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Janet Schijns: Partners, Prepare Your Battle Plans

Man playing chess

In this Q&A, Janet Schijns, CEO of JS Group, gives a sneak peek of the advice she'll share during her Channel Partners Virtual keynote for channel companies to compete, win customers and gain market share in 2021.

What's the difference between channel businesses that compete and win despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and those that don't?

Janet Schijns, CEO of JS Group

Janet Schijns, CEO of JS Group and Channel Partners' 2019 Influencer of the Year, knows the difference. And she'll share her knowledge during her Channel Partners Virtual (March 2-4) keynote.

It's time for channel businesses to take a hard look at their business plans and determine if they're poised for optimum growth this year. Businesses can either choose to accept the limitations imposed by the pandemic, or rise to the challenge and go to war.

During her keynote, titled "From the Edge - Control. Alt. Compete," March 2, Schijns will share the results of a yearlong analysis of what separates the winners from the losers in the channel. She'll focus on strategies and technologies that will give your company a competitive edge amid rapid change.

In a Q&A with Channel Partners, Schijns gives a sneak peek of what she plans to share with attendees.

Channel Partners: With the new year ahead, now's the perfect time for channel companies to adjust their strategies for the challenges and opportunities ahead. What's the best way to start?

Janet Schijns: What we saw last year, particularly in the channel, was focusing on work-from-home solutions. But this year we're seeing a different trend. The people have spoken and they don't want to just work from home. They want to be looked at as location independent. What that means is many people have decided that maybe they don't need to be near headquarters all the time. And why this matters for the channel, is it's time for them to adjust how they deal with this.

Let's acknowledge that 2021 is going to be another year where the vast majority of people who use heavy technology will be broken into essential and nonessential workers. And the nonessential workers will stay home. So how am I going to profit in that in my business plan? How am I going to charge for the services that are often more robust because people are working longer hours because they're working from home? How am I going to charge for that evolved service this year in a non-panicked way ... that earns me what I deserve to get. What am I going to propose? What solutions am I going to sell?

How do I deal with the services and products I sell for those workers who are mobile, who are at risk? How do I get into digital signage? How do I secure the data that's moving? How do I get into mobility as more and more of these essential workers, especially in health care and the industrial industries, are on the road? So I think this is that year where you take that business plan and you say, "Let me look at the needs of nonessential, at-home workers versus the essential in-the-field workers. And what technology do they need from me and how do I charge for it?"

CP: What aren't channel businesses doing what they should be doing to better compete in the months ahead?

JS: There are three things. They've got to go digital, they need to upgrade their talent and they need to charge more. Differentiating yourself on your value and charging for that value-add allows you to unlevel the playing field, which allows you to compete. I'm not saying charge crazy numbers. I'm just saying charge for your value. Don't be afraid to be a little above the market or a lot above the market if you have that value. Pricing is the No. 1 strategy for this year.

The second one is digital. Look, it is over — there is no more digital transformation. It is now the digital normal. How is your website? How is your search engine optimization? Are you getting local search engine optimization done right for your business? Are you in the right business listings? Are you out there with a logical plan that says, "I'm going to drive traffic toward me using social media and using search engine optimization?"

And then finally, it's talent. If you want to compete, you have to get people that are good at social selling. You have to get marketing people or marketing agencies, or yourself good at digital. And so the talent evolution is real. It's time to look at the skills of your people and either train them up in those areas or, unfortunately, replace them with people who have the skills.

CP: What's the difference between firms that will compete and win, and those that won't?

JS: The firms that compete believe in their value and they have found a way to have customers pay for that value. They're digging in in areas like edge compute. They're digging in in areas like 5G, which enables edge compute. And they're digging in in areas like AI and security. They're digging in where they need to dig in. And they're not just doing it as lip service. They're understanding that, for example, all essential workers have their data in motion, so you need a security solution. That's how they're the folks that are competing or winning there. This year more than ever before, they're able to demonstrate value in a world that has shifted and will never go back.

CP: Are there lessons learned from last year that can be helpful in competing this year?

JS: The first lesson everybody should have learned last year was that if you were not yet digitally savvy, if you were not yet promoting your business online, being a social seller ... you were behind. That's what happened the minute we saw the pandemic hit. Those people who had invested in that, who had understood that this next generation of customers – consumers of technology – want to purchase online, want to engage online and want to consume content online ... actually were in great shape and they took share. We see 20%, 30%, 40% growth in some of the channel partners; in fact, 631% growth in just the UCaaS space alone last year.

There was a second lesson last year that can be very helpful in competing this year. It was around redoing your business plan, focusing on the right technologies and the right routes to market. A lot of people were selling to hospitality or retail when [the pandemic] hit, and they had to rejigger their entire business to go after verticals that actually were spending: health care, transportation and manufacturing. You've got to take a look at where the world is going to go and shift your accounts that you're calling on, your prospects that you're calling on and your marketing to be more around the industries that for the next few years will be high growth. And those are not going to be some of the industries we all loved and profited from in years past.

CP: What do you hope attendees can learn and make use of from your keynote?

JS: I hope it's a shot in the arm for folks who are out there on the front lines, the MSPs who were out there on the front lines fighting and were essential workers throughout this race. I hope it's that shot in the arm that says, "Look, you did great last year, but here's what else we can do right this year.

Second, I hope that it educates people on what's really happening in edge compute. I'm going to talk about how the partners' business models need to change, because, quite frankly, the technology of 5G plus edge compute, AI, ML, VR and AR are all here now. So how do you now provide technologies? How do you sell those technologies? How do you market those technologies to make sure that the channel remains relevant in the coming years as we move into another evolution?

We always talk about how we went from farmers and agricultural to industrial, and then industrial to the technology revolution. This keynote is going to show how we're going now to the edge revolution where everything is personal and everything's at the edge. And this is where the partners need to focus.

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Janet Schijns