Every managed services provider (MSP) knows that when a customer has a particular need, solving that problem is key to winning or keeping business, even if it means stretching the limits of the services you usually provide. The same holds true for vendors. So when an opportunity comes along that sheds light on what channel partners need, and what they’ll invest in, the most important thing any vendor can do is be willing to accept that challenge. That is especially true today, when the number of MSPs that need their software tools to integrate with other software vendor tools is growing due the convergence of technology in the IT industry, says Ginger Clay, director of marketing for Tigerpaw Software. As an IT management and automation software vendor, Tigerpaw is accustomed to working with other vendors, but typically those efforts revolve around the tools their channel partners need to monitor and manage a variety of technology solutions in the end users’ environment. But sometimes, a channel partner needs integration between tools it uses inside its own business. And by integration, Clay says channel partners want something more than just plugging two systems together. “Customers need vendors to work together to create a solution that is bigger than the sum of its parts,” explains Clay. “What that means for vendors is listening to their channel partners to target the right kind of integration partners to achieve a seamless, all-connected business automation success story.”
This question arose for Michael Tederman and Hallie Talley, who run Help System Services, when they realized the document management system they used in-house wasn’t integrating with the IT automation tool they had in place. After attending a Cabinet NG (CNG) document management training program, Help Systems Services began thinking about the advantages of tying its document management system into the Tigerpaw software it used to automate many aspects of its business. The owners took matters into their own hands, and introduced the two vendors in order to get what they needed to better serve customers. “What’s compelling about Tederman and Talley’s approach is that they didn’t just want to integrate a document management system with a CRM program,” explains Clay. “They wanted their vendor partners to talk and build something new for the channel. It was very smart on their part to demand, and it was very important that we, as vendors, listened.”
Ask And Ye Shall Receive
Clay says it’s important for MSPs to have an open dialog with their vendors and provide feedback that will improve efficiencies, especially as technologies converge — both inside IT businesses and inside the businesses they service. “Smart vendors will listen since those requests, more often than not, can have a positive impact on multiple channel partners, and potentially, end users,” says Clay. Additionally, she points out that the goal of a vendor should be to help channel partners grow their businesses, and that can mean evolving products as technology advances. Tederman agrees. “If you have vendors that aren’t willing to listen and work with you, it’s time to look elsewhere,” he says. “Their interest needs to be on how to make our business grow, not how to make a sale. Both these vendors showed interest in adapting to our needs. In fact, that attitude is what attracted us to both of these vendors and made us feel comfortable in bringing the two together.” Most vendors encourage channel partners to become part of the development process, often relying on community forums hosted in partner Web portals. Others convene formal events with selected partners to discuss product roadmaps. In this case, Tigerpaw used its Client Advisory Board, which is comprised of select users, to assist in the software design process and testing before the product ever reached beta. “True software development companies need the input of customers to provide direction for the development of their business processes and flow in the software,” says Clay. That is especially true with managed services-oriented vendors with tools that provide value only if they are integrated with the other technology MSPs use in their business. “From a vendor perspective, our channel partners should do what they do best and our job is to develop quality software tools to help them achieve their goals. It’s that simple,” adds Clay.
Key to success of both the vendor and the channel partners is a willingness by channel partners to participate in the process. Don’t be afraid to ask vendors for product features or vendor partnerships if you feel strongly those enhancements will help fuel your growth, advised Clay. Look at Help System Services — as a result of its efforts, it is now able to take advantage of an integration that enables the sharing of documents between its chosen business automation software and its preferred document management and workflow software.
Ginger Clay is the director of marketing for Tigerpaw Software, a professional development software company that produces software automation tools. Ginger directs the professional marketing and business development team in developing industry partnerships, expansion into new channels, and the development of best practices for Tigerpaw’s partners.