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Advice for channel partners on going vertical

It’s mid-March and if you haven’t heard the word “differentiation” used this year in conversations about channel partners and the future, you will. Differentiation is a necessity for a partner firm’s future, according to industry experts.

Creating differentiation may mean specialization around a technology practice or alignment with a vertical industry. Industry experts agree that specialization or going deep in a vertical industry is a recipe for partner success.

“Any amount of transformation is good whether a partner gets more specialized or vertical — anything is good,” said Tiffani Bova, vice president and distinguished analyst with Gartner Research, adding that partners want to be known as the go-to company for targeted expertise. For example, in banking, there are many areas to focus on: infrastructure, ongoing management, mobile applications, mobile commerce, etc.

“Once you focus on one vertical, such as banking or healthcare, where there’s a lot of compliancy, a partner must be deep,” she said.

In the past few weeks, Microsoft, Ingram Micro and Tech Data turned their attention on efforts to help partners go vertical.

Microsoft. In a recent Microsoft Partner Blog post, “Cloud Partner Strategy 2.0 – Going Vertical,” Brent Combest, director of partner profitability and compete at Microsoft, discussed the benefits to partners: an increase in services margin; reduction in the cost of sales; increase in return on marketing investment; nurturing customers who act as market influencers; enabling the sale of additional offerings; and the ability to charge customers more for expertise.

Combest wrote that for most partners, “Cloud Partner Strategy” 1.0 was about getting into the cloud, version 1.5 was about working out a monetization model, and 2.0 is about differentiation — which he said should be a heavy consideration for many partners. The easiest way to differentiate, he said, is by going vertical.

His recommendation for partners: Go through your client rosters from top to bottom. Look for densities in your installed base and see which ones you and your staff could build something around. Once you identify a few of these, you’ll also likely find that some of your staff members have already become domain experts, able to eloquently speak to prospects in the space, making it easy for you to begin building out your first area of specialization.

Ingram Micro. Earlier this month, Ingram Micro announced that it will be making investments in the education, federal, finance, healthcare, retail, and state and local government verticals to create business value and drive partner success.

As part of the distributor’s focus on vertical markets, it named Anthony Vottima as the new executive director and general manager of its vertical markets business. Vottima spend more than a decade at Avnet.

Partners can expect to see something more concrete from the distributor in the second quarter: the launch of a new healthcare community and the rollout of a series of education tracks and enablement resources to build expertise and speed partners’ time to market.

Tech Data. In a move designed to provider partners with more robust vertical solutions for their customers, Tech Data will launch targeted vertical bundled offerings that include carrier services for mobility solutions or accessories for devices, as part of an overall solution the distributor will provide to its partners.

In late February, Tech Data rolled up its mobility and retail businesses into a new division under the leadership of Patrick Stokes, senior vice president of mobility and retail, to help accelerate partner growth, according to the company.