In the first part of this series, I talked about competencies, support, and skills. In the second, I built this out further to practices, platforms and partnerships. In this post we’ll look at the importance of choosing an indirect provider who role models best use of technology effectively, solicits frank and open feedback and provides thought leadership through its people and its media.

Part of the role we all have, from vendor through distributor right down to the trusted advisor IT partner working directly with end customers, is to evangelise about the benefits of using the latest technologies. Each of us, regardless of role, has an opportunity to inspire and influence people every single day through the way we use technology. That’s why this first topic is something I take very seriously…

Practicing what you preach

You’re probably familiar with the phrase ‘do as I say, no as I do’. Too often it’s the unspoken mantra of the channel as partners are expected to sell the future whilst using dated technology themselves. Whilst I have some sympathy with the ‘cobbler’s children having no shoes’ situation, I don’t accept it. One of the things I’d encourage you to look at is how seriously your prospective indirect provider takes its own IT provisions. As I look across the indirect provider space I see a patchwork of different situations. On the one hand, a sleek, modern office with uniform devices on well-equipped desks complete with docks, monitors on mounts, running Windows 10, using modern cloud services and up to date productivity tools. On the other, corporate devices that are so unfit for purpose that employees are left with no choice but to bring their own devices to work to be able to do their jobs effectively. Here are some questions I’d ask to find out more:

  1. How do you role model the use of the latest technologies and best practices in your organisation?

  2. How do you share experiences with your partners about rolling out products and services, driving adoption and consumption, and successfully landing change within an organisation?

  3. How do you empower your employees to experiment and experience services like Microsoft Azure? (e.g. Internal use rights, MSDN subscriptions, etc.)

Taking a modern, regularly updated, forward-thinking IT stance should be the default for everyone (that I work in somewhat of a tech bubble is not something I have forgotten). With the clock running down rapidly to the end-of-support for Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008, there’s a lot of work to be done to get customers onto modern, supported platforms. Why would you want to sign up with an indirect provider who doesn’t take care of their own systems just the way you’d advise your customers to take care of theirs?

Are you listening carefully?

Microsoft takes feedback very seriously. It surveys its employees regularly and places huge importance on the output. Similarly, surveys are sent to customers and partners alike. Executives thumb through verbatims, look at trends and spend a huge chunk of time learning from the feedback provided to ensure we’re doing the very best we can to provide our customers and partners with excellent service. This feedback loop is critical to driving satisfaction. Yet, how many indirect providers regularly solicit honest and open feedback from you? Here’s what I’d be asking if I were looking for a new provider:

  1. How will you listen to my feedback and concerns, and how often?

  2. What measures do you use as an organisation to measure satisfaction and success?

  3. What examples do you have of changes you’ve made to the way you operate based on feedback from your reseller partners?

A successful partnership is one with dialog, regular and honest. An indirect provider with a healthy interest in its customers (that’s you) is more likely to provide excellent service than one who never takes the time to ask. People talk often about going on a journey, about continuous improvement, or evaluation. As an excellent person I work regularly with likes to say: “If you’re going on a journey from A to B, it’s a bloody good idea to know where A is to start with”, and I think they’re right. The way to find out is to get feedback.

What’s next?

In meetings, I usually describe my role as a strategist as being to take the ‘firehose’ of Microsoft products and services and focus it down to the most important and relevant areas to help my partners and their customers be most successful. To place the right bets. It’s an important role, and one which can have huge influence over the direction a partner takes with their technology strategy. I see indirect providers as being a sort of ‘scale’ version of me, over multiple vendors.

An indirect provider worth listening to is one who provides regular, insightful thought leadership. To inspire others to think about new ways to solve problems and new approaches to implementing solutions. It’s one who can take the ‘firehoses’ of all their vendors and translate them into a coherent strategy for building repeatable, profitable and impactful practices, solutions and IP. Here are my top questions:

  1. Where can I follow your business and your people online to learn from them? (e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, blogs, podcasts etc.)

  2. Do you have any Microsoft MVPs (Most Valuable Professionals) on your staff?

  3. How will you help me keep up to date with the latest technology trends, opportunities and advances?

Passionate people generally like to share their interests with others. It’s infectious. Part of being an MVP is to be an outstanding contributor to a community. Indirect providers have big communities, and you should look to join one with a vibrant, collaborative and sharing nature.

Conclusion

Indirect providers come in all shapes and sizes. They all got to be indirect providers following different routes. The one thing that unifies them all is their status as an indirect provider. It’s a great leveller. In reflecting on the questions I’ve posed in these three posts, I realise that not every indirect provider will have a great answer, nor will they take the same approach. The point in these posts is to demonstrate that there’s more to working with a ‘disti’ than price – more they can and should offer, and more you should demand.

I hope these posts help you take a slightly different approach in choosing an indirect provider. Find me on LinkedIn or Twitter, let me know how you get on!