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Alex Tatham: On making progress

Technology Reseller speaks to Westcoast MD Alex Tatham about the findings of Westcoast’s first survey into what resellers really think about distribution

If Westcoast’s new customer research, What UK Resellers Really Think, was a report card, it might say ‘Working hard and moving in the right direction but could do better’. For while all respondents are either ‘satisfied’ (49%) or ‘very satisfied’ (51%) with their distribution partners, 92% are frustrated by certain aspects of the service provided.

Westcoast commissioned the independent survey of more than 200 UK resellers with turnovers of £50m to £500m plus to highlight the priorities of VARs/MSPs and to identify where they feel distributors are letting them down and what Westcoast can do to help.

Its findings reveal the vital role that distributors have in helping VARs/MSPs evolve their offering to meet the changing needs of end user customers.

For example, 92% of respondents see digital transformation as a chance to get closer to customers. Yet, just 41% feel ready to embark on the digital transformation journey in the next 12-24 months. Almost nine out of 10 (89%) feel distribution can help them with their digital transformation strategies.

With VARs/MSPs also looking to increase their cloud services (64%) and machine learning capability (53%), many will be leaning on services and support provided by distributors to help them achieve their goals.


Alex Tatham, Managing Director of Westcoast, told Technology Reseller that these findings validated the company’s own strategy.

“We have been talking about services now for a long time within our business, and the survey confirms that resellers want to see more services delivered by distribution so that they can focus on what is important for their end user customers. They need to take their customers on a digital transformation journey; they need to take their customers on a cloud journey. And most of them believe distributors can help them do that,” he said.

As examples of how Westcoast is helping customer exploit new opportunities, Tatham cites the company’s investment in cloud services, including billing as a service, and the marketing support it provides VARs and MSPs.

“Very often resellers don’t put enough effort into marketing. They’ve got quite a lot of money to spend, given to them by vendors, but they don’t know how to spend it. One of the key things we’ve done is dedicate two people within our marketing department to do nothing else but help our resellers spend marketing funds in the best way they can,” he said.

Another way in which Tatham says Westcoast is supporting resellers is with a ‘bid on behalf of’ desk to ease the process of raising bids from vendors.

“We’ll help customers raise bids for their end users; we’ll manage a lot of the admin for them and we’ll even raise the bid on their behalf. We’ve got two people managing bids and managing deal registration to ensure resellers are, in theory, more protected on the deals they are working on. We have put a lot of effort behind that and you’ll see more on that next year,” he said.

“In our next two-year plan, we’ve also put more effort behind our sales order processing team. We’ve separated that from sales and have a focused process team looking at how we electronically link with customers and how we can streamline and take cost out of order processing. That’s been a core focus.”

More demanding

Such initiatives are necessary as VARs and MSPs today expect much more from distributors, with 92% of respondents admitting to being ‘more demanding’ than two years ago. The same number say they are frustrated by aspects of the service they receive: almost two thirds (63%) say distributors could do better when it comes to offering advice and valueadded services in emerging, complex areas of IT; 55% feel distributors could support them better through training and skills development; 50% feel distributors don’t offer total solutions; and 40% are frustrated by a lack of personal contact.

While Westcoast is addressing these concerns through activities like those mentioned above, Tatham is less accommodating when it comes to complaints about pricing flexibility (cited by 56%) and product flexibility (47%).

“The first thing to say is pricing is pretty keen. If you look at Westcoast accounts, you can see that Westcoast aren’t making a ton of money on all these things. Pricing flexibility really comes down to the vendor bid program, which is what resellers need help with,” he said.

“The product offering is a slightly different thing. People really want to buy from their best distributors, so the question is ‘Will Westcoast offer more product?’. Probably we will. But that’s not what we do. We have a narrow and deep philosophy: we are very good at the vendors we distribute and are the Number One distributor for every single vendor that we sell, every single one. Whilst we absolutely understand that customers would love us to sell everything, that is not going to be Westcoast’s strategy. They need to sell key vendors better, rather than trying to look for everything the end user wants all the time.”

Maybe for this reason, 60% of respondents said they prefer to buy stock from retailers – something that Tatham believes distributors should do more to address.

“We need to articulate our vendor message better, because there’s still a huge amount of business done with e-tailers. Effectively, resellers will go to their main distributors and say ‘Do you stock this?’ and when the answer is ‘No’, they’ll buy it off Amazon or ebay. One of the key messages that distribution has to articulate better is the value of the key vendors we are supplying, rather than trying to be a one-stop-shop for everyone. Because in the end that is what the etailers are going to do,” he said.

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TechnologyReseller: 2021