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Business influencers: What guides your IT channel decisions?

Channel executives are responsible for making tough decisions that impact the fates of their companies. We asked a few company chiefs to name the top influencers that shape their leadership.

When it comes to making tough decisions that impact the direction and future of companies, business executives do not operate in a vacuum. They rely upon peers, industry groups, staff and key vendor partnerships, among other business influencers. SearchITChannel asked executives at two IT managed services firms and a consulting firm to discuss their major business influencers, as well as books and other content they have been inspired by. These profiles have been edited for length and clarity.

The wisdom from peer groups

Stanley Louissaint is the principal and founder of Fluid Designs, a managed services provider (MSP) based in Union, N.J.

What are the three top business influencers behind your decisions?

Louissaint: In terms of influencers, one is the peer group ASCII. I like to call it a knowledge pool. It has [about] 1,200 members, so you can pick people's brains and, obviously, you get that peer input from fellow members.

Stanley Louissaint, principal and founder, Fluid DesignsStanley Louissaint

For example, product selection: As an MSP, we're bombarded with products. There are 100 products that do the same thing, like for file share. … Being able to reach out to the community and say, 'Hey, I'm looking for a specific product that does A, B, C. What are your experiences with this product?' is valuable. We've actually been able to vet out vendors through utilizing our resources in ASCII, and people can list their pros and cons. It saves money by doing this, so there's been a financial benefit.

Recently, one of the RMM tools had a breach and an MSP's client was breached, and we were able to address it as a community. I'm part of ASCII's advisory council. It's more of an oversight role.

In addition, I think the biggest influencer is the clients themselves, because clients will always let you know what they're looking at doing or the new thing they want to embrace or a new direction they want to take their organization to. My feeling is IT should not be forced on people. It should do what people need it to do, and we need to listen to them and help. You need to understand their business goals, and, when it becomes financially viable, IT can help.

Third, our media outlets in the industry. I read every channel media publication so I know what's happening.

Are there specific books that have influenced you?

Louissaint: I like to read books that pertain to real life, so I don't necessarily read industry books. I'm a big Malcolm Gladwell guy. I'm halfway through David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, and I read Outliers.

I'm listening to [an audio] book called The 48 Laws of Power. It's a little intense, but it's about how business and personal relationships are the same. What I mean by that is humans are going to be humans. It's good to [get] insights like that you're not going to mesh with everyone and everybody's not going to become a client. Where a lot of IT guys struggle is they don't want to get rejected. So they have to learn not everyone is a guaranteed sale. In a meeting, go for the no. It cuts down my time. I won't keep calling for something that's not going to work for me, and it allows me to go forward. It's always been my personal thing, my style.

Knowledge from a tightknit group of MSPs

Amy Kardel is co-founder and owner of Clever Ducks, an IT services company based in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

What are the three top business influencers behind your decisions?

Amy Kardel, co-founder and owner, Clever DucksAmy Kardel

Kardel: I have two roles: I'm chairwoman of the board of CompTIA, [and] I'm also founder and owner of Clever Ducks. One of top influencers in my role at Clever Ducks is HTG Peer Groups. For close to 10 years, I've been in a group of 12 other MSP owners across the country and we meet quarterly. We do things like benchmark our P&L (profit and loss statements) against our peer companies and information from an industry financial reporting group that aggregates data anonymously across the MSP universe called SLI (Service Leadership Inc.).

It's a tightknit group. I compare it to being in a college dorm with someone you really know and live with. It's a great source of information and knowledge. Information is easily obtained these days, but what we really want when we make business decisions is knowledge. … We email each other day and night.

No. 2 is collaboration within our own team and input from management. We're a small company with 16 employees and we're growing. Our team provides good input.

Third, we've had the same business coach for quite a while, close to 10 years. Using that information is a big influencer. A business owner is lonely at the end of the hall, so you need someone to provide objective input. I think it's great if it's someone who knows your team a little. We have monthly meetings with the coach.

Here are a couple of examples [of business coach input]: making sure you have the right people in the right positions and deciding if it's time to let someone go who is not helpful to the organization. That is a very good time to have good counsel with someone who understands the dynamics and makes sure you make a thoughtful decision about that, and makes sure you're not acting too rashly or too slowly -- or reminds you to look at your different roles in your corporate structure. In a small business, you wear shareholder, boss and worker hats, so looking at those roles and deciding which to hand off to who and at what time, and getting input from someone who's objective -- sometimes you're in the water too deep to see the options.

Fourth is related: business intelligence. A big influencer for me is the data. What does the data show in my company? I use data to scrub my decisions about my business and planning. [But] I obviously also have to trust my gut.

Are there specific books that have influenced you?

Kardel: Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow. He wrote about two systems of thinking: system one is our gut and the fast decisions we have to make every day to survive. Then there is the second system, the more contemplative, thoughtful one. So it's important to check your gut with data, especially when it's the type of decision that is more error-prone, that's based on a bias, something where you think you may not be objective. What do the numbers say? Don't just go with 'I don't like that.'

Information is easily obtained these days, but what we really want when we make business decisions is knowledge.
Amy Kardelco-founder and owner, Clever Ducks

My favorite is Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. I'm on a behavioral economics kick. We're rational actors based on what's in front of us. Meaning, we look at data and we try to do what's best for us, but Predictive Irrational talks about places where we don't do that. Anyone who's battled weight knows this. Why are we not able to do what's rational? It could be applied to business in terms of pricing services: how you create pricing strategies and bundles. There's very useful information in the book about how people interpret data to make economic decisions and how people are pretty predictable in what they do.

The third book is Made to Stick. It's a book about why some ideas survive and why others die. Being a good communicator is a good business skill, and if you can tell stories, that's how people get what you mean the best. And this book talks about how to give a good TED talk. People want to hear stories and hear an example of how something was applied, the suspense of what happened and the result. I think that communication piece is really well explained in that book. I read it and thought, 'Oh, my gosh. That makes perfect sense.' I used to use PowerPoints in the past, and I think we've all been in presentations where it's been 'death by PowerPoint' with endless slides. You want a human experience. Otherwise, send me an email.

Marketing lessons from a Millennial

Diane Krakora is the CEO of PartnerPath, a consultancy company based in Menlo Park, Calif. PartnerPath helps other companies improve partnering strategies by designing, implementing and automating channel and alliance models.

What are the three top business influencers behind your decisions?

Krakora: Certainly one of the things that has been a big change for me is my marketing director, Amanda Hawkins, and the shift in the way we go to market. We're learning inbound marketing and adopting an 'educate' mentality. … None of the sales team is making 100 phone calls a day anymore. We're putting out much more thought leadership and adopting a change in the buyer behavior model. She came on board two years ago, and she's a millennial and really shaking up our old-school sales and marketing behaviors into more current buyer behavior.

Diane Krakora, CEO, PartnerPathDiane Krakora

It's really about adopting this change in the buyer's journey. … You don't want someone calling you saying, 'There's this great thing you should buy.' You'll learn about it online and do some reading and decide when you're ready to make that purchase and call a sales guy. That was a big change for us as a software as a service company in terms of how we sell to our customers, who are channel chiefs in technology companies. I can't make Wendy Bahr at Cisco buy consulting from me. She has to know we're out there, and we give her great content. And sooner or later when she decides she needs some help, she calls us.

Business isn't done in a kind of outbound sales process anymore; it's more of an inbound sales process. And that was big learning from Amanda Hawkins coming on board. We're doing the same level of business with two-thirds less sales effort.

Another [business influencer] would be we are partnering a lot more with other companies like us or that do adjacent things to us. We're a partner company, so we should partner. And we're finding we're coordinating a lot more with other companies to go in and solve a customer's problem. Just like the channel is creating solutions to customer problems, we are also spending a lot more time creating and investing in relationships … to create full solutions.

Over the last year, we created a deep relationship with a company called Averetek. They have a software product that does company marketing for partners. There are a lot of challenges in terms of how we get partners to market, and Averetek has a great solution. There is a lot happening around cloud consumption and buying behaviors, and solution providers have to become better marketers. We'll also have software platforms and are working on how we put those software platforms together. We've had referral relationships for consulting or hardware or software that support channel efforts, but never this level of partnership before. It's been great to figure out how to work together as well as that go-to-market message.

Much of what we do as a business is driven by what our ecosystem of channel chiefs brings to the table. We hold quarterly round tables where we get 15 channel chiefs in a room to discuss what is keeping them up at night. Since these people are ultimately our customers, it formulates much of the research, consulting and automation systems we produce. So what informs my business decisions? Listening to our customers talk about their channel challenges and opportunities.

Are there books that have influenced you?

Krakora: I'm consuming so much more on video these days and reading blogs, even more than the bigger white papers and articles. I'm finding that as CEO of a $5-million business, I have minutes of time between calls or meetings, not hours of time.

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