The channel professional: What’s in a name?

Resellers. VARs. Systems integrators. Solution providers. Managed Service Providers. There are a bunch of different identities under which companies in the channel do business. About the only thing everyone seems to agree about them: none of them really do a terribly good job of explaining what many solution providers (you’ll excuse me for going with a common denominator here) do for a living.

Over the last year, I’ve often found myself pondering what the ideal nomenclature for the channel company is. And I’ve come to the realization that maybe there isn’t a common name or identity that fits for companies in the channel. This need for a personal and individual identity and terminology was really brought home by Mark Giannini, founder and CEO of Memphis, TN-based Service Assurance, during his peer-to-peer address at last week’s VentureTech Fall Invitational in San Francisco.

So how is Giannini branding his business, and what can solution providers do to make sure they’re capturing their own unique value proposition, and not defining themselves in someone else’s terms? Read on.

Giannini detailed how his organization had previously labeled itself an SI, VAR and a solution provider, among other identities, before a chance meeting with a CEO suffering through some unfortunately all-to-common IT headaches led to an “a-ha!” moment. His company isn’t a VAR, an SI or a solution provider. Its core value to its most important audience, the CEO of its customers, is that of a translator. It’s simple really. His company exists to translate between IT and business.

“We’re the secret decoder ring, we’re the one who tells them line item by line item what’s real and what’s not,” Giannini explained. “That’s what the CEO needs more than anything.”

Simple. Elegant. Brilliant. And something that the people to whom he’s marketing his business (namely said frustrated and befuddled CEOs) not only understand but identify with.

Over recent years, there have been a few efforts by parts of the partner community to create new names and brands for channel organizations, and while all of them have their good points, they fall short of providing a great description for many, much less all, of the thousands of companies that make up the channel community.

IT Nation is a great brand for the ConnectWise partner base, and has created a great rallying point for those partners to come closer together as a community, but it doesn’t really resonate outside of that (albeit large) group, and is ultimately too tied to a single vendor and their part of the larger overall community. Where’s the differentiation?

Trusted Business Advisor, championed by Integrated, a channel marketing company and publisher of eChannelLine, aims to brand the often discussed and even more frequently sought-after status of “trusted advisor” to your customers. But it falls short in its generality. By name alone, a “trusted business advisor” could just as easily be a chartered accountant, third-party marketing agency or any of a variety of professional advisors that any company might trust to help deliver results for their business.

Universal translator: Giannini found that his company’s core value proposition was translating from IT-speak into a language more comfortable to the C-suite.

If you’re not satisfied with the impact or the marketing message of any of the standard categories we tend to lump channel companies into, take a lesson from Giannini’s approach. Take a long, hard look at what you do for your most important customers, and take that look through those customers’ eyes if at all possible. Communicating that message in their own terminology, as Service Assurance has done with its “translator” analogy, will help you stand out from the crowd and make your value proposition stand out from the crowd.

Incidentally, Giannini has written a book, taking a fun look at some of the not-at-all fun IT pains that CEOs face and outlining how a good solution provider can help to heal those pains. He announced at VentureTech that he’s making two free copies available to each VTN member just as soon as the printed copies come in. Whether you’re a VTN member of not, check it out at It looks like a great selling tool.

Do you prefer to get creative with branding your company, or go with a common and familiar classification? How do you communicate your key value proposition to your customers? Has the way you classify your organization altered – for better or worse – your customers’ perception of your value? Weigh in in the comments below.