How was 2008 for the company in terms of growth and how do you look at the economic slowdown impact on Comstor?
We had a pretty good 3rd quarter in our fiscal year and since our Q4 ended in February, we will be able to account for the slowdown in our new fiscal plan. We believe we should see a 15 to 20 % growth. By June, I guess the worst should be behind us and beyond that should be a period of recovery.
2008 was a fantastic year for us and was our first full year of operations in this region, 2007 being the year we started operating here. We saw 110 % growth and the culmination was our elevation to market leadership as Cisco distributor for the region.
Did Comstor benefit from Tech Data’s exit?
Not really since there was a substantial time gap between the exit of Tech Data between our entry and the exit of Tech Data. There was only one distributor in the interim and they pretty much cornered most of the market for Cisco. Since then, we have ramped up.
What initiatives have you rolled out for partners and have you looked at localising some of the global programs?
We have a successful model of operations globally and last year, we were Cisco distributor of the year and Cisco multi theatre partner of the year. We have tried to localise the successful initiatives here. Service vantage is how our VAS (value added services) operates, providing pre-sales, implementation and post-sales services.
We launched the Cisco handbook for solutions as well as unveiled e-business tools. Lot of partners are logging in to check prices, availability etc. We have done boot camps in GCC markets to recruit select partners for the SMB market. We recruited around 70 partners. Each of these initiatives was successful and created additional momentum for our operations.
The advantage with us is that we are focused on only one vendor business- Cisco. The relationship with Cisco is strong and they pretty well know our commitment to the Cisco business.
Do you work with other vendors that provide Cisco solutions?
We do and we call them our affinity vendors. Their products complement Cisco solutions and are advocated by Cisco. This helps our partners access solutions those vendors offer around the Cisco platform.
We have distribution agreements with them. Vendors like Stonevoice which offers voice and video suites to be integrated with Cisco IPT implementations. There is Cistera Networks which provides converged servers for IPT. There are many others including APC, Trend Micro, Plantronics and more.
We have distribution agreements with them and we make our partners aware that these solutions are available as value-add for partners enabling Cisco based solutions such as an UC initiative.
Tell us about your focus on the SMB channel
What Cisco wants from its distribution partners is to focus on SMB customers. Comstor is expected to do is focus on developing the SMB channel. We also help these partners grow in terms of specialisations. Cisco wants us to recruit, enable, grow these partners.
The key here is enablement. We work with them, mentor them when necessary, and provide training and certification as well as channel incentives etc.
Once we recruit a partner for SMB, there are also programs to help the partners specialise to higher levels of technology delivery. A partner can be specialised in four technology domains – UC, security, wireless and networking. Once they grow to the status of premier partners, Cisco works with them more closely.
How do you see the networking vendor space consolidating in the downturn?
There is going to be a shakeout. Cisco has huge reserves of cash and they are using that to get ahead. The smaller vendors could lose focus and will struggle. The Cisco distribution forum for MEA concluded recently and at the event the message was that the key focus for Cisco is SMB. Cisco is expecting the SMB to rebound faster from the current slowdown.
Do you see UC for SMB customers gaining traction?
When setting up, an SMB typically wants a UC in a box solution. It is easy to deploy and easy to use. A lot of SMB customers are looking at this. This holds true for branch offices as well.
What new programs have you lined up for partners?
We are running region wide initiatives for partners. We are planning lead generation services for the channel. We plan to create a tool that will enable resellers log online and find out the leads allocated to him and then update online as well. We are looking at enabling a tool that will help partners track the annuity based offerings with existing customers. For instance, if a customer has signed on for a one year warranty program, the tool will ensure that towards the end of the term, he gets a reminder to renew it.
Renton D?Souza, Divisional Manager of Comstor Middle East gives his insights into how Comstor is adding value to Cisco partner business