Recently appointed territory channel manager at Brocade, Khaled Kamel tells us about the evolution of the channel and what he brings to the plate in his new role.
“We have come a long way from the time when IT vendors were yet to establish a presence in the region. Back then, vendors in more cases than not, were likely to establish an exclusive distribution agreement with just one channel partner. Even in cases where the vendor was approached by a customer, the vendor would then route and service this query through that very channel partner. These relationships were rock solid, symbiotic and underpinned by the loyalty that both parties exhibited towards each other,” says Khaled Kamel, newly appointed, territory channel manager at Brocade.
Suffice to say, the situation changed, both as vendors began venturing into the Middle East and governments across the region began lowering the regulations surrounding the establishment of partnerships for IT distribution. “In the past, most vendors signed agreements with the larger systems integrators or organisations that initially started off as systems integrators. Every request for the distribution of the vendors’ products or solutions was routed through these organisations. As more vendors began establishing a base in the region and the government began encouraging the creation of more partnerships to boost the economic situation of the region, we began witnessing the transition from ‘exclusive’ relationships to multiple ‘exclusive’ relationships between vendors and distributors, systems integrators and resellers,” he says.
While all this contributed to the growth of an IT trade hub in the Middle East it also created immense competition between the distribution and reseller space. “In turn, it was this sudden explosion in competition that led resellers to lay considerable emphasis on the customer. Suddenly it wasn’t about what vendor they were loyal to or what products or solutions made their existing brand portfolio, instead it was all about selling the solutions that the customers demanded,” says Kamel.
It this is understanding of the evolution of the regional channel community and the partnerships entailed there in that Kamel brings with him to Brocade.
Today, Kamel says he finds very few partners who speak the language of loyalty. “While some are on the lookout for opportunistic business models pushing only the product’s of vendors who support them, others are aggressively lowering prices. What they don’t realise is that in the long run; this hinders their ability to survive. People need to understand that there is a value for know-how and value for your time especially an arena as specialised as network that is unlike the commodity, volume or box selling market. The value market is very different and if you don’t project this difference in value to your customer, you lose out on the opportunity to make the margin and grow. If you don’t have the margins you can’t afford to hire the right people without whom there is no way you can survive,” he explains.
This is why finding the right partners is a challenge, Kamel believes.
He explains, “The right partners should appreciate they service they are providing. They must have the kind of people who are qualified and believe in the service they provide or need to the customer. Most importantly, partners need to understand and believe in the value proposition they offer the customer. I still believe, sitting in front of the customer, your job is to highlight the value add your product brings to the customer’s enterprise. Although listening to the customer is a central to success, it is not the only thing, customers are knowledgeable, and there has been an evolution there too. They are more informed, more aware of the options out there, they are also faced with more options and that is precisely why educating them on the difference between the value that one solution brings in comparison to another is key to influencing their decisions. There is nothing wrong with sitting there and telling the customer that your products are not suited to them, because while you may lose an opportunity you may gain their trust and this always bodes well in the long run.”
Kamel describes Brocade’s channel strategy as a ‘focus’ strategy.
“We’ve divided our operations across what we term the ‘high touch’ and ‘low touch’ markets. While the former represents the key segments of KSA, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Egypt where we maintain in country operations, the latter represents all those countries or regions where we don’t have a physical presence such as the countries in North Africa, Bahrain, Oman, Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq,” he says.
The company runs operations in the ‘low touch’ markets through distributors. “That is why we look for distributors who speak the same language, who know what is needed and know the programmes well enough to be able to promote them to the partners on our behalf. From time to time we call on these partners for training and orientation programmes but we are very confident of our distributors’ capabilities to manage these markets and the partners in them,” Kamel adds.
On the other than in the ‘high touch’ markets, the company has selected a few key partners operating in these markets who they manage with minimum involvement from distributors. “Distributors are involved only when needed for instance in a situation requiring logistics or in the case of invoicing (we never do direct invoicing, except in the case of direct value added reseller DVARs). We do everything ourselves including visiting customers and interacting with these resellers on a daily basis,” he says.
Kamel says that in addition to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the company’s operations in Egypt have grown considerably over the last two years. “We’ve managed to sign a few good deals despite the recent turmoil associated with the Arab Spring and the presidential elections. This is because we consciously decided to continue investing in the region, signing on more resources on the ground and actively engaged with end users, unlike others who limit or even cut back on their operations in the region especially in the arena of credit availability,” he adds.
In addition to the continuous support and technical assistance that the company offers its partner, Brocade has also recently launched the Channel Credit Card initiative in the Middle East region. “Launched in the Middle East in late March this year, the Brocade Channel Credit Card is a reward programme for the salesperson that closes the sale with the end user. The partner registers the opportunity on our system and automatically seals this opportunity as his or her own, because the registration is system managed it cannot be tampered with. When they register the opportunity, it automatically creates a Brocade credit card for the sales person and every time they make a sale they are rewarded with a certain amount of US dollars on the card depending on the product value. This card can be used just like a regular credit card,” states Kamel.
The company also offers a range of training options from computer based training, virtual classrooms and instructor led training sessions. In addition, Brocade has also established a briefing centre in UK where partners can take their customers for a simulated tour of their IT environment. “They can visualise the benefits associated with the deployment and experience the technology first hand. We contribute to the cost of bringing the customer to the briefing centre to further support our partners,” Kamel says.
He adds that while he would never say no to a new partner, he needs to be convinced of the opportunity lying ahead of both parties involved. “We don’t want partnerships that are focused on just one order, we would much rather establish partnerships that are lucrative in the long run. We want to be able to develop that trust and invest in knowledge transfer, this alone with enable mutual growth and business benefit for both us and the partner,” he explains.
Kamel says that the channel community needs to change its mindset from one that focuses on chasing an opportunity to one that looks to create opportunities. He believes that virtualisation and cloud computing are two young and maturing opportunities open to the channel. “The channel needs to begin studying the evident gaps in processes and technology, they need to work on filling these gaps to earn themselves a significant competitive edge and continue growing. This is what strong partnerships can give them. Brocade is the kind of vendor who will sit down with them, understand their capabilities and challenges and help them visualise the opportunities that lie ahead of them and help them plug in the resources they need to actually realise the value from emerging technology trends. I believe that a partner who hasn’t interacted with Brocade is at a significant risk of losing out on a key growth opportunity” he concludes. //