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Keeping up with, and documenting, an industry in the midst of great change can often be a challenge. The upside, of course, is an accelerated learning curve. As mentioned in my “Why Sharp?” article, I am hoping to share some of what I am learning with others in our community here on LinkedIn.
One of the biggest areas of such learning, both internally and externally, is about the Sharp channel partners that help bring our technology to customers. In fact, I have, and will continue to, spend time visiting many of the multifunction printer (MFP) “dealers” as well as our audio visual (AV) distributors.
On those trips, I’ve been accompanied by our VP of Channel Sales, John Sheehan. John is no newbie to much of our channel, but is a relative newcomer to the MFP space, having assumed the leadership of the all channels nationally in 2018 after having driven Sharp’s AV distributor channel.
When we are not throwing sarcastic verbal arrows at each other (which occurs frequently), I’ve been peppering John with questions about the unique needs of both our professional AV distribution channel and our MFP dealer network, and I thought a LinkedIn article addressing some of the things that I have learned might serve other interested parties as well.
So, I convinced John to sit down and chat with me:
Bob: John, first, thanks for doing this with me, and I’m glad we are still on good terms after an inordinate amount of travel time. Wait, we are still on good terms, right?
John: No problem. So far only a few months in we are on good terms. Let’s see how this interview goes.
Bob: Ha. Fair enough. Let’s jump right in then to talk about the channels you manage, and start with our MFP dealer channel. Clearly, the print market is both dynamic and changing rapidly. Given that, as you look forward to 2018, what are your goals for the MFP dealer channel?
John: The team is working to drive awareness of our strong and mostly new line of MFPs. The good news is the job is now easier, as demonstrated by our recent Copier MFP Line of the Year Award from Buyers Lab. We are also working hard to reposition Sharp in the minds of our channel partners. I see a real need for us to better represent the full capability and direction of what Sharp has to offer. While we may have one of the best line of copiers and MFPs in the industry, we are about much more than “just” copiers. From what we see most of our dealers have grown to be more than “just” copier dealers as well.
Bob: Where else are we seeing things go then?
John: One critical initiative that Sharp has, and we hear a lot about from our dealers, is the move toward a “smart office.” Sharp’s displays, growing software capabilities, Dynabook PCs and many other technologies – including those from Foxconn – make us a significant force in the smart office as we partner with people such as Microsoft and others to bring it to reality.
Bob: Outside of this industry and Sharp repositioning, what are some other goals you have this year?
John: Every year we try to simplify our interactions with the dealer community, both in terms of our programs, and working with them to ensure a simplified message. I think Sharp has built a very strong relationship with our dealer community, but we’ve not always made it as easy as possible to execute upon our great joint planning. This seems like an important area for the team in 2019.
Bob: Yes, as you know, I am keen to simplify our interactions with the all our audiences from a communications standpoint, so I think we’ll be well aligned there. Any other MFP-focused goals?
John: I would say if I had to pick just one more, it would probably be to improve training and communication around new technologies and advancements. While we are doing an okay job at this now, I sense that both for our internal channel-facing team as well as the dealer sales reps themselves, can do more and use more novel techniques for success.
Bob: That makes sense, especially if we are in the midst of a market change and reposition. Everyone will need to stay on top of advancements and changes in technology to succeed.
John: Yes. Look, it’s not a huge secret that the MFP space is both extremely competitive and relatively flat from a systems revenue perspective. For dealers, and for Sharp, growth means taking market share in the spaces we are strong in and aggressively entering markets with new technology. The good news is that there are areas that are showing growth. Our MFPs are already critical parts of our customers’ network environment. Engaging our customers in network management and security conversations has been extremely beneficial to our end user customers, and a strong growth area for us and our channel partners. Once you have credibility on the network, you can engage in more of a discussion on smart office and what that means for Sharp and our channel partners.
Bob: I now hear the “smart office” idea a lot, but what does that mean to you in this context?
John: Overall it means helping advance the technology in offices to better leverage information flow. This can include notebook PCs, scanning/imaging and printing via MFPs, and visually with advanced displays and digital signage. A smart office can also mean an office using IoT to better managed meeting space, power, cooling and security. For Sharp, it’s an exciting area as we have the ability to drive innovation through connecting Sharp engineered product, the new Dynabook (formerly Toshiba) notebook PCs and Foxconn’s deep set of offerings that include everything from smart software platforms to network devices, and so much more.
Bob: Are most dealers thinking the same way? Is this a priority?
John: The majority are not, but it is on us to make them want to take this next step. Admittedly, often the “non-traditional” dealer channel is sometimes more open and receptive than a pure “copier dealer” can be. The more progressive dealers, however, see that changing customer demands and technology means they need to evolve – and many are well down the path already. I feel it is Sharp’s responsibility to educate and show the available revenue opportunities, as many dealers have already created a profitable business model in MFPs, IT, managed print services (MPS) and managed network services (MNS). I know I would be reluctant to invest in something new unless I saw the true potential. I feel we are close to showing the market how successful this initiative can be.
Bob: What challenges do you see the dealer community facing that Sharp can help with?
John: As mentioned we (Sharp) need to back up and support the vision. This means investing with dealers in smart office initiatives as well as training and education on the many ways to sell and create aftermarket revenues. I see this as a challenge for some dealers as they will need to pull back some of the day-to-day profitable business and invest time and effort in what can be called a “start up” division within their organization. Sharp can also assist in recruiting new hires that may have more of an “IT” background to support this investment.
Bob: Okay, so there are major moves within the MFP channel. Sharp also has deep relationships with the AV distribution channel. What’s top of mind for you with those partners?
John: Yes, the AV distribution partners and the resellers they support represent a channel just as diverse and active as the MFP channel. For Sharp, our goal is to really drive focus where we are best positioned. This means concentrating on the emerging application of 8K technology, where Sharp, Foxconn and our partners can provide a full ecosystem for the market. On top of that we still feel we offer the most capable interactive whiteboards with our AQUOS BOARD® interactive display technology, which continues to see adoption in education, board rooms and anywhere collaboration is needed. Sharp also will continue to work with our partners to drive big video. We’ve always had a reputation for excellent large-screen technology, and we are seeing more interest for video walls as well.
Bob: Those are great areas, but one really jumps out, especially after the conversations we were all having at CES 2019 in January, and that is 8K. Where do you see 8K technology getting traction?
John: We know that 8K won’t be driven by content just yet. Anticipated 8K broadcast of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo will certainly stir interest, but today the content is in slow development. However, based on the incredible realism of the technology, we think this transition will be inevitable. And like most, the first applications will be for users and applications that want to ensure future compatibility.
Bob: You mean as people working with 4K realize that their work could be obsolete as the demand for 8K arises?
John: Yes. In fact, one piece of technology we are excited about is the quality that we see when we upscale our content from 4K to 8K – the newer technology has gorgeous images and video with current content. As we go forward and more and more applications that can exploit the high resolution of 8K as well as 5G come along, I think our partners and end user customers are going to see a whole range of opportunities to use 8K, likely led with medical and security applications, amongst others.
Bob: When it comes to working with the channel on these opportunities, what will Sharp do to help focus in on 8K and the other areas you mentioned?
John: While we will continue to offer a broad portfolio in displays – and adding desktop monitors – we are going to focus more of our efforts toward these emerging opportunities. Some manufacturers have moved away from Full HD/2Kcompletely, but we have not abandoned that space. We will move our programs and efforts to newer technologies.
Bob: Clearly there’s plenty for the channel to work with us on and be excited about for 2019, and certainly plenty for Sharp to do and deliver on as well. So with all of this as a background, if I forced you to choose, what has you the most excited about 2019?
John: Certainly it’s hard to pick just one area. But the team is extremely excited that despite a tough MFP market and very competitive display market, we are very well positioned. We are the only MFP vendor who has demonstrated four consecutive quarters of market share growth, and we only see that continuing. And with attention-grabbing full solutions around 8K, its clear Sharp has gained a new focus on video innovation.
Bob: Other than technology, is anything else driving your obvious optimism?
John: I am excited about the people in our industry. Within Sharp I get to lead an experienced team of regional leaders who are willing to embrace the change our industry is going through. And I feel that across our channels, our relationship with key dealers, distributors and partners is good, but we need to make it stronger. At the end of the day, the strong relationships will carry most of this advancement. Our goal is to continue to strengthen ALL of the relations across channels.
Bob: Well, it’s hard not to get excited with that level of optimism. I’m pretty darn excited (if also a tad nervous!) that I have somehow cajoled you into becoming more active on social media. Should we expect that will last past January? Where can people find you online?
John: Of course I am on LinkedIn (here), but I have jumped back on Twitter (here) after a long break. My goal is to add a little bit of “work” information to my Twitter feeds since everything prior was mostly sports, pet peeves and random useless comments. I was young, what can I say.
Bob: Well, we can agree you’re not young anymore, so here’s hoping you've hit social media maturity. And, since I see we may now regress to our airport lounge banter, I will thank you for allowing me to pester you here and elsewhere about our channel needs. And I look forward to a social media steel cage match! (I'm here on Twitter, BTW.) Hey, maybe the winner gets the bigger office?
John: Lets end this now.
Well, I hope that helped explain what John is thinking as he rolls out channel strategies and plans for 2019, and where the focus will be for Sharp’s growth and differentiation. It’s been a wild couple month roller coaster filled with learning, jokes, airports, one liners, dealer visits, baggage claim areas and snarky commentary.
Frankly, I hope the rest of 2019 is just as fun. (But, maybe with a few less airports.)