Q&A: ALEX TATHAM
Earlier this year, Westcoast commissioned some research to find out one question: What do resellers really think of distributors? After the report was published, Alex Tatham, MD of Westcoast sat down with Elliot Mulley-Goodbarne to talk about the findings.
TBT: Why produce a report like this?
AT: We did this because we felt that we wanted to learn more about what our customers thought of us, what they think of the whole industry and how we can improve ourselves. That was a clear focus: ‘what do they really think about us?
TBT: So what do resellers really think about distributors?
AT: What's amazing is how many of you feel frustrated with the distribution business. I've been in the distribution business for 25 years. I've heard quotes of “you’re a necessary evil” which is really not a nice place to be. But what we are seeing is people understanding how important distribution is to their business.
So I think it's very important to be able to do some research, and we surveyed over 200 UK resellers in varying sizes, you see a fairly broad range of different results but effectively the key figure is that 92 percent are feeling frustrated with their distributors and I think that is a rather important thing for us to get fixed.
TBT: 92% is a huge level of dissatisfaction, is this not a major issue for the industry?
AT: I don't think that it was an enormous level frustration, there's just regular and often frustrations and I think that really came through for everyone in the channel. It feels as though it's so regular because they use distribution so much, we are so well used by so many people and we are so important to their business, that it's inevitable that those frustrations exist and they will suffer but we can help them.
That was the joy of the report, they (resellers) trust this distribution channel to work with them, and I thought that that was also quite important. You see cloud services being extremely important to the Channel and also how distribution is helping those resellers. We also see opportunities for machine learning, opportunities for doing things better.
TBT: You mention cloud, how has distribution managed to stay relevant as businesses have favoured a service-orientated technology stack through cloud systems?
AT: Well, of course this goes back many years when we used to distribute disk drives, floppy disk drives, then CD ROMs, then licencing came along and everyone says that’s the death for software distribution. But stupidly enough it’s distributors that do more licences than anyone else because they have processes in place to be able to sell that licencing spectacularly well.
And then of course along comes cloud and everyone says “that’s the death of the licencing business you had” and funnily enough, Westcoast’s licencing business is up as well as being the largest cloud distributor in the UK. You know the extraordinary feeling here is that distribution can really help you, largely because our processes are so well done because that’s what we focus on.
“I think that resellers see distributors able to help them sell software process licences and manage the cost of the pricing. Resellers have always known that they use distributors for licencing because they’ve been doing it for the past 15 years so, when cloud came along, they called on distribution to help them."
TBT: How do you think resellers view distributors?
AT: I think resellers see distributors as able to help them sell software process licences and manage the cost of the pricing, which is complex. Resellers have always known that they can use distributors for licencing because they’ve been doing it for the past 15 years. So, when cloud comes along, they call on distribution to help them again. I think that has been a great success and it was always an opportunity.
I think one of the interesting things is, if you take Microsoft and compare them to Google or Amazon as an example. Microsoft has got partnerships at its heart and you see that level of partnership involved. I can see the IT channel is adopting more Microsoft strategies than they do Amazon or Google, largely because they don't have that same partnership mentality. I think Amazon are losing that middle ground to Microsoft at the moment, and I'm sure that they will respond and get better Channel Programmes because they must.
TBT: Are there any changes Westcoast will be implementing off the back of this report?
AT: A lot, there will be a lot of changes. Clearly, one of the first things that we're going to do is mine those points of frustration. That clearly is a customer services element, so we're going to invest in customer services systems. We're going to invest in some more high-touch business development because I think that's what our customers want. They want someone to speak to and Westcoast has been particularly strong in that area.
There will be a lot of changes. Clearly, one of the first things that we're going to do is mine those points of frustration. That clearly is a customer services element, so we're going to invest in customer services systems. We're going to invest in some more high-touch business development because I think that's what our customers want. They want someone to speak to and Westcoast has been particularly strong in that area.
We need to provide education and further education, not necessarily on a tonne of products but more on some of the processes and opportunities to digitally transform. That, I think, is something that partners particularly need Westcoast to help them with and we're going to be majoring on that.