Channel Trends

What’s in store for the channel in 2021?

Chris Kelly - 12 Jan 2021

What’s in store for the channel in 2021?

The global pandemic has undoubtedly caused organisations to revisit their well-planned strategies for the year and it will continue to dictate the direction the industry goes in during the next 12 months. At Riverbed, we have focused on helping our customers quickly scale work-from-home models with application acceleration and network performance management solutions that keep remote workers productive and networks running and secure. Enterprises have had to accelerate digital initiatives in a matter of weeks rather than years as a top priority to overhaul their business processes and transform services in order to deliver value to their customers and employees.

As organisations increase their remote workforces and shift toward work-from-anywhere models and hybrid work environments, technology will play a critical role. More than ever before businesses need visibility over their networks to ensure that they can quickly troubleshoot problems and employees remain productive, regardless of location. It is here that the role of the channel becomes vital, creating both significant market opportunities as well as challenges to solve. With this in mind, here are Riverbed’s six channel predictions for 2021.

Customer and employee experience become paramount to sales

Covid-19 triggered a significant uptake in software as a service (SaaS) applications, as businesses turned to cloud-based collaboration tools – such as Office 365 – to facilitate remote working. These applications require partners to implement a customer success motion as they often work on an outcomes-based model that factors in adoption and uptake. Therefore, as we move into 2021, channel partners will need to adapt to this technology trend, building on their customer experience methodologies to not just land, but adopt, expand, and renew subscriptions and services.

Customer experience goes hand-in-hand with employee experience and similarly requires partners to provide new services that will optimise performance and create that seamless technology environment. This change in approach takes years rather than months to build and is compounded by the restrictions of Covid-19. Moving quickly will therefore be crucial for businesses and partners.

Prior to 2020, face-to-face interaction was seen as critical to maintaining and growing sales. However, for the majority of this year, partners have been unable to physically go in and see customers and understand how services are being used by employees. To prevent buyers from making decisions without first reaching out to a partner, partners must re-establish their status as trusted advisors by developing digital customer and employee intimacy. Regular video conferencing will be key to this and driving sales within the channel. It will mean that they can continue to gather information about what is going on within the clients’ business and identify new opportunities that will streamline their experience.

Digital transformation continues to dominate channel growth

The global pandemic will continue to accelerate digital transformation initiatives creating new opportunities for the channel. With companies forced to modernise their IT infrastructure overnight and support a predominantly remote workforce across Europe, partners are ideally placed to deliver the scale, visibility, optimisation and technology education that will drive business success in 2021.

Underpinned by a fundamental reliance on cloud, companies will be looking to the channel to automate processes, maintain performance, provide visibility across the IT estate, and secure their networks. All whilst employees and customers demand the same experience as an office environment. With no time to compromise and Covid-19 not going away, partners will work with businesses to structure and prioritise their digital initiatives in a world now driven by hybrid networks and a ‘work from anywhere’ culture. Investing in new solutions that will drive productivity, deliver ROI and realise the innovation will set them apart.

Vendor selection will narrow in response to meeting customer’s immediate needs

Vendor models have become more focused on responding to customers’ immediate needs as a result of the disruptions of 2020. For example, in Q2, many partners’ entire focus was on procuring laptops and loading them with Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to enable businesses to shift employees out of the office. This is resulting in the narrowing of solution and vendor selection; a trend that will continue into 2021. In this climate, partners will focus on vendors that provide infrastructure that will make remote working technology more efficient, productive, and secure. As well as vendors who deliver managed services in these areas – such as Application Acceleration – as their services can be expanded or sustained on behalf of the customer so the business can focus on other areas.

Changing partner models will catalyse a rise in M&As

Mergers and acquisitions (M&As) slowed down due to Covid-19 but will begin to ramp up in the close to 2020 and as we enter the new year. The change in partner models – to narrow initiatives and vendors – will be a key contributor to this. Combined with a second lockdown, we will see certain businesses experience a cash flow crunch which will prevent them from being viable and will therefore accelerate consolidation.

Partners move to support new buying models 

The demands of both customers and employees will force companies to readdress their business models. This is because customers are recognising the importance of technological investments, but expressing an inability to pay for them, and putting the impetus on partners to find a solution. This will present a large-scale challenge to the value chain or IT, and specifically the channel partners in the middle of next year.  It is a huge opportunity for partners to adapt their focus and find a means for offering pay-as-you-go, or subscription-based financing plans, even for non-subscription based projects. Partners who can make this shift and adapt to this trend will see great success, but they will not be able to do it alone. Drawing on distributors, who have extremely strong financing arms, will empower partners to offer these models.

Partners focus on upskilling and training to drive new opportunity

The rise in home working, dictated by the pandemic, has provided channel partners with time to learn, uplevel their skills and build their technical expertise. This trend will continue into 2021 with partners opting into training to better understand products, even when it is not required by the vendor in its programme. Those partners who continue to take advantage of these opportunities will accelerate out of the challenging business climate created by Covid-19 in 2021.

A year of change

2021 will be a year of change for the channel industry. However, partners who are willing to flex to changing customer needs, deliver strong experiences, champion visibility and performance, and further educate themselves on vendor products will thrive.