more than a decade, we’ve worked with many major channel businesses.

“That experience is invaluable to our clients. We pride ourselves on already having the product and marketing knowledge within our shared service and client-facing teams, ensuring their ability to deliver great results across all facets of marketing.”

This feature appeared in our April 2024 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.