Having a clear purpose and strategy

Agilitas' Channel Trends report reveals importance of having a plan and putting customer first.

Successful businesses have a clear purpose and strategy, putting the customer at the forefront and keeping everything simple.

That is the key message from Agilitas IT Solutions' Channel Trends report 2024, according to the company’s chief operating officer Sara Wilkes.

"The most successful companies currently have all of these key ingredients," said Wilkes. "So the key message is to get your plan together, stick to it and take your team with you."

One of the key themes from the report was confidence among companies is at its highest in five years. That is evidenced by the fact that many of them are pushing ahead with their growth plans, whether that's through driving efficiency or innovating.

The study found that technology channel leaders were upbeat about the future in the next 12 months, ranking their confidence 7.9 out of 10. Broken down, VARs were more confident than MSPs about this year, while the larger the business, the more confident it was about its future success.

There's also a big difference between the confidence of the board and CEOs and their workers. CEOs were far more optimistic than junior managers, who are involved in the day-to-day operations. Much of that is being driven by the potential disruption of AI and the nervousness around that, particularly about job security.

"Unless you have the organisation fully with you and behind the plan, and working towards a common goal, you won’t be successful," said Wilkes. "It has never been more important for channel leaders to have clarity about what they want to do and have the full support of their team, with a real purpose and harmonious strategy that runs from the board right down to the employees executing it."

Importance of customer experience

There's also huge pressure on businesses to maintain a total experience (customer and employee experience), where they have to keep their clients happy, while continuing to deliver modern and relevant services, and take their employees with them. The importance of customer experience is reflected by technology channel leaders, who ranked it 8.3 out of 10. Within this, service quality was the highest in order of importance, according to 46.1 per cent of respondents, followed by fast response to customers (35.3 per cent) and technical support (30.2 per cent).

When asked which tools or investments their business is or will use to improve customer experience, feedback tools and surveys came out on top, with 77.5 per cent of leaders citing them as a key focus. Added to that, customer journey platforms and customer experience leaders were the key growth areas for the next 12 months, with 38 per cent and 37 per cent respectively implementing them in 2024.

Given the big push for ESG compliance, a surprising finding was that diversity and inclusion and sustainability were down the many agendas, with 25 per cent having no plans to implement DEI strategies this year. But that is understandable, given that these strategies were already well embedded within organisations.

Added to this, it's also hard for companies to calculate their carbon footprint, with the report finding that less than one in five worked out their emissions across scopes 1, 2 and 3 (scope 1 are direct emissions that are owned or controlled by a company, whereas scope 2 and 3 indirect emissions are a consequence of the activities of the company but occur from sources not owned or controlled by it). This is because it requires factoring in their customers and partners' activities as well as their own footprint.

"Now it's no longer about carbon offsetting – it's about carbon reduction," said Wilkes. "It's how much carbon you are reducing through the operation of your business – that's what is going to count at the end of the day."

When quizzed on the threats that could have the biggest impact on achieving a positive company culture, most respondents cited high staff turnover (25.6 per cent) and resistance to change (25.2 per cent). This was followed by poor work-life balance (24.4 per cent).

AI opportunities

In terms of opportunities, the big one is generative AI and automation, using it to deliver better customer experience through responding to clients quicker and providing more meaningful insights, thus informing better decision-making and enabling valuable resources to be redirected to other parts of the business. Reflecting this, 82 per cent of respondents said that AI would be an impactful trend over the next 12 months.

Added to that, customers are also looking for greater flexibility on deals and the ability to change if they need to. This particularly applies to the younger generation, who want services on-demand.

"The younger generation don't care who you are unless they receive that Amazon-like service," said Wilkes. "They will ditch you tomorrow if you aren't living up to their expectations.

"The companies that thrive are those that are really clear about what they deliver to the customer and where they add value. As a result, customers trust them more and they’re more likely to retain them."

Despite the recognition of AI's impact, only 74 per cent of respondents said that they were adopting AI in their business strategies. That may be down to security and data integrity concerns, and the cost of implementing an enterprise AI solution that works with their data, particularly for smaller companies.

Second only to AI in terms of impactful trends, was cybersecurity, ranking eight out of 10 among respondents. That reflects the increasingly complex cyber landscape and the need for partners to upskill and develop solutions to tackle these threats.
The need to embrace innovation is also borne out in the report, which found that 81 per cent of channel leaders are focused on it this year. Again, there were variations between employment levels, with CEOs looking at the big picture, while junior managers were more concerned about operational strategies.

Wilkes concluded, "As we move into 2024, channel business have had enough time since the pandemic to readjust, evaluate their strategies, and, in many cases, scrap them altogether and start again. Whilst we have had a few years of uncertainty and volatility, especially with the additional macro factors that are creating new challenges for organisations, confidence is on the up. We are now seeing channel leaders lay their cards on the table and start putting their strategies into action."

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