On June 7 at The Oval in London, Canon announced the relaunch of its EMEA channel partner programme. PrintIT Reseller spoke to Director of B2B Indirect Sales, James Pittick, to find out more about the company’s strategy to grow its B2B channel business
Canon has launched the new channel programme to support partners facing new business challenges. Importantly, the company has listened to its resellers, using direct partner feedback to revamp the programme to best ft their needs in what is a challenging and evolving marketplace.
“The way we collate feedback is through an annual partner survey, which we re-introduced and have run over the last couple of years,” Pittick explained, adding: “This enables us to listen to direct feedback from our partner community across EMEA, to really understand the areas where we are performing well as a business partner and identify where we can improve or deliver better value to the relationships.”
He continued: “We take positive feedback around the things we are doing well and make sure that we have plans in place to develop and keep delivering those elements. Critically, we look within the areas where we have feedback that suggests we could improve on performance, and it’s that that really has been the underpinning factor for us to re-energise and revamp our partner programme going forward.”
The new partner programme has been a redesign from the ground up. Previously Canon had a number of smaller programmes based on the products its partners sold. “We had specific programmes for resellers selling large format, graphics printing or office printing,” Pittick explained.
“From the feedback, what we’ve done is look at how our partners want to grow their business over the coming years and how we can put together a programme that delivers the real benefits they are asking for in areas such as demand generation, marketing support and probably most importantly, enabling the right access to the other technologies in the Canon portfolio.”
Canon’s portfolio provides up-sell and cross-sell opportunities for partners with an appetite to diversify into new areas. “Proactive joint business planning is a fundamental element of the new partner programme,” Pittick said, adding: “Rather than just open up the door to the sweet shop for want of a better expression, what we will do is sit down and properly plan, collaboratively with our partners, to understand how they could utilise the other technologies in our portfolio to expand and diversify their business.
“It might be expanding into an adjacent market where we have a complementary technology, or one where we have the skills to support them, enabling them to make that transition. Alternatively, it may be a change in technology which, through the right learning and development support, will provide partners with the opportunity to sell more to existing office printing customers – that could be information management or production print for example.”
Growth in channel business Helping partners develop, manage and optimise growth opportunities and expand into new markets, is in-built into Canon’s strategy for channel growth. “Broadly speaking at EMEA level over the mid-term what we’re looking to do is take our current channel performance which contributes about 25 per cent of the overall business to 35 per cent,” Pittick said. “What we don’t want to do is shift or decline our direct business, we want to grow both direct and indirect in a complementary way, so this would essentially be net growth.”
There are a number of areas where Canon recognises huge opportunity for growth within the channel. Market sizing and segmentation insight will help its partners to quantify these opportunities, while maximising coverage and penetration.
“The majority of our channel business today is made up of traditional print and copier reseller businesses. We have a really loyal base with some partners who have been with us for 25-30 years, however, because of the convergence of technology and the advent of digital, the market is diversifying hugely and we see opportunity either side of that traditional partner base,” Pittick said.
He continued: “Our aim is to expand into different partner types and areas. For example, we see opportunity for growth in enterprise-level systems integrators – those that deliver fully managed outsourced IT services where print becomes a line item. Similarly the IT reseller community are interested in packaged tailored managed print solutions that they can deploy to SME or mid-market customers.”
Tiers and benefits
The new partner programme is built on a foundation of tiers and benefits that will offer real value to end customers, as well as partners. Essentially there will be four tiers to the programme and partners will enjoy a clear pathway to expand their business and unlock new benefits, whether they are existing partners looking to ﬂourish in current and new markets, or new partners looking to develop their business with Canon.
“This is a fundamental change for us as a business,” Pittick stated. “The Registered partner level is typically for on-boarding new partners who will then have the opportunity to progress through to Silver, Gold and Platinum.”
He continued: “This is actually one of the key areas in the partner feedback. Previously our programme was probably too ﬂat and didn’t offer much of a journey, partners didn’t have a clear line of progression. Furthermore, one of the issues for both our partners and their customers, was that it didn’t really provide the ability for customers to differentiate between partner types or expertise levels.”
As with most partner programmes there is a revenue achievement element to the new scheme, but, Pittick says what’s very important for the end customer is partner accreditations that will assist end-user confidence in a partner’s expertise to deliver applications that will help their organisation grow, become more efficient and improve profitability.
Under the new programme, the accreditations that partners can gain are based around the end-user applications as opposed to what traditionally would have been more product-centric accreditations. “So the new accreditations are more around things like document digitisation, managed print, document output, graphic arts and applications, as opposed to production print, office print, MFDs and wide format printers which historically would have been how the programme would operate,” he explained.
New partner recruitment
Canon is keen to expand its partner network and collaborate with print and IT resellers who have specific expertise. “We actually signed a new print reseller in Scotland last year, it was a geographical-based decision – the fact we didn’t have too many partners in Scotland and this is a well-established print reseller business was key. But we are also focusing on some of the other technologies within our portfolio, such as some of our information management and document solutions and are keen to engage with new businesses who are maybe more interested in looking at some of our software capabilities than our hardware,” Pittick said.
Potential new partners would fall under two categories. Those who want to take Canon applications and technologies and sell them as packaged solutions around specific customer requirements like document management, accounts payable, invoice processing or digital mailroom. The second area is ISVs and SIs who already have the technology or application that they are selling to their customers but who might want an element of Canon technology that they can integrate into that solution. “That could be for example where an SI is already delivering an end to end accounts payable solution but has a particular interest in our document capture software, they may feel that it’s better than the technology they are currently using, and take it and embed it into their existing offer,” he explained.
Investment in collaboration Building on positive partner feedback regarding Canon’s account management culture, the company has invested heavily in headcount, training and tools to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to this central principle of collaboration.
Pittick said: “We’ve done a number of things – some of it is around increasing headcount and some around increasing headcount availability. We have brought new people into the channel, some from within Canon and other external appointments. There hasn’t been a lot of internal change for some time and we’ve now got a fresher mix of ideas and input into the channel.”
Canon embarked on a large transformation programme two years ago. “That gave us the opportunity to really look at how we wanted to structure our organisation to support the channel. Historically it had been very siloed and one of the key changes we made was to open up the expertise that we have within Canon to the channel,” he added.
As an example Pittick cited changes made in areas such as software and professional services. Previously there would have been five to six dedicated people on hand to support partners. “With around 110 partners, that resource was often stretched,” he explained, adding: “Within the company we’ve got a huge professional services division, current headcount is around 100 people. Most of them were aligned specifically with the direct arm of our operation, what we’ve now done is embed a culture where our professional services, software and application specialists can just as easily be deployed to support our partners with their customers. We’ve unlocked those areas of our business to our partners, providing them with access to a much broader skillset and knowledge base of people.”
Another area where investment has been made is within account management. Partner feedback indicated an appetite for additional support with business planning and helping them to stand out from their competition. Pittick said: “We’ve invested in quite an extensive learning and development programme with our existing people to redesign some of the business planning template tools we use. We’re also looking at introducing other tools for them to use and deploy within those relationships to help our partners with business growth.”
He added: “What I’ve reiterated to my team is that this is an opportunity for us to engage with our partners, to really understand where they are looking to grow and where we can help them. We will agree goals and actions and put these into a documented plan that we revisit at quarterly business reviews etc. We will become accountable to those commitments and that’s two way – the partner commits to what they want to achieve and we commit to the things we can do to support and help them achieve those things.
“With the regular reviews you can check, monitor and adjust as necessary. With any plan you may need to make adjustments along the way, and having a process and template brings accountability to us and to the partner and the relationship.”
The updated programme reinforces Canon’s commitment to helping partners stand out from the competition and generate demand. Canon will empower partners with market insights and propositions to optimise traction in target customer segments, and campaign tools to generate a higher volume and quality of leads.
“That’s a commitment that we’re making, it’s an area that we definitely need to improve upon. Part of the business transformation I spoke about earlier was reorganising our marketing and sales functions at a country level. We have an extensive team in the UK, in charge of all areas of marketing but in particular demand and lead generation. Campaigns will generate leads based on market segmentation work that we’re doing,” he said.
“Other areas of focus include looking at how we improve additional services for partners. How we support them with collateral and documentation and co-branded marketing activities for them to run their own campaigns with our support; to create their own demand generation and lead activity; and how we can deliver things like marketing as a service on a campaign basis.”
Canon’s partner landscape is evolving and further growth whilst a key objective is, according to Pittick, a work in progress. “We are less concerned about the number of new partners we sign but more interested in the quality and value of partnership. Within the IT reseller channel, we will review how we can utilise second tier distribution more effectively for some of our fast moving products into B2B environments. That way we might end up with a large number of second tier partners but we will facilitate that business through a smaller number of distribution partners. At the higher end it’s about resource management, so we want to make sure that we don’t take on too many too quickly, and dilute the support we are giving to our partner community. Growth is definitely an ambition, but it’s growth in the right way,” he said in conclusion.