We spoke to Mahmoud Alyaha, Middle East Operations Region Manager at Xerox, about why channel partnerships are so important and how vendors can build successful partner programmes.
Xerox is a multi-national company which has been operating in document management technology and printing solutions for 80 years.
A Fortune 500 company, Xerox prides itself on its history of innovation and its contribution towards Information Technology.
Part of the company’s success can be attributed to its strong channel programme, with partners playing a crucial role in ensuring customers receive the best experience possible.
Mahmoud Alyaha, Middle East Operations Region Manager at Xerox, tells us more…
Why is it important to have a strong partner programme?
It’s very important to have a strong programme in place that focuses on clearly identified key performance indicators to ensure the clients’ experience and their satisfaction are at the highest level possible.
The client is the centre piece of this relationship. The second element is ensuring the partners are provided with the right tools to represent the products and brands of any vendor in the market.
So, talking about Xerox specifically, a solid partner programme will ensure partners have the right tools to cater our services and products to the market in the best way possible.
What factors, in your opinion, make a partner programme successful?
The most important element of the relationship between us and our partners, or distributors or channels is ensuring that there’s alignment – ensuring both our company and our partner companies are 100% aware of each other’s strategic objectives and directions.
It’s important to ensure these strategies are not only aligned but that they intersect in many areas and, if there are any gaps in the relationship, that we understand what’s causing these gaps to ensure that any such gaps are eliminated.
Another area which is also important is the constant training and development of people in the channel or of our partner companies.
We need them to be a true extension of us in the market and that’s why we invest a lot of money and effort in continuously training and developing people. This ensures that the brand values and our products and services are cascaded to clients in a very consistent manner, no matter where they are in the world.
Can you talk about how you work with partners in the Middle East and Africa?
Xerox MEA is one of the pioneers, or leaders, within the Xerox world in terms of the business model operating through channels and distributors.
In the Middle East, most of our distributors are model branded or exclusive distributors. They represent Xerox in a specific territory and usually they’re the only ones representing Xerox in that territory and they don’t represent any other brands.
We’ve had distributors in the Middle East since the mid-80s. We cover almost the entirety of the Middle East and Africa.
We go through proper due diligence to ensure that any distributor or vendor has the right infrastructure to represent us.
Luckily most of our distributors here have been representing the brand without any interruption for more than 20 years.
Some of the General Managers of distributors in the Middle East have been with Xerox for more than 20 years. So even though they are not direct Xerox employees, to them, Xerox represents a major part of their lives due to the fact they’ve spent much of it working with the brand.
We have a sense of togetherness within the channels and this prospers the business in the region, especially if there are exchanges of best practices, etc.
Can you elaborate on how partners can truly optimise the benefits of a partner programme?
One example is we run a lot of accreditations within Xerox to ensure everyone is up to standard in a specific line of business or in a specific area.
The accreditation goes first to an assessment stage where we assess the status quo and then we compare it to the benchmark which we aim to elevate the operation of the distributor or partner to.
Usually there are specific gaps in certain areas which we then, through our regional business managers, help the partners bridge.
So the benefit they get out of having such a solid accreditation programme as part of the partner programme is constantly reviewing the figures of their business.
If there are any gaps we review them together and then we create an action plan to ensure this gap is bridged in a specific period of time.
Usually there are several stakeholders, so it’s not just the partner responsible for bridging the gap, it’s also the regional managers or business development managers within Xerox who run these territories who are also the next part of the evaluation and the ongoing development within the company.
From a more general perspective, how would you assess the current state of the channel?
I think it’s very important to really qualify the right people to represent any specific brand and at the moment if you compare the region to maybe 10 or 20 years ago there are more solid candidates out there. There are more capable companies out there which can represent multinational brands.
It’s maybe due to the fact that the world is more open. People are more exposed now than they ever were. Product development, news and service development news travels at the speed of light by different media which definitely helps elevate the level of competency the channel can bring to the table because, if they don’t do that, they will be swept away by the competition.
To summarise, the state of the channel right now is much more advanced than it used to be, however there’s always room for improvement. If a channel doesn’t continuously develop its resources and is not part of a partner programme which is constantly improving on all aspects, then they can easily get brushed aside by someone else who has the appetite to do so.
How can partners (vendors, distributors, resellers and retailers) work together effectively to generate growth in the channel?
Constant communication is key and benefiting from the tools available to them.
The first step would be to understand the market that you’re operating in. Channels that are in touch with the geographies they represent have a very good, solid understanding of the territories they’re in.
They start to provide the vendors, or us, for instance, with input on what needs to be done to customise our products and services to meet the market requirement.
The key here is understanding the market dynamics of each territory and having a channel that’s present on the ground that’s very aware of what’s happening.
As a vendor we sometimes provide some information based on partnerships and alliances, we have with market research companies. And if you marry that with local knowledge and local understanding of the market then the first step will be achieved – which is understanding the market and figuring out what needs to be done to cater to the needs of this market in the best way possible.
And then it will be up to the vendor or up to us to really have clear discussions with the channel to see whether it’s possible to customise the product or service to meet the market requirement.
And based on our experience, usually in this part of the world, the requirements are very similar and there’s nothing out of the ordinary in terms of requiring super customisation.
But we don’t offer one product off the shelf that fits all. We have the flexibility to meet clients’ requests and, honestly, our customers are our inspiration.
So sometimes based on an experience we had in Bahrain, for instance, we are able to provide a service to someone in Jordan or Saudi or Lebanon that they didn’t think was possible.
Having multi channels in different territories can sometimes create opportunities due to similar requirements between different countries.
How important are channel partners in enabling customers’ Digital Transformations?
Our channel, as part of continuous development and accreditation programmes, understands that the first step as [to meeting] a clients’ requirement is understanding their business and assessing it properly.
The assessment process is done between our channel or distributor and the partner.
Once the assessment is complete, we have discussions with the client to explain to them the findings of the assessment and to verify that the findings are correct.
The second stage would be designing the right solution for the client. The design will detail some of the benefits they will receive, whether it’s operational benefits or financial benefits, and once that is presented to the client and is approved, we start with the implementation process.
Finally, we move to the management process and the continuation of managing the entire experience or solution.
This approach applies not only to Digital Transformation but any other process or service we provide to our clients.
So, if you ask anyone in the channel what the process is, they will be able to articulate the same message I’m giving because that’s how we go about doing our business.