Automation and Digitization Offer Value to Partners and Customers Alike

As I write this, I just finished speaking with one of our channel partners. It is important to me to stay tightly connected to the experiences of customers, and to understand the challenges and opportunities they face. One of the themes that comes up over and over again in this moment of business disruption is how partners can best position themselves to move up the value chain.

They want to move beyond being sellers of hardware to providing IT services and related solutions, the high-margin business that will more deeply integrate them into their customers’ businesses.

Digital transformation is a compelling value proposition, but also can be complicated to articulate to a customer. And yet, we know that a majority of your customers are keenly aware it has value but may not know how to start their respective journeys. This reality was supported by the findings of the “Future of Work” study that interviewed 600 global IT decision makers. Among the findings, we learned:

72% of survey respondents were not fully prepared from a technology standpoint for the abrupt transition to distributed remote workforces.

Consequently, 56% of IT decision makers report they’ll increase their technology budgets in response, focusing chiefly on remote IT support (35%), shoring up inadequate workflow solutions (27%), solving for collaboration and communication (22%) and purchasing cloud-based solutions (10%).

A substantial 34% say they’re now accelerating planned digital transformation efforts as a result of the pandemic’s ongoing impact.

These numbers represent opportunity, especially for channel partners who so often have the depth of customer intimacy and relationships that complement what solution developers offer. They also represent challenges because the process of preparing a business and a workforce for a digital transformation is, in and of itself, time consuming and difficult. And sometimes existing clients need persuading that your company has the chops to tackle thorny digital transformation projects.

If you’re looking for ways to frame these conversations — talking points for how to persuade reluctant customers to consider greater digital investments from existing hardware suppliers — here is a framework for structuring the conversations.

Before you can sell digital transformation to customers, you must understand why it matters to them at a foundational level. Automation and digitization are technology’s answer to slow, overburdened, highly manual systems that drag down efficiency and create unmanageable costs.Click To Tweet

Leverage your deep knowledge of customer pain points

Before you can sell digital transformation to customers, you must understand why it matters to them at a foundational level. Automation and digitization are technology’s answer to slow, overburdened, highly manual systems that drag down efficiency and create unmanageable costs.

We saw this firsthand with a well-known retail client and the partner who served them. The partner was persistent in pursuing a meeting with the retailer’s CIO. Once they were able to sit down with the CIO, they were effective at capturing invaluable intelligence on the business needs and problems. Through the partner’s persistent efforts, we learned that workplace attendance was a top-of-mind problem.

We were then able to illustrate for the client that they could automate attendance management using an app, and then articulated for them the utility in additional apps that worked together. This only happened by taking a collaborative, helpful, “we’re in this together” posture that paid off. Ultimately, the partner was able to drive a 50-unit deal, unseating a long-time competitor.

Don’t focus on the future at the expense of the present day

We know where customers need to go but that doesn’t mean we ignore where they are now. Their immediate needs also must be addressed. In a COVID era, sharing, collaboration, and storage are – unsurprisingly – the top three areas customers have invested in over the past few weeks and months. But smart partners understand these solutions, particularly those that are cloud-based, also pull double duty: they’re aligned with longer-term digital transformation goals and help move these customers more concretely in that direction.

This is an area where COVID, and the accompanying disruption, provides an opening for you. What issues do customers suddenly face and how can you help solve them? We’ve seen mailroom apps, for example, that take stacks of mail and turn them into digital information, getting it where it needs to go, all through digitization, automation, and machine learning/artificial intelligence. One customer that processed more than half a million pieces of mail this way reported $1.7M in savings.

These technologies aren’t a nod to digital transformation; they’re absolutely essential to its success. The more you can link automation and digitization with tangible, specific business impact, the more customers will see how digital transformation is real and applicable to them.

Use hardware as a conversation starter

There are multiple on-ramps to digital transformation – and one such entry point is the multifunction printer (MFP). According to Quocirca in 2019, 80% of businesses saw the smart functions of an MFP as valuable. But the research also indicated that the channel “needs to build more expertise … to better educate both prospects and existing customers in the value of apps to fully capture the opportunity.”

Smart printers can serve as the entry into larger digital transformation efforts. Through cloud and mobile digital workflow apps, they’re a simple way to help customers rack up some easy wins – without a major outlay of cash. In a challenging economic period, that’s particularly compelling. When customers can try workflow automation for themselves, using technology like MFPs they’ve already invested in, it’s a low-risk proving ground that sets the stage for bigger bets in workflow automation to come.

Frame B2B concepts using popular B2C technology like apps

Digital transformation often sounds loftier than it is. In this context, what we really mean is making work simpler, faster, and more efficient – and apps are a highly effective but lightweight way of doing that. Customers intuitively understand the value of apps and want to engage with them, and they can create small changes that drive major impact in customer results and satisfaction.

A pre-COVID Keypoint Intelligence study reinforces the point — 89% of customers said apps were important to the process of buying an MFP and another 85% were able to replace a full software application with an
MFP app.

For those in the channel, apps will be a critical differentiator moving forward. Apps can be broken down in three ways:

1. In-house developed apps – vertically and horizontally focused, developed in-house, designed to fix common to complex problems. For example, an auto-redaction app ensures that documents requiring the inclusion of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) follows privacy requirements in each country. A note converter app reads your handwriting and converts hasty scrawls to legible text.

2. Partner apps – created by partners and their peers, designed to address local problems and expand business opportunity.

3. Third party apps – developed by independent software vendors to solve highly specialized, niche problems or needs.

The option for partners to create their own apps is key to competitive differentiation. It allows partners to play to their strengths, particularly their deep domain expertise in their specific markets or customer sets. Templates can help make it simple for those with no experience or expertise in app development, or those with development resources can custom write their own applications using Software Development Kits (SDK).   

Articulate a digital value proposition based on trust

Ultimately, channel partners have an opportunity to use automation and digitization, with app-enabled MFPs as the entry point, to become trusted advisors to their customers, help them create more business value, and move them more aggressively toward their digital transformation goals.

When deployed correctly, these technologies speed up processes, create capacity to do even more, allow employees to be redeployed elsewhere on higher-value tasks, and generate more revenue. It’s a clear and unequivocal win for all involved. The challenge for channel partners is learning how to effectively sell these solutions. This framework should help you as you begin to initiate these business-critical conversations. 

Tracey Koziol was named senior vice president of Global Offerings for Xerox and a member of the executive committee effective in September 2018. Tracey was appointed a senior vice president of Xerox Holdings Corporation on May 21, 2019. In this role, Tracey is responsible for products and solutions strategy, planning and execution covering Graphic Communications and Workplace Solutions Technology.