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SaaS Channel Partners are coming in hot, what and how does it affect our sales teams.

Janet Schijns, CEO of JS Group and a former Fortune 500 C-suite executive, is our guest this week on the Conquer Local Podcast and we are talking about SaaS channel partners. We define what a channel partner really is, why companies are making the shift to incorporate a tech sector, and what it takes to make that shift.

Schijns was named Channel Influencer of the year in March 2019 beating out a slate of nominees from the top tech firms in the world. She most recently was EVP and CMSO at Office Depot, where she led a major transformation to drive traction in IT services, generating recurring revenue from higher-margin solutions. Prior to that, she was the Chief Channel Executive, Chief Marketing Technologist and ran business products for Verizon Business. She is a visionary leader who through innovation and transformational action-oriented plans drives tangible results. Schijns is dedicated to the advancement of Women in Technology, founding her not for profit “Tech World’s Half” in 2017 to address the issue of women dropping out of technology.

 

Introduction

George: Welcome to another edition of the Conquer Local Podcast. One of the things that I’ve now started to take for granted is how fortunate I am to be able to travel and meet new people. Before I started this career eight years ago, I think I’d been to like Vancouver, and maybe Toronto, and Mexico a couple of times, so a lot of gratitude to be able to travel. In the early years, it’s fun, and then, later on, it’s not as much fun as it started out being. But one of the things that I enjoy the most about traveling is meeting people and learning new things.

George: And I look back at 2019, the year in review, there was one person that really jumped out at me that, “Wow,” this woman and her background could be a game-changer for our organization and some of the things that we might be able to do, but also a game-changer for the audience and the conquerors that are out there because she’s just so bloody smart and understands the space so well. But I will warn you, we’re moving, we’re moving out of MarTech and we’re moving into the MSP and VAR world; managed service providers and value-added resellers. And coming up in a moment we have a former C-suite executive of a couple of fortune 500 companies you might’ve heard of like Verizon, and Motorola, and also she ran channel for Office Depot most recently. We are going to bring you the CEO of the JS Group. Janet Schijns is our guest this week on the Conquer Local Podcast coming up next.

George: Janet, welcome to the Conquer Local Podcast.

Janet: Thanks so much for having me. It’s delightful to talk to you today.

George: So Janet, we met about six months ago at a channel partners event in Washington DC, and maybe it would help our listeners to understand when we talk about channel and channel partners, a little bit of background on you and the space that you have come from, and then we’ll start tying it together as to how this applies to the Conquer Local audience.

Janet: Absolutely. So first of all, thanks again for having me. And when you think about channel, about 75% of the goods in the world are distributed indirectly. So this is when you think about any store that you go to and you buy products, primarily they have not produced that. So the easiest way to explain what a channel is, it’s someone who did not produce the product but yet they sell it. In the technology space, that comes with a certain amount of knowledge and understanding of the customers as they knit together technology solutions to bring that to market. So my background started in channel consulting many years ago. I then worked at Verizon as the CCO, the chief channel executive. I was at Motorola as the head of their channel, prior to that. And most recently I was at Office Depot as the executive vice president of both their services as well as their retail services channels. So a lot of experience in working with companies that bring products to market through indirect channels. That’s a little bit about me.

George: And it looks to me, when I listened to those brands and those logos, that it really was leaning towards IT.

Janet: It was, yes. Although I’ve done a fair amount of consumer as well. I worked for L’Oreal earlier in my career, I worked for a FinTech company, and then of course, Office Depot, which was a mix of both, so I’ve had some. But the issue now is that I don’t know that you can say anymore that something is or isn’t a tech company. So is Ring, the doorbell people, are they a tech company or are they a home security company? Is Bank of America a tech company or are they a bank? Is Tesla a car company or are they a tech company? So really, everybody’s becoming a tech company, so the fact that most of my experience is there is serving myself in our firm, which I’m the CEO of, very well these days because everybody wants to be where the tech companies are.

George: And that’s how you and I met as CEO of JS Group, and congratulations on your success with that.

Janet: Thank you.

George: You actually hosted a Shark Tank event and there’s some old guy from Canada that got on stage and actually attracted the attention of all the sharks and won it. So that was kind of cool.

Janet: That was cool. I knew you were going to win when I met you earlier at the show because your solution and your approach to the market, your ability to digitize a solution clearly puts you kind of heads and shoulders above the other applicants, I felt.

George: Well, thank you for that. 

 

How to Pivot to Digital During the Paradigm Shift

George: I want to now start to talk about some things that you and I have been discussing as we’ve continued to chat and have meetings over the last six months because I think it’s something very interesting for our audience to understand, and that is, it doesn’t really matter what you’re selling today. If you have the trust of the customer, you can start to layer in other products and services that are adjacent to the thing that you are selling today. And I think you and I completely agree with that.

Janet: Absolutely. There’s a paradigm shift that’s happening out in the marketplace where every company is in a race to succeed or perish in this new digital-normal world. Think about it. We’ve got a record-high economy in most areas of the world, record-high innovation. We’ve got millennials and Gen Zs coming in and taking over the world, and Gen X and boomers actually adopting new services and new products quicker than we thought they would as consumers. And so every company in that race to succeed is looking for someone to help them. So whether you’re selling them digital advertising today, or a computer system, or some other service, you’re an accountant, you’re a lawyer, they’re looking for those people to expand what they sell to try to help them in this race to get digital.

George: So in your mind, in this world then that everyone is turning into a tech company, digital is the new normal, what does it take to make that shift or to make that pivot for a company? It sounds daunting.

Janet: It is a little daunting, and when you think about the competition out there, I always go back to some of the older examples, Airbnb versus Marriott. So Marriott just put out Marriott Bonvoy late last year. They now have flexible rental options and a cool new name only five years after Airbnb took over the housing and hotel market. And so clearly Marriott, as good as they are as a hotel chain, didn’t have what it took to truly be competitive in a digital world or they would have done that more quickly. And so the first thing that it really takes to be successful is, fast is the new big. So you’ve got to be able to move where the puck is going, to use a hockey reference, quicker than your competitors. Two, you need to have an exquisite viewpoint on your data and how you’re using your data to understand your customers. And third, and perhaps most importantly, everything now is as a service. Even cereal has been replaced with convenience as a meal, whether it’s Daily Harvest or Uber Eats or you name it, Starbucks location, everything is now being offered as a service, particularly mobile.

Janet: So that’s just some quick ways that people have to move in order to be successful.

George: So these organizations that you have been working with over the years in these different channels, you see them making a race towards technology and towards a little different distribution model. Is that partnering with companies that they just wouldn’t have thought of partnering with in previous years or how does this whole distribution shake out?

Janet: Yes. Customers are kind of in this model of perpetual motion right now, and so part of that perpetual motion has meant they have to think about new ways to get help. So in a world where there are a million open IT jobs with no one to fill them, it clearly indicates you’re going to need help. So using IT in tech as an example, companies have almost been forced into dealing with technology service providers, managed service providers, etc, to get the services they need. And when people ask me, “Well, why can’t the vendor supply them?” Well, because it’s pretty simple. Technology is complicated and there is very few one throats to choke. You need multiple items, multiple things, multiple environments, and so no single vendor is a good throat to choke. And so, therefore, working with a third party channel is better because they can bring all these vendors in, in a more agnostic manner. Pick what’s best for you. Knit together this complicated solution and make it work.

 

Add to Your Stack to Expand Your Expertise and Help Customers

George: It’s interesting because it’s the same dialogue that we’ve been having here on the Conquer Local Podcast for the last three years where we talk about this trusted local expert. And I remember from my early days in the media business, I would get phone calls from customers asking me crazy questions that had nothing to do with 30-second commercials and remotes because that’s what I sold in the radio business. It was like, “So what do you think I should do for this big promotion? What sort of prizes should I give away?” And I’m like, “Okay. Obviously I did something right with that client,” because they’re asking me my opinion as more of a more broader stack of solutions. Now, at that time, I couldn’t sell those. I could probably just give the lead to somebody and maybe get a free lunch or 20 bucks or whatever it might’ve been, but you’re saying today, if you’re an organization, you should be looking wider to see what other items you might be able to add to your stack. Is that what I’m hearing?

Janet: That’s absolutely what you’re hearing. And I’ll keep the focus in technology, digital marketing, and web services, let’s just keep it in that bandwidth. There’s almost 10,000 vendors just in that bandwidth. So if you’re an end-user customer, what the heck? Right? There’s no way you’re talking to 10,000 vendors, and so you’re going to find someone in the trust economy who you trust, who has a good connection either with you already, like you did with your customers, or that has a good social media following connections, someone who can also have the right staff, and you’re going to trust them to sort through those 10,000 plus vendors and apply them to the thousands of vertical sub-segments that are out there, which leads in that category of a web, tech, tech design and digital advertising, to 35 million solution permutations and counting. And so if you’re a smart company, you’re going to go to somebody who spends their days thinking about the new solutions that come in the market, narrowing them down and understanding how to knit them together so that you get the solution you need. And to me that’s what matters.

George: So if there was any advice that you would like to give our audience, and we’re talking to inside and outside sales reps, we’re talking to sales managers, with this information that you’re providing, which validates everything we’ve been saying around the MarTech stack, but now you’re saying it’s going even bigger than that, what’s some advice that you would give them around their careers in sales and what they should be in this new norm?

Janet: Well, the first thing is buyers need you. They’re evolving, they’re evolving quickly and they need your expertise to help them. Many times they don’t know that they need your expertise, and so you need to learn to be able to pitch your expertise in a way that helps customers identify and understand what you’re selling, and not be shy about bringing up difficult topics with the customer. How are they doing expanding their business? Are they getting new customers? Are they losing customers? What are their competitors doing? So having that honest dialogue because the customers need you is important.

Janet: The second thing is I think, learning people are leading people. So educating yourself on what’s happening and what’s adjacent to what you’re selling is also critically important. And then third, if you want to blow your quota out, I would make friends with a couple of managed service providers, MSPs or VARs, value-added resellers, in the tech space and partner with them because all of their customers are going digital and they’re doing the backend services, the network, the voice, the security, but somebody needs to do the front-end services that will help realize that dream for the digital transformation. So that would be my kind of high-level advice.

George: When you and I first started speaking about this, I’m going to use the IT example because I’ve got a good visual for our audience. So you’ve got a guy in a truck, he’s got the rack on the back and he’s got a ladder there because he’s hanging Cat 5 wire from the roof or something. Anyways, that’s the deal. And they’ve got this customer, and the customer wants to install, I don’t know, routers in 40 locations. Wouldn’t you like to have that customer for the MarTech stack if you are an agency that’s adjacent?

Janet: That’s right.

George: So my line is that the MSP, the managed service provider and the value-added reseller are being dragged into the MarTech stack because the customers are saying, “Hey Brent, you’re looking after all this stuff and I trust you. Do you think you could help me out with the hosting of my website, or with G Suite… and maybe my digital advertising and maybe my social presence?” But then on the flip side, we have the agency audience that is listening to the Conquer Local Podcast and they’re sitting there going, “Oh, wait a minute. I’ve got a prospect that just talked about a technology solution that they were looking at. Are you telling me that we might be able to add that to our stack?” And that’s exactly where you and I are going with this.

Janet: Yes. That’s where we’re going. If you’re an agent listening to this and you’re selling the MarTech stack, why wouldn’t you either segue into the technology stack or partner with someone who’s in the technology stack for commission or referral fees or something? But when the customer is seeing the two things come together, why would you be willing to bifurcate yourself? Because you could get left behind by someone who says, “I can do it all for you.” And I think that’s important.

Janet: And so some of the things I’m telling people practically and tactically to do, change your description on LinkedIn, on Twitter, on Facebook, on Snapchat, on Instagram, on whatever you use in your digital environment where customers engage with you, and they may engage with you personally or professionally, but change your descriptor, change your profile. Add some things in around some of these newer areas into your profile. Start the conversation, follow some hashtags about it, follow some people and just start the conversation and see, kind of test your pathways. And what you’re going to see is your customers are going to say, “Hey wait, can you help me with that, because we’re spending an epic amount of money on the digital transformation?” Why should you as the agent only have the MarTech stack? It doesn’t make any sense.

 

Social Media: Start Social Selling Instead of Social Marketing

George: Well, I think that we have the same mentality around social media. When it comes to being a player in that space, that is where the eyeballs are. I spend a ridiculous amount of time on LinkedIn, but that also is where all of my prospects and all of my accounts are, and I want to stay on top of their organization. What you’re saying is the shingle that you’re hanging out there, which happens to be on social media, why not broaden the scope of what you have in your title, but then at the same time, make sure you’re following these other channels to start to learn how you might play in that space?

Janet: Exactly right. And it’s easier to say and harder to do, but think about social media as social selling, not as a marketing tool, but as a selling tool, and think carefully about what do you need to do. Because people that are enacting a social selling program today as a salesperson are seeing a 77% improvement in sales results over people who are not using social media that way. And by the way, some of these people are prolific posters, but they’re not using it to actually get customers. They’re not talking about the business in the right way, they’re not engaging customers in the right way, they’re not having the right opinions, and so they’re not getting customers. And so it’s really important, at the very minimum, redo your profile, redo who you’re following, who you’re engaging with and the conversations that you’re having and you will see a huge uptake. I get all of my prospects from social media and a few live events, and I have found over and over again that it’s the best place to establish the sales relationship.

George: Well, I completely agree with that 1000%. I had marked a number of deals last year as referrals and social was a big part of getting those referrals for sure. So we’re on the same page there. Let’s look into Janet’s crystal ball. What do you think the next three years look like as these areas converge?

Janet: Well, in the words of Jay McBain from Forrester, we’re going to see a trifurcation of the channels where MarTech, and influencer channels, and many of these digital channels come together and you end up with trifurcation kind of three channels. The marketplaces, right? Which are very powerful and which you guys are one of, backed by either a MarTech or an agent. And the belief is that the vast majority of more tech only resellers who have just been selling hardware and equipment services will evolve and blend into something, which has not been named yet, which is a combination of the MarTech plus MSP. So the M can stay maybe, but we’ll have to think of what the rest of the equation looks like. But I believe that the MarTech partners and the agents can win because they have a better recurrent revenue model and they have a better connectivity with the customer.

Janet: So if I’m the customer and I have Bob and Sue, and Bob does my network and computers and voice and some other stuff, and Sue does the advertising and marketing programs that are actually winning me customers, which one of those two am I going to pick when all of this technology comes together along with all of the AI and everything else that’s out there, and human process automation that’s going to make just one big E-business. I’m going to pick Sue every day of the week because she’s making me money. Bob’s costing me money. So, I really think that that’s where the wind comes in and why it’s so important for Sue to get educated now on what’s happening in the technology industry, understand how the things are starting to come together and be prepared for an Amazon-like world for digital advertising where potentially network connectivity, data intelligence, etc, is all just as a service membership for people.

George: A number of episodes back and at last year’s Conquer Local conference in San Diego, Neal Polachek talked about thinking like an app. So taking your business, whatever it might be, and thinking like the Domino’s pizza tracker or like Uber, and that kind of an experience for your customers of, “We just put the pepperoni on, and there’s the pineapples going on there, and now it’s loaded in the truck and it’s on its way to you.” Imagine if that was available now for every organization out there. You’re going to need some technology to pull that off, is my point. So I do see these worlds coming together to build a better customer experience for a business’s clientele.

George: Really appreciate you joining us, Janet. I know that you’re on the road this week and I know it’s always hard to schedule stuff in, but thank you for getting some time today so we could talk about this very important piece.

 

Conclusion

George: I want to leave our listeners with a couple of final thoughts from you and you talked about that single throat to choke. Really hard to do right now. We got so many things that we could buy technologically. I think I bought like three different things last week. I don’t know if it actually works together because I’m trying to get the connected home thing going, but I’m not an expert in that. So for our listeners, think about all the stuff that you bought in the last three months, and then think about the times that you’re like, “I don’t even know how half this stuff even works,” and you had to go watch a YouTube video. So I think even from the consumer side, we could start to feel this experience of, “I’m pretty tech-savvy, but there’s some things that I need some help in setting up.” So that throat to choke is more around taking all the things that I need, giving me the recommendation, but then being there down the road, and I think that’s where you’re going. If something goes wrong, who do I scream at?

Janet: Exactly. Who do I call? Who’s there? Who’s my trusted advisor? And by the way, they don’t have to completely fix you. The physician model has proven that referrals are fine, but you want someone that you can call who’s that triage person who knows who to connect you with and can get you connected with that person, and you want to be that person as the salesperson, that person that they call to say, “I don’t really know, but I need to do this or I need help with that.” You can triage it. You can have other people that you call in, but you want to be that first call, that first text, that first email, however they get in touch with you, you want to be first.

George: Janet Schijns, CEO of the JS Group joining us today on the Conquer Local Podcast. Hey, congratulations. Channel Influencer of the Year for 2019, beating out a slate of nominees from some of the top tech firms in the world. Janet, congratulations and thanks for now becoming an official conqueror, being our guest this week on the Conquer Local Podcast. We appreciate your time.

Janet: Happy to do it. Thanks for the time.

George: Well, it doesn’t take very long to realize Janet is super smart and has been there and done that in a number of different very high-level capacities building out channel programs. Now, channel sales is what I’ve been involved in over the last eight years where you partner with someone who has a sales force and a relationship with a group of customers, and that’s exactly what Janet has been involved in with Verizon and Motorola, Cisco. She also spent that time at Office Depot transitioning some of their business to digital, and now has her own firm where she’s working with a number of massive organizations inside what’s called the channel space. And Janet and I, when we first met, we talked about how these worlds were converging, and she got my shtick and then she goes, “Wow, that’s really interesting. Here’s my shtick.” And they were the same.

George: Where she’s coming from a different area though, she’s coming from this world of hardware, and software, and IT, and value-added resellers and managed service providers. And what she’s saying is those people that she’s speaking to inside those channel partners are saying, “We need to go over here and add marketing technology.” Now, I’m hearing from my folks that I work with, “We need to add all of these other items like internet of things and cybersecurity,” and on and on and on. So these worlds are converging, and we have been beating the drum for a little over three years now, that the person with the most trust is going to win. And you heard that loud and clear in Janet’s message. First, we’ve got everything as a service. We’ve got everyone’s moving to become a cloud broker. That’s really what that means.

George: We’re going to be selling cloud software to our customer base somewhere,  sometime and we need to be able to deploy those items. And then we need to be using social selling to attract our prospects. And regardless of whether we actually understand how to sell the 5,000 cybersecurity solutions that are out there, it sounds a little ridiculous, right? It might just be good enough to make a recommendation to a trusted partner that you’re working with in that space. So that’s the whole idea of co-selling. You have the relationship through your agency or through your organization and you bring somebody else into that circle of trust that adds to the retention of that customer because you’re providing more products and services. You see how this whole thing comes together. It is a moving target, and it’s happening very, very quickly, and there’s all sorts of data to back this up, that these two worlds of managed service provider, value-added reseller and MarTech are coming together. How quickly it happens remains to be seen, but Janet is definitely on the front edge of this as she’s been seeing it over the past 12 to 18 months.

George: So thanks to Janet Schijns, CEO of the JS Group for joining us this week on the Conquer Local Podcast, and thanks to you for joining the community. We have our Conquer Local community and we’re looking forward to your comments and questions. We’re getting questions every single day, and I love those suggestions about where we could go with future episodes. We’re planning our second quarter and third quarter of 2020 right now, so come up with some needs that you have or some concepts that you have or maybe you’ve met somebody that’d be a great guest for us, we’re looking for all of that feedback inside the Conquer Local community.

George: My name is George Leith. Thanks for joining us this week. I’ll see you when I see you.