IT Distributors – Box Shifters, or Value Additions?

This week I was given the opportunity to speak at the GFI Max Distributor Conference in Dundee, Scotland – presenting to a large group of IT Distributors from across Europe. My presentation was given from the perspective of IT Companies and MSP’s, with the goal of helping Distributors understand the challenges these companies face and the opportunities Distibutors (or Disti’s, as we typically refer to them as) have to build relationships with them.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that my experiences with Disti’s in the UK has been far from a positive one. As the former owner of a small Managed Service Provider, Distributors typically weren’t interested in building a strong win/win relationship with my company – the volume of sales we put their way simply wasn’t high enough, and they offered scant support to help us grow our business. To us they were simply Middle-Men who added nothing in value to our business.

There were, of course, exceptions – we had superb Account Managers at a couple of UK Distributors who we subsequently did lots of business with and recommended to others – but we always remained envious of our peers in the United States who seemed to enjoy strong relationships with the larger Disti’s – working much closer together to add value to the relationship for mutual gain. Overall, I’d often publically refer to the larger UK Distributors are nothing more than “Box Shifters”.

Well, I certainly had my eyes opened to what is possible from the Distributor/IT Company relationship this week in Dundee! It was fascinating to speak to Disti after Disti who talked less about product sales, and more about how they added value – working to help smaller IT companies to grow their business. Of course, volume of sales will always be important, but it’s logical that by Disti’s helping IT companies grow their businesses, it will naturally result in more sales volume. It’s a Win/Win situation.

I had the opportunity to meet Chris Walsh and Phil Barrow of UK based Exclusive Networks. Phil spoke about the steps Exclusive took to help smaller IT companies (especially in the 1-15 employee space) grow their businesses. I learned how Exclusive added value by offering Technical Support, marketing advice and even Consulting resources. Exclusive were not alone in taking this view towards helping their customers, IT Companies.

One man who took me to task on my attitude of Disti’s as “Box Shifters” was Rick Hebly of Dutch based Portland Europe. Portland pride themselves on offering extensive support to smaller IT providers who want to make the move from Break/Fix to Managed Services, and his enthusiasm was clear to see. I took the opportunity to ask Rick about his opinions on camera.

Rick Hebly, Business Development Manager, Portland Europe.

The Conference was an eye-opener to me and I acknowledge the fact that there are clearly a lot of great Disti’s who are committed to helping their customers, smaller IT Support companies, grow their business and not just shift product.

If you’re an IT company dis-satisfied with your Disti relationship, I’d urge you to reach out to your Disti Account Manager to talk about the challenges you are facing and see how they might help you. You may be pleasantly surprised at what they can offer, and if not… I’d be happy to share with you details of a number of alternative Disti’s who’d be happy to step up and help you instead!


Richard Tubb is an Independent Consultant who works with IT companies to enable them to feel more in control and to grow their business. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.


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