Canalys Forums 2022: Into the “partnerverse”: a digital future for the channel?

Canalys Forums 2022: Into the “partnerverse”: a digital future for the channel?

In this blog, we assess the importance of new digital sales and marketing models for the channel and ask what the future of the “partnerverse” will look like – fully virtual and immersive, or a hybrid of physical and digital?


Welcome to the Partnerverse! Digital sales and marketing models are becoming more important than ever for the channel, as customer IT decision-making and buying behavior changes. The pandemic prompted a radical shift in channel sales and marketing toward online and virtual models, with over 80% of channel partners increasing digital sales, and almost two thirds growing their digital marketing activities. Ecommerce sales boomed for the channel, while virtual and video conferences replaced physical marketing events. Face-to-face engagements have quickly returned, but the legacy of that transformation is a more digitally integrated, automated and connected channel. It’s also one in which the digital leaders threaten to move rapidly ahead of the laggards. For channel partners, a digital presence is becoming more important for capturing customers at the earliest stages of IT sales cycles, in many cases well before they have engaged physically with an IT supplier. But channel partners are also competing with a host of digital “influencers” – consultants, agents, advisors, vendors and even other end users – who are playing a more significant role in guiding customers’ IT buying decisions.

The adoption of cloud and SaaS has democratized IT purchasing, with department heads, developers, engineers and individual users able to buy SaaS apps or cloud instances without having to go through centralized procurement. Cloud marketplaces are making it easier than ever for buyers to find and buy the applications and tools they need at the click of a button. With the industry moving rapidly to cloud-based subscriptions and as-a-service, digital channels play a role in the entire lifecycle of a customer’s contract. But while this helps IT buyers, it can leave CIOs and business owners losing control of spending and costs spiraling. This is where partners play a core role in delivering managed services: portals and dashboards provided by IT partners to monitor customer use become vital tools, increasingly integrated with vendors’ or distributors’ systems for pricing, availability and joint service creation. With the opportunity to capture valuable data on customer adoption, use and renewals, partners who unlock data insights for more effective sales and marketing activities will have an advantage over others. And with inflation, staff shortages and economic turbulence threatening channel profitability, the ability to automate manual sales processes should contribute to greater efficiency and cost savings, for both partners and customers. 

So what does this mean for the future of the channel? Will the role of channel partners be reduced in a world of digital commerce? Or in a more digital, automated era, does the human touch become a differentiator for partners? The complexity of customers’ technology environments means demand for (people-based) consulting and expertise is higher than ever. Only 20% of partners surveyed said they would rely predominantly on digital sales capabilities in future. 44% said they will move to a more balanced blend of digital and physical sales models. That’s key to helping partners differentiate from ecommerce giants such as Amazon. But this is a complex (and costly) model to build, so how can smaller, capital-constrained partners compete? Who will win?

Canalys will be peering “Into the Partnerverse” in a dedicated Expert Hub at the Canalys Forums, bringing together experts from leading channel partners, vendors and distributors to discuss the future of a more digitally-oriented channel. Questions covered will include:

  • Is the future of business-to-business ecommerce virtual and immersive?
  • Will face-to-face sales still play a role?
  • How will future purchase and consumption models differ by customer size?
  • Will the promise of cost savings drive customers more toward digital channels as economic conditions worsen?
  • What role will distributors play in a more digitally integrated world? Who is winning?

We look forward to welcoming attendees to this essential session – either virtually or in person!