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View from the Channel – With Christian Burton, CEO of Pipeline Upgrade

Boosting lead generation for the tech sector, Pipeline Upgrade specialises in pay per appointment setting services, supporting technology companies, vendors and VARs. It works with all major channel partners, alongside tech vendors such as Toshiba and HP, to provide support through Pipeline Upgrade’s channel partner programme. Technology Reseller asked CEO Christian Burton for his view from the channel.

Technology Reseller (TR):
How’s business; better or worse than 12 months ago? And how confident are you about the future?

Christian Burton (CB):
We’ve grown exponentially over the last year. We’re one of only a few companies specialising in the tech space and our experience and market insight have given us an edge over the competition.

As a results-based marketing business working with technology providers, we only charge for appointments that go ahead as planned, refunding the money if they don’t. This gives tech clients peace of mind, especially during the current Covid-19 crisis when tech companies have smaller budgets to work with.

Over the last few months, we’ve seen huge growth and increased our workforce by 20%. I’m very confident about the future, too, as organisations look to more results-based marketing solutions. As long as we adapt to change we’ll be fine – where there is uncertainty there is opportunity.

TR: In what areas are you experiencing strongest demand?

CB: Technology generally is of great interest to companies now due to the increase in remote working, with strongest demand for collaboration tools, communication tools and remote asset management.

Increasingly, organisations are looking at traditional office solutions, hardware or software, and asking themselves whether they are still necessary or relevant if large numbers of employees aren’t going to be returning to the office for months, if at all.

Some product ranges are seeing more of a hit than others, for example A3 photocopiers. That doesn’t mean businesses are scrapping printers altogether, but they are looking to adapt to change by introducing more intelligent software to drive the transition from analogue to digital, from paper-based processes to digital alternatives. Digital transformation is the hot topic right now.

TR: Where is business proving most difficult?

CB: For us, as with any lead generation team, the difficulty we face now is trying to reach people. However, we don’t see that as a long-term problem, and it is becoming easier as people gradually return to work.

We’ve used this period as an opportunity to adapt to using tools such as LinkedIn and email rather than trying to contact prospects solely by phone, which was what we did 90% of the time pre-pandemic. We’ve a better balance now, using the telephone more to close off appointments for our clients, rather than for that initial engagement.

As regards our tech sector clients, they are finding it difficult to spread into more sectors. There are popular sectors experiencing growth, like healthcare and logistics, and then there are others that are becoming increasingly automated, such as accountants. This pandemic is acting as a catalyst for a lot of people to embrace automation, putting at risk suppliers that are focused purely on hardware sales.

TR: How have you changed/are you changing business operations to exploit new opportunities?

CB: The new opportunities have come from working closer with technology companies, understanding what challenges other businesses are going through and what opportunities lie ahead. We’re fortunate that we already had remote workers pre-pandemic, so we didn’t have to play catch-up. Where we’ve had to change, though, is in our messaging and our positioning with clients. Hence our adoption of alternative communication tools.

TR: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing channel businesses today?

CB: The biggest challenge they face is adapting to change. Many companies are comfortable and complacent when it comes to selling a product or service and are reluctant to introduce new technology, as they might incur a cost in learning about it, training staff and preparing themselves to sell it – especially now, when they might not have funds to invest.

Fixing photocopiers, say, is very different to implementing document management systems. I don’t think it’s an accident that we have recently seen more acquisitions of printer companies than normal. Owner managers realise they are going to have to change their business to survive and many prefer to retire than go through that stress.

TR: Could vendors and distributors do more to help partners overcome these challenges? And if so, what?

CB: Traditionally, vendors have supplied channel partners with a marketing fund (MDF) and these are currently under tight control, with vendors wanting to see where the budget is being spent and, more importantly, what the ROI is.

This year, a lot of events have been cancelled because of the pandemic, and some vendors have reinvested that money in our service to buy appointments for their channel partners. Toshiba is doing a great job supporting their channel partners through our channel partner programme, as is HP.

TR: Are customers becoming more demanding, and if so, in what ways?

CB: We traditionally generate face to face appointments, and in the last three months we had approximately 200 booked that could have been turned into virtual meetings. The problem was most of our clients’ sales teams were on furlough. To help them, we moved the appointments to when they would be back at work, even though we weren’t contractually obliged to do so. Clients are not necessarily more demanding, but they are asking us to do things they normally wouldn’t. Everybody’s looking for flexibility.

TR: If you could change one aspect of your job, what would it be and why?

CB: I love my job, but it would be great if I was able to delegate more. Ultimately, it’s my business and I’m accountable for the success or failure of it.

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