We continue to say there are two things left in life in this new technology world: data connectivity networks, plus applications and the cloud infrastructure they ride on. As the worlds of connectivity and IT continue to collide, solution providers on both the network and cloud sides will see more opportunities to partner and merge with each other, as well as with other types of partners.

It used to be that telecom agents provided data and voice services, while IT solutions providers installed and maintained the IT hardware and applications. This was a symbiotic relationship, with VARs delivering and integrating systems, and telecom agents handling the service provider elements.

Over the last 16 years these two models have become more and more intertwined, creating opportunities for both sides to work together. Now, increased reliance on cloud infrastructure and the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT) is about to make relationships among providers more complicated than ever before. At the same time, unprecedented opportunities to partner and profit will be created.

A new class of specialty partners is starting to emerge. These  “influencer” partners don’t necessarily come from either the IT or the telecom worlds, but rather from ancillary businesses. Influencers are entities like commercial real estate agents, web design firms, accounting firms, office furniture movers, and many more. In short, they include just about anyone who touches your clients and prospects, and has the potential to influence their business decisions.

Working with Influencers

Influencer partners can help you get new business if you learn how to tap their expertise and knowledge. Think, for instance, of a commercial realtor involved in the relocation of a company from one end of town to the other. Or an office furniture supplier charged with furnishing the space of a new company in town. Or a medical equipment provider involved in the opening of a new clinic location.

If you maintain relationships with these influencers, they can alert you to new opportunities--and you can do the same for them. In many cases you’ll get first crack at the business when companies start to look for providers of IT and connectivity services.

Increasingly, clients will be taking advantage of cloud infrastructure for their IT needs, reducing the role of traditional solution providers in deploying complex, space-hogging hardware systems. As a result, IT and connectivity providers are increasingly pressured to find creative ways into new accounts.

Most of what we think of as typical VAR or reseller solutions are now being built by cloud providers themselves, giving you the opportunity to provide advice instead of just reselling the hardware that creates the offering and trying to compete with the scale of multi-billion dollar service providers who can handle this function more cost effectively. Customers want solutions faster with less commitments and increased scalability. This adjustment moves the channel away from resell and rebill to instead offering value-added services, often from other providers (think of cableco, telco, AWS, Azure, Google, etc.) and earning commissions for doing so.

In this new world, partnerships between different types of providers become more and more relevant. If you’re doing it right, you’ll be part of an intricate, mutually beneficial web of influencers and providers that support customers’ business operations and strategic aspirations.

IP-enabled Connections

A recent paper by Larry Walsh and the 2112 Group, “Understand & Leveraging Specialized Channels,” addresses the increased relevance of influencers: “As more products become IP-enabled and more businesses seek to offload operations to service providers, specialized channel providers will take on increasing value to technology partners and end customers.”

These specialized partners, the paper says, include resellers of medical devices, environmental systems and other technologies, as well as professional services providers in areas such as accounting, HR, payroll and healthcare. The report also points to partnership possibilities with manufacturers of automobiles, home appliances and industrial machinery, all of which are becoming IP-enabled and connected with the data and voice networks that traditional VARs and telecom agents have shepherded for decades.

All of them, therefore, can become “influencer” partners working in tandem with solution providers and agents to serve the increasingly technology-dependent needs of business customers.

The idea of influencer partners isn’t new. But these partnerships are becoming more relevant now because the technology that drives these relationships is at last becoming reality. Whether you’re in the connectivity or applications/infrastructure space, it’s time to start forging relationships with influencers in order to prepare your business for the future. Do you agree? Let us know what you think!

Craig Schlagbaum is Vice President of Indirect Channels at Comcast Business.