Looking for Uncomfortable Partners

Vendors and distributors need to seek out partners that are willing to take risks and break from conventional trends to address emerging and future market opportunities.

By Larry Walsh

Everyone agrees the pace of technology change and advancement is accelerating. And the best advice vendors and experts can give to partners is to get on board this roaring train to the future or risk getting left behind.

Last week at the annual Ingram ONE conference in Washington, D.C., Kirk Robinson used his main stage time to deliver a concise and sobering message: “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Robinson, chief country executive at Ingram Micro U.S., wanted partners to know that they can’t rest on their laurels and have to do more than just adopt new products to resell. They also have to venture into new areas – technologies, skills, capabilities, and business models – that seem alien to what they know.

Later that same day, I was scheduled to give a lunchtime presentation on the latest trends in partner cloud computing practices. The general session was running late, which delayed my start, but a few partners wandered into the room early to ensure they got a seat.

As much as I’d like to think the early birds came because I was such a draw, I think the real draw was Microsoft, and they were concerned they wouldn’t get a seat if they arrived late. You see, Microsoft and Ingram Micro underwrite 2112’s cloud computing research. So, I started asking the early birds about their Microsoft cloud business. The responses were quite revealing.

One partner told me about the tremendous opportunity posed by Microsoft’s Dynamics 365, the rival to Salesforce.com in CRM and business analytics. The partner’s customers are asking about Dynamics 365 because they need help understanding the suite’s capabilities and configuring it to their specific operational needs.

That means the partner was there to learn more about Dynamics 365, right? Not quite.

The partner said that his team avoids Dynamics 365 because of its complexity. Despite the obvious market opportunities presented by the CRM platform, they perceive the level of effort required to master it as too great, especially when they’re doing so well in selling and deploying Office 365 and Azure – Microsoft’s cloud service.

In other words, the new and potentially more lucrative opportunity made this partner too uncomfortable.

Robinson’s words and this encounter got me thinking: Perhaps we shouldn’t just look for those high-performing partners, but rather those uncomfortable partners as a litmus test for making investments.

High-performing partners are easy to identify; they’re the ones driving the most revenue or sales activity. Poorly performing partners are equally easy to identify through the absence of productivity and contribution to a vendor’s bottom line. Comfortable and uncomfortable partners, however, are a bit harder to discern.

Highly productive partners may also be comfortable, as they don’t see the need to change or – as the above partner demonstrated – feel change isn’t worth the discomfort. Uncomfortable partners, though, are pushing into uncharted territories and assuming risk by adapting to new technologies and practices. Uncomfortable partners are seeking support, resources, and advice from their vendors, distributors, and peers because they know they don’t have all the answers they need.

The title of Marshall Goldsmith’s 2007 book, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” is now cliché. People often cite the book to make the point that Robinson made: You can’t expect to up your game and grow by doing the same things you’ve always done. Vendors need to apply that same thinking and find the partners that are charting new courses. They need more uncomfortable partners, not those that see future products and projects as too difficult to tackle.

Larry Walsh, The 2112 Group

Larry Walsh is the founder, CEO and chief analyst of The 2112 Group. Follow him on social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.