9 Group has taken a clear lead in realising the full potential of channel partnerships, claims MD for Partners Adam Cathcart.
The real message of Cathcart’s Comms Dealer interview is that only one relationship matters in the reseller channel. It is not between a reseller and their kit bag of multiple suppliers – the key relationship is between the partner and a single-source specialist provider of all products and services. “Differentiation is now about value, not price nor commoditised products, so we help partners to position multiple products and services correctly and provide support across provisioning, selling, installing, billing and in-life management,” said Cathcart. “We are a partner, not a supplier, and work hard to articulate our story and keep it visible.”
Cathcart, who talks with a convincing passion, embodies the high touch approach 9 Group as a whole has achieved. He says partners need far more than a purely transactional set-up with a faceless provider which cops out of doing the road miles. In contrast, Cathcart champions 9’s hands-on bias towards partnering which is reflective of a specialist boutique-style operation rather than coming from one of the channel’s biggest ICT providers.
By speaking to partners individually and face-to-face Cathcart says he is able to meet the challenges they may be up against with coherent long-term planning. To him, the answer is a simple case of communication. “Our willingness to engage on a one-to-one level and not prescribe preconceived solutions enables 9 Group to develop relationships that are founded on true partnership,” he stated. “I welcome the extent to which partners are transparent with us in terms of their pain points.
“For example, partners frequently struggle with marketing but we have a multi-skilled in-house team, including designers and digital marketers who tailor individual marketing support for partners who, often for the first time, witness the true power of effective marketing and how they can deploy it in their own business.”
Cathcart is also seeking to build on 9 Group’s impressive sales growth figures, not through a simple quest to hit higher numbers but – as he points out – as a staunch business partner first and foremost, and not a supplier. “We do not pursue scale for its own sake nor adopt a scattergun approach to partner recruitment,” he said. “Yet we still saw a 60 per cent increase in partner numbers last year and could have recruited a lot more had we not been selective in looking for partners with the ambition and resources to grow. Enabling partners to make positive changes to their business is not just about sharing knowledge, expertise and tools, it requires tangible activity to make a difference. Our proposition is all about hands-on support.”
I welcome the extent to which partners are transparent with us in terms of their challenges and pain points
It’s a strategy that pays off handsomely. “2018 was a year of big numbers that outstripped the market,” enthused Cathcart. “Compared to 2017 our new partners are 154 per cent more profitable. We have seen a 74 per cent increase in data circuit sales and a 35 per cent rise in mobile sales. Hosted voice showed a phenomenal 129 per cent climb in sales. Our metrics and parameters are all on track or exceeding forecast and our most ambitious aim this year is to grow the hosted IPT business by over 150 per cent. We are already ahead of the curve.”
Cathcart rates 9’s (and its partners’) biggest opportunity as its hosted voice and SIP proposition, called eve. “We have serviced tens of thousands of SIP end points and are reaping the rewards of a multi-million pound investment in the eve platform and our partner-led roadmap for new features and capabilities,” added Cathcart.
Through investments in its portfolio, partner support and numerous initiatives, 9 Group has shown that it is not your average channel supplier, and able to help resellers to reform outdated and limited customer offerings and raise new revenue streams without them incurring the burden of a high cost. “Being a sophisticated service provider 9 is well placed to help our partners navigate the increasing convergence between comms and IT,” said Cathcart. “There is an opportunity for SIs and VARs to translate digital transformation language into simpler, meaningful messages for their customers – and 9 can help them with that. Adoption of new services such as collaboration needs to be straightforward and attractive not just to the decision makers but to the actual users. End user dismissal will hinder any potential sales growth.”
We are reaping the rewards of a multi-million pound investment in the eve platform and our partner-led roadmap for new features and capabilities
Like many other service providers 9 recognised the need to offer a bureau billing option, but an investment in capability and integration has transformed the proposition into a fully managed service. “We provide online reporting that gives immediate commercial and operational insight, which combined with management information enables course correction and deeper strategy adjustments,” noted Cathcart. “While many established partners are billing six figure monthly sums we also support smaller partners focused on growing but who need some help. We are especially effective where emerging businesses have the drive and commitment to succeed. They quickly benefit from our insight and proactive support.”
Cathcart explained that 9 Group’s partner management structure is split into two units – the Partner Sales team headed up by Anna Roper and the Partner Solutions division led by Rob Downes. Both work hand-in-hand. The sales side includes Partner Business Managers and the Solutions arm offers product insight, pre sales and sales support, accreditations and educational webinars. “We reflect the wider industry challenge of locating and recruiting strong people for our teams, especially those with multiple product experience,” noted Cathcart. “Fortunately, 9 is a great place to work and develop a career so this makes our task more straightforward. We recruit Partner Business Managers with broad product experience and then support them with the certainty of specialist expertise.”
Another sure thing is the upcoming ISDN and WLR switch off. But not so clear is the true nature of the threats and opportunities that partners will face, so 9 Group has created a comfort blanket. “A fog of views is widespread so, to provide clarity for our partners, we monitor how the switchover to SIP services will impact product revenues and overall margin and then model how the transition curves need to look to remain successful,” stated Cathcart. “We share this insight with partners and measure whether they are above or below the curve before offering help and advice where needed. With services such as this we live up to our vision of being a multidimensional partner, not a one sided supplier.”