Channel Marketer Report


Rethinking Channel Strategy For The Internet Of Things

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 12.43.08 PMBy John DeSarbo, ZS

This year’s IndyCar Series concluded when Scott Dixon captured his fourth championship with a spectacular come-from-behind victory over front-runner Juan Pablo Montoya in the series finale. Dixon, who was in third place until the final race, flawlessly executed a clever strategy to take advantage of his competitors’ mishaps and seize the checkered flag. His performance showed that racing legend Al Unser had it right when he said, “Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.”

Today’s technology vendors who seek to capitalize on the enormous opportunities created by the Internet of Things (IoT) should also heed Unser’s guidance.

The race to capture the market for products and services that enable IoT solutions is just beginning. Vendors who develop and execute the right IoT strategy in the next 12 to 18 months will establish a leadership position in the marketplace, while those that stumble out of the gate will be forced to play catch-up as the industry embraces this next wave of innovation.

We have all heard the predictions from industry analysts: McKinsey believes that as many as 30 billion objects will be connected to the IoT by 2020.1 In June, IDC predicted that the IoT market will grow to $1.7 trillion over the next five years.2 While there is a massive amount of hype around IoT, it is clear that IT vendors have a tremendous growth opportunity — if they can develop products and services to help enterprises connect previously stand-alone assets and better utilize the data created as a result.

If history is in any way a predictor of the future, one thing is certain: Technology vendors will need to leverage channel partners to meet customer demand for IoT solutions, particularly in the small and medium-sized business (SMB) segment.

Vendors: Selecting And Supporting Partners For The IoT Journey

Consider a recent survey by AVG Technologies, which studied 1,700 SMBs in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany and Australia, and found that more than 60% of SMBs allocate budget for IoT solutions.3 To tap into this demand, vendors will need channel partners with solid customer relationships who have invested in the required sales, marketing and engineering capabilities to compete as an IoT solution provider.

A recent CRN survey found that more than 80% of solution providers generate some revenue from IoT-related products and services. However, for the vast majority of solution providers, IoT accounts for less than 10 percent of their revenues. Only about half of solution providers are planning for significant IoT-related sales over the next 18 months.4 In fact, most SMB customers feel the channel is behind the times. AVG Technologies found that less than 20% of SMBs feel their IT solution and service providers are “ahead of the curve” regarding IoT.

How can IT vendors bridge the gap between customer expectations and channel partner capabilities?

Many vendors will need to define and execute a new IoT channel strategy to ensure they have the right channel partners and the right programs to support those partners. To prepare for the IoT boom, vendors should consider five steps:

  • Re-visit the value chain in target industry sectors: In other words, understand how customers will use the IoT. Understanding how customers will want to integrate information technology, operations technology and consumer devices in specific industry verticals will help vendors choose where to play in the IoT market and identify partners who can provide routes-to-market.
  • Re-define the partner landscape: The channel partners who have served customers in the past may not necessarily be successful IoT solution providers in the future. Vendors should define critical partner capabilities for the IoT, segment their current and potential partner base and select the partners who are best positioned for success.
  • Re-think partner roles and engagement: It is important for vendors to define how they will engage channel partners when delivering IoT solutions. Carefully defining roles for pre- and post-sale activities will ensure vendor and partner expectations are aligned and guarantee effective collaboration throughout.
  • Re-engineer partner programs: Vendors should ensure that they have the right incentives and support in place to enable IoT solution providers. Follow the lead of other vendors, such as Cisco, that are introducing distinct program specializations or tracks to support partners investing to build IoT competencies.
  • Re-tool channel sales teams: Vendor channel sales teams can either enable or inhibit IoT success. Channel sales teams must have a firm grasp on the technologies underlying the IoT. They must be able to articulate how a vendor’s products and services create IoT opportunities for traditional and non-traditional channel partners, as well as have the skills to help partners succeed.

By following these steps, vendors will ensure that they have the right IoT channel strategy and are positioned for success as adoption of IoT solutions grows.

The race for IoT leadership is about to begin. Vendors, start your engines!

John DeSarbo is a Principal at global sales and marketing firm ZS. He is based in San Mateo, Calif., and leader of ZS’s Sales Channel Strategy and Management practice. DeSarbo has 20 years of consulting and industry experience focused on sales and marketing strategy and operations, and his expertise spans sales channel strategy and operations, channel analytics, partner program design and sales force design. Prior to joining ZS, DeSarbo held leadership positions at a multi-billion dollar IT services provider and several strategy consulting firms. You can view some of his most recent insights by visiting ZS’s high-tech blog, “Tech Bytes & Insights.”


  1. “The Internet of Things: Sizing up the Opportunity”, McKinsey: Harold Bauer, Mark Patel and Jan Veira, December 2014
  2. “Explosive Internet of Things Spending to Reach $1.7 Trillion in 2020, According to IDC “, IDC press release, June 2, 2015
  3. “70% of MSPs Must Adapt Services to Capitalize on Internet of Things, AVG Study Reveals”, AVG Technologies press release, October 22, 2014
  4. IoT Reality Check: How Solution Providers Are Making Money With Internet Of Things Today”,, Tom Spring and Mark Haranas, August 28, 2015




About Alicia Fiorletta

Alicia Fiorletta is Senior Editor for Channel Marketer Report. Working closely with industry analysts and experts, Alicia reports on the latest news, technologies, case studies and trends coming to forefront in the channel marketing world. With a focus on emerging marketing strategies, including social, mobile and content for demand, Alicia hones in on new ways for organizations to market to and through their partner networks. Through her work with G3 Communications, Alicia also acts as Associate Editor for Retail TouchPoints, a digital publishing network focused on the customer-facing area of the retail industry.

View all posts by Alicia Fiorletta →

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