Here, Dave Trivett, Managing Director of Assembly Channel Services (ACS), reveals how a wake-up call ultimately opened the channel's eyes to the true nature of partner engagement.
Few surviving stroke victims would describe their misfortune as a chief agency of personal progress - a proper kick up the behind. But Trivett didn't let a serious illness get him down, and things got better as he peered through the gloom and saw the light ahead. "I had a major stroke aged 38," he explained. "That was a huge wake-up call and drove me to get away from filling out spreadsheets for one of the larger aggregators and create something of value with my life. Out of chaos comes opportunity, and I'm grateful to have had the awakening and subsequent second chance."
Trivett's future lay not in slaving over spreadsheets and the tedious realm of statistics, but in turning a new page, his ambition fuelled by a newly acquired clarity of vision and a desire to do things differently and with more meaning, an ever present spur to progress. "I wanted to do things the way they should be done, so set up Assembly Channel Services in 2014 with an old friend and client Peter Smith," he stated. "We haven't looked back."
Trivett previously worked for what he called ‘brilliant and agile' smaller aggregators but he always arrived at the same place. "The small guy would be swallowed up by a big guy," he said. "I became just another member of staff and our partner clients suffered the same fate having lost the personal relationships they had developed. Clients were forced to navigate huge teams and processes, they were often passed from pillar to post before getting told to raise their issue via the portal."
ACS operates as an engine of improvement across all aspects of the business. This motivates Trivett and his approach to market - so how powerful is a posse of like-minded partners? "We made sure we gave our partners the service that they craved and only deal with like-minded people who value our approach," he stated. "That goes for both our suppliers and our partner clients. The result is an ever-expanding merry band of IT and telecoms VARs and SIs who love working together and have a similar view on how business should be done."
ACS spent the second half of 2016 working closely with Sam Dawkins and his team at ITEC Support to create a new ‘Champions League' reseller-friendly UC solution that shone in terms of deployment, management and commercials. "The response from the market has been extraordinary and the first few deployments last year saw us named as finalists for five major industry awards," added Trivett. "Assembly UC will, I am certain, prove to be a major milestone as we continue to grow our visibility and reputation in 2017."
On advancing his partner and customer engagement ethos to the channel the reaction to Trivett's personable strategy was significant. Put people first and others will follow. "As for growth plans, I just want to keep working the way we currently operate with the same flexible, relationship-focused approach and with more like-minded partner clients," he said. "I'm not interested in offering products and services for the sake of having the perceived capability to offer them. I'd rather focus on delivering against our partners' requirements on any given day, and we've had some very bespoke requirements over the years, as well as doing what we are expected to do."
In this light, ACS enables partners to simply provision and manage network services and infrastructure with aggressive wholesale rates and flexible contract terms. "And because we love what we do everything is delivered with a smile as standard," enthused Trivett. "No needless bureaucracy, no ridiculous contract tie-ins, no hidden costs and certainly no faceless, vanilla account management. Some said I was naïve setting up with such a simple offering, but we're still here and enjoying steady growth."
The company's 2014 revenues topped £360k, peaked at £790k in 2015 and £1.3 million in 2016. "I'd like to see that pattern continue in 2017 and beyond, but not at the expense of our service levels," said Trivett. "After all, it's not what we do but the way that we do it that is so well received by our partner clients. It's not complicated, and it's a personal mission to ensure we don't make it so. Everything we do has been designed to be scalable, ensuring we retain that special edge."
For Trivett, the approach to market of larger players is a different matter and his biggest opportunity. "The bland, faceless, complacent mediocrity offered by large carriers and big aggregators is a huge opportunity for us in terms of continuing to grow our partner client base," he explained. "Our whole approach is geared towards listening to resellers rather than dictating to them. It's all about relationships for us, and that seems to resonate with a lot of frustrated resellers who are tired of being taken for granted by the big boys.
"There's genuinely only one priority, to deliver margin-rich solutions that our wholesale partners require in a no-nonsense and honest way, and always with heartfelt enthusiasm. Obviously that's easy to say, but what we deliver works and is delivered as promised. I'm a firm believer in honesty and transparency in life as well as business. It's not problems that lead to client satisfaction or dissatisfaction, but rather the way we respond to those problems. This view has heavily influenced ACS to date and will continue to do so. We're pro-active in our approach with partners in terms of our creativity in finding solutions to issues. There's always a way, and we work consultatively to find it when required."
The threat Trivett poses to market rivals is not hard nosed business ambition but common decency and plain being nice while having a firm grasp on the requirements of partners and the wider market. It's not in the nature nor the culture of ACS to pursue an all-out aggressive assault to grab market share, but its niche in the channel has been nonetheless indelibly carved and its place assured, certain to stand the test of time.
"We're six in number, with plans to add an additional member to the team later in 2017 to deal with the rise in partner enquiries and build on our pro-active consultative approach," added Trivett. "We need to keep it real and remain focused, but if we continue to love what we do and do it brilliantly then steady organic growth will follow. We don't want huge offices and hundreds of staff. We just want to carry on helping our partners to deliver against their end user requirements as simply as possible.
"ACS is always looking at what can be improved and our new Assembly UC is a perfect example of this. We're not looking to re-invent the wheel, but when you see everyone is being sold square wheels sometimes you have no choice. Our focus has now moved from telecoms to communications. As the line between telco and IT has vanished, so our offering has also diversified. Our client base has shifted and we find ourselves working with increasing numbers of MSPs and IT experts who need to offer an end-to-end solution to their end users, as well as established telecom resellers who are diversifying the other way."
As if to prove that no enterprise in comms is safe, no matter how large and entrenched, ACS sprung up to challenge the once ‘unassailable' and inflexible legacy incumbents. Trivett has forged close alliances with partners who share the same vision and purpose, and their pragmatism is a strength. "If a partner has a deal on the table that needs some sharpening of pencils then we'll always work to get to where we need to be so long as it's commercially beneficial for both parties," said Trivett. "Our growth is driven by our partners' growth. We describe ourselves as a boutique wholesale aggregator and deal broker, and we mean it. We've found something that works and plan to replicate that as precisely and as many times as possible."
Trivett repeats his message with conviction, a trait that stems from his early career, pre-telco, when he was a marketer who became smitten by the potential growth in demand for comms. "Telecoms was always on the up, diversified, and wholesale routes to market were becoming increasingly easy to adopt," he recalled. "We all need to communicate, and that excited me in terms of potential. But it doesn't need to be the way it's always been. If you don't like the way the table's set, then re-set the table."