Brother channel development shifts from recruitment to engagement

Brother has completed its transformation from a purely direct dealing vendor to a 100 per cent focused channel player, and has built up its channel to the point where they don’t have to pound the pavement for more partners. The perception that they are a consumer brand? Well, they continue to work hard to change that.

David Fisher, Senior Manager, Partner and Developer Programs, B2B Channel Development at Brother

WASHINGTON D.C. – Printing vendor Brother International’s active engagement with the channel is comparatively recent. They established their first channel program in the U.S. in 2014. Aggressive channel moves did not, however, really start until 2016, when the company introduced its first product family specially for value-added partners. At the CompTIA ChannelCon event here this week, the company stated that its  channel strategy has reached that level of maturity where it believes it no longer has to forcefully recruit for partners. Impressing upon the market that they are a serious player in the commercial space, and not primarily a retail player, remains something of a work in progress, but Brother sees progress there as well.

The key moment in Brother’s development of a channel strategy came in 2016, when they released products specifically designed for value-added resellers to allow them to make profitable sales, completing a shift from a go-to-market strategy which had been entirely direct several years earlier.

“We launched a set of products that was designed to de-commoditize the printing market, so that it wasn’t just commoditized box moving,” said David Fisher, Senior Manager, Partner and Developer Programs, B2B Channel Development at Brother. “That was our Workhorse series of products – 22 in all, including mono and colour printers, and all-in-ones. We targeted them at the SMB market.”

Fisher said that Brother perceived there was an opportunity to be had in an SMB printing channel market buffeted by convergence if they could deliver the right products with the right price point and support.

“At your side is our slogan, and he objective was to help the channel make money in an easy turnkey solution,” Fisher said. “The Workhorse line was only made available to authorized channel partners, not to retail or online-only resellers, and not for the consumer market.  We then went into full recruitment mode. We went after  resellers, office equipment resellers and copier dealers. That market had really shifted in the U.S. The A3 market has gone down, and traditional A3 resellers were looking for ways to complement their business. The traditional printer and copier dealers were having to evolve their business models to survive, and needed to wrap their offerings around solutions and services – the strong suits of the IT resellers who led with owning the network first.”

More professional services and solutions came out of the need to provide these partners with the opportunity to offer differentiated value to customers.

“For instance, we partnered with thebigword, a  translation services company to adopt direct translation services right through the touch panel,” Fisher said. “You can determine the level of translation. This has become huge for us in the legal and health care markets, and it’s also important in others like SLED.

“We also have a uniqueness in having a unified user experience across devices,” Fisher added. “We are a little more open in the architecture, and a little more nimble. We think that it also helps that we are SMB-focused, and not just going after the high end of the market like some competitors.”

A major challenge facing this initiative has been the widespread association of Brother with the consumer market, something the company has worked aggressively to confront.

“We began a large business-focused campaign when the new products were launched, focusing on TV ads and airport banners,” Fisher stated. “We do end user events to drive localized demand, and support partners with a special solutions team  to drive demand for them. They don’t sell directly, as we have no direct sales at all. We also have vertical subject matter experts who work with the resellers to go out to the end users. We can go out with a Brother shirt or with a reseller’s T shirt. The intent is to complement the partner.”

Brother has also worked to leverage a series of awards from the Buyers Lab beginning with the 2017 Line of the Year Award for the monochrome laser line, and most recently, the MFC-L9570CDW as the Winter 2018 Pick Award for outstanding colour MFP for small and medium size business.

Brother does not, however, have a managed print services [MPS] business in the U.S.

“We don’t have an MPS program as Brother,” Fisher said. “We do have a Value Print program – an agreement to buy genuine supplies through a resale partner,  with discounts to make it competitive for the reseller. Our strategy is to make the hardware and solutions around it. But our strengths are in the support of hardware and solutions. We don’t have a heritage of building out an MPS platform. We would rather partner with them and our partners would as well.”

Today, Fisher said that Brother’s partner base in the U.S. is now over 1000. All the evolution in Brother’s offerings and strategy also means that their message at CompTIA is very different then when they first attended.

“Three years ago, it was a recruitment effort for us,” he said. “Now, it’s an engagement effort, to look for appropriate avenues to evolve our message. We are still fighting the good fight when it comes to changing brand perceptions. What we look for now at this event though is to learn how we can be a better vendor partner to the channel.”