But sometimes, retailers are challenged to identify the right solutions and software for their business, and what strategies would help them drive engagement and long-term loyalty.
Toshiba is positioning itself and its partners as thought leaders in the retail world, providing solutions, services and even research on the new era of customer engagement and omnichannel commerce.
In the below Q&A, Ted Clark, Global Business Partner Channel Leader, discusses the role channel partners play in the Toshiba business, and how the company empowers its partners.
Channel Marketer Report (CMR): What role do channel partners currently play in your business?
Clark: The channel plays a huge part in our business and our culture, since we’re a global company. Almost all of our partners came over to the Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions business during our transition from IBM two years ago.
We are the oldest retail channel in the industry, and have more 30 years of experience. Well over 1,000 companies that make up our channel around the world and in North America the number is around 250. Globally, the channel makes up about 50% of our POS business.
CMR: Do you have different partner levels or tiers?
Clark: Yes, here’s a little background on that. When we moved to Toshiba, we knew we needed to have a global partner program. So at NRF two years ago, we announced our Together Commerce brand message and we announced the Toshiba Together Commerce Alliance. There are several categories of partners that fall into that:
Within the past year, we also implemented Authorized Service Partners, who go out and repair hardware when it breaks. We reimburse them and get them parts. Partners are always looking for ways to get more income and show value, while visiting the clients to see if there are any other opportunities to do business and help them solve problems. Within that group we have more 250 partners signed up within that ecosystem; get to 300 by end of the year. It’s a growing ecosystem and the cool thing is those partners come from 44 countries.
CMR: How do Toshiba and its partners stay relevant in an ever-changing retail landscape?
Clark: We end up being on many retailers’ short list for consideration because we’re relevant. But what makes us relevant to earn that spot? It really comes from a couple of things: We’re not only being in the POS hardware business; we’re also in the POS software business. We also offer professional services and consulting with clients around what the store of the future looks like and what they can use mobility for. Is it an alternative to the POS or is it something you give to the consumer to enable them or is it something you give to associate to improve the consumer experience?
Everything is about the consumer experience now. The consumer is every empowered especially with their access to data and the devices they have available to them at any point in time. Retailers are trying to improve the consumer experience because they want them to buy from them versus someone else. We have expertise around that and a lot of that is gained from collaboration with the largest retailers in the world. Those services, that analysis and the software that gets developed, the new functionality we put into software, really makes us very relevant.
Then, we take what we learn and share it with business partners so they can do the same thing. We’re not just relevant because of our large market share. The large market share is a validation of the relevance.
CMR: How do you keep your partners engaged and up-to-date with new industry trends and developments?
Clark: We communicate with our partners very often — certainly monthly —through a conference or lunch and learn, and send out documents of some kind. In addition, we have a partner conference for North American partners, which we call Toshiba Connect. We have it once a year and we bring all partners in and provide education, have discussions and a lot of networking. There’s a lot of interaction there. Toshiba Connect event is so good for partners that next year we’re doing it jointly with partners and customers.
Then usually towards end of summer and into fall we do a business partner advisory council, were we have the top 20 or 25 partners in North America come together for two days, and they represent different retail segments. It’s a nice cross-section of segments, and diversity in a channel lends to our strength.
Some colleagues in the industry are trying to homogenize their channel; basically telling their channel they’re not going to be able to sell any other products but theirs. But then these other companies are commoditizing and selling hardware; they don’t have any software or services. We’re very focused on getting a diverse group of partners together so we can share our insights and product plans with them.
CMR: What role does partner feedback play in your product development?
Clark: We have a thriving culture of partnership. We get a lot of feedback, hear from them and what they like in the product plan and we’ve changed it based on what our partners tell us because they’re the ones representing the brand. We also have a technical conference for partners where we spend a week with partners and do a lot of training, certification and hands-on activities.
CMR: Do you have any plans for 2015 that you’d to share or lessons learned from 2014?
Clark: Absolutely! We’ve been doing a significant amount of investment around branding and lead capturing, and we pass them off to the partners. Around the world, we’ve done significant amount of branding work around Toshiba and Together Commerce through digital and print press, leading to tens of millions of impressions around the world. It’s been fantastic because when we announced the acquisition, there was a lot of concern about having Toshiba being understood as a leader of all things POS. That problem has been addressed and we’ll continue to address it moving forward.
At the same time, we’re trying to support the channel by supplementing their ability to either do some demand creation or opportunity intersection. We have an added value channel so every one of our partners in North America are a dealer for someone’s software, have their own software or resell our software. Anybody in any retail segment, as they plan to do a POS refresh they look at the software first. That helps our partners and us find out where those leads are. We collaborate for the largest accounts and we have our sales reps there and partners have theirs there. As opportunities come up we collaborate and work to support the partner.