AI and Analytics to the Rescue for Channel Chiefs
A new “ecosystem intelligence platform” is arming vendors to replace guesswork with data science when recruiting new partners.
According to a recent report from Gartner, 47% of digital workers struggle to find the information they need to do their job effectively.
Hey, channel chiefs, raise your hand if you can relate.
Sure, you can probably name your top partners, or some of them anyway, based on sales made or certifications earned. But how easily can you identify with analytical precision what those partners have in common, or where to find more just like them?
“Your channel plan [is] likely, ‘I’m going to find a bunch of partners that I’ve known or that I know other people are successful with or that are maybe successful with a competitor, I’m going to spend a bunch of time getting a couple of them to sign up, and then I’m going to hope and pray and push and spiff until they close things,’” says Janet Schijns, CEO of channel consultancy JS Group.
In short, you’re relying on your gut, and the upshot is a lot of wasted effort on disengaged partners who rarely do business with you. “We all like to pride ourselves on managing by the gut, but it doesn’t actually work,” Schijns says. “Data is what optimizes channel programs.”
It optimizes revenue too. According to McKinsey, in fact, “companies that are using data-driven B2B sales-growth engines report above-market growth and EBITDA increases in the range of 15 to 25 percent.”
Which is why I eagerly attended a launch webcast Schijns spoke at last week about an interesting new service called the Partner Ecosystem Intelligence Platform (PEIP) from a company named PartnerOptimizer. Drawing (but of course) on artificial intelligence and data culled from company websites and social media feeds, PEIP scans thousands of attributes about hundreds of thousands of partners to determine how big a user’s best partners are, what verticals they target, what services they specialize in, who else they partner with, and more.
“You can now really hone in very deeply, very quickly, in minutes,” says PartnerOptimizer CEO Dina Moskowitz (pictured). But the better part, according to Mike Dillinger, an AI researcher at Intel Labs and PartnerOptimizer advisor, comes next when the system tells you how many other partners out there have the same characteristics and exactly who they are.
“We guide the machine with your partner profile, and that allows us to produce a ranked list of the most important to the least important candidate partners,” said Dillinger during last week’s webcast. Ranked and scientifically rigorous, he emphasized, unlike the lists you get from ZoomInfo or LinkedIn (where Dillinger used to be technical lead for taxonomies and ontologies).
“It’s not just a list of companies that might match a keyword,” Dillinger said. “It’s a list of companies that are most relevant for your specific needs.”
That’s a useful resource at any time, but especially useful when interest rates, inflation, and recession fears have many vendors (per a Channelnomics piece we’ve referenced before) trying to grow channel sales 20% with 40% less budget and 20% fewer people.
“You could be using the team you have much more wisely and efficiently, or even not need to hire as many channel salespeople, because you can put the good ones on the right targeted partners versus just dialing for dollars or spraying and praying,” Moskowitz says.
You can get straight to business with the partners you do call, moreover, because you already know a lot about them. “You’ll have a much better talk track, because you know who they are and how to talk with them versus at them,” Moskowitz says.
PartnerOptimizer continually refreshes its data, she adds, so you can also use PEIP to keep tabs on your existing partners. “You want your partners to be out there promoting you, talking about your products and solutions,” Moskowitz says. “If you find that they’re talking about your competition or things that are totally irrelevant, that’s a really important insight.”
Channel chiefs will have to play around with PEIP some to see if it delivers on the promises PartnerOptimizer is making for it. But from an outsider’s perspective, it sure sounds like a shortcut to replacing the rumble in your gut with the kind of hard-headed, data-driven techniques that top names in our industry use to get even bigger faster.
Thanks for reading Channelholic! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
AI to the rescue for IT providers too
An update from Canalys this week has been getting a lot of play in the channel, and with good reason. In it, analysts Lisa Lawson and Jay McBain predict that generative AI will be a $158.6 billion market for the channel ecosystem by 2028.
“Ecosystem” is a key word there, because they’re talking about software developers as much as solution providers and MSPs, but two of the top four specific near-term opportunities Lawson and McBain identify—helping companies adopt and use generative AI effectively and reselling/co-selling/upselling AI solutions—are right up a typical channel partner’s alley.
As it happens, those insights dovetail neatly with a previously scheduled conversation I had this week with Katie Evans, who directs worldwide small and medium business research at IDC, about a recent study of hers which found that IT providers don’t talk a whole lot about digital transformation with SMBs, and especially the smaller ones. To the contrary, most of the work they do is meant simply to keep things running.
“So to prevent catastrophes or installing a security patch or to help with passwords, not really to help these small, medium-sized businesses think strategically about really leaning into technology and digital transformation to automate processes,” Evans (pictured) says.
That’s a lost opportunity too, and maybe even a little dangerous, because SMBs are growing increasingly apt to buy PCs, printers, and SaaS apps on their own, but still want help with more complex, less familiar matters.
“So, for example, they might be hearing about cloud and that they need to go from on-premise to cloud and it’s the best thing to do, but they don’t really understand it,” Evans says. “That’s when they’re going to be really relying on the extra education and advice of these MSPs more than a direct purchase.”
And these days, thanks to all the media buzz it’s gotten, AI is even more likely than cloud to be the topic SMBs are wondering about.
“They’re like, ‘if my teenage son can use ChatGPT, I can probably use AI and automation to benefit my business somehow,’” Evans says. “They’re starting to understand that investing in technology can be a competitive differentiator and can actually combat economic turbulence.”
That’s good news for them and great news as well for anyone doing little more than keeping the lights on at present for clients if they seize the chance to engage less like technicians and more like consultants.
“My advice has always been to be very solution-oriented,” Evans says, and leave speeds-and-feeds presentations to commoditized competitors. “I still advise that.”
Putting Sophos on retainer
We told you in last week’s Channelholic about a new offering from Malwarebytes designed to be an intermediate option between stand-alone endpoint protection and full-blown MDR services. Time ran out before we could also tell you about a comparably intermediate offering from Sophos.
It’s called the Sophos Incident Response Retainer and serves as kind of middle ground between buying incident response help from the vendor ad hoc after a breach and purchasing a full-scale MDR subscription.
Getting post-incident assistance via the Sophos Rapid Response service on demand entails some setup delay, observes Rob Harrison (pictured), vice president of product management at Sophos, in emailed remarks. Businesses with a retainer enjoy a four-hour SLA in part because they’re already setup.
“Having the Sophos Incident Response Retainer in place means organizations know how to reach us, what we're going to do, and they can even predict costs since Sophos Rapid Response is priced based on the number of devices in their environment,” Harrison says.
Your monthly retainer help pre-pay those fees for you too. “In other words, customers who purchase the Sophos Incident Response Retainer get a credit toward the cost of a future Sophos Rapid Response engagement, which is offered at a fixed cost and includes 45 days of post-incident monitoring and response services provided by the Sophos MDR team,” Harrison explains.
Unlike on-demand services, retainer engagements also include a vulnerability assessment and health check, an incident preparedness guide designed to identify and address common cyberinsurance eligibility requirements, and monthly threat intelligence briefings. Plus, it sure beats conjuring up an incident response plan in the middle of an incident.
“Even organizations that have in-house personnel or teams dedicated to cybersecurity may not have a pre-determined incident response partner. Organizations are then left to communicate with their insurance provider—provided they have a policy—or search for an incident response services provider in the open market whilst dealing with an active attacker,” Harrison says. Paying for a retainer buys the peace of mind that comes with knowing this won’t be you.
Also worth noting
The more than 30 enhancements in NinjaOne’s summer 2023 release include a new patch management dashboard, location-based policy setting, and more.
Keeper Security is the latest newcomer to Gradient MSP’s Synthesize billing integration platform, which is currently used by over 1,000 MSPs.
You can now get SASE protection from Cato Networks along with your US Signal SD-WAN subscription.
One more AI reference, then we promise we’ll stop. GoTo has added AI-based chat analysis to its contact center solution.
Add another name to the over 1,500 vendors on the TD SYNNEX line card: online storage vendor Wasabi Technologies.
LogRhythm has added file integrity monitoring (a handy way to spot zero days, ransomware, and configuration vulnerabilities) to its SIEM service via an alliance with Cimcor.
Pax8 has named Mary Gill its new chief compliance officer.
Beachhead Solutions has published an “MSP Guide to Compliance and Regulation”. Take it from a writer, it’s a good read.