PrintIT Reseller spoke to Takaaki Hagiwara, Managing Director OKI Systems UK and Thomas Seeber, Vice President Channel and Distribution EMEA, about the company’s channel partner programme and plans to increase its share of channel business
Two and a half years ago the company launched the Shinrai Partner Programme, its first pan-European partner programme. Shinrai is a Japanese term meaning trust and loyalty and embodies the way OKI works with its partners and customers. The firm says that its success is dependent on the success of its partners and that is the philosophy behind the Shinrai Partner Programme, which has three tiers – Business Partner, Premier Partner and Executive Partner. In addition, OKI has two specialist partner categories – Graphic Arts Specialist and Wide Format Specialist.
Seeber, who is responsible for the operations and growth of the reseller channel and the distribution of hardware and consumables in EMEA, explained that the programme was launched to enable OKI to better support all of its customers and to deliver consistency across all countries.
According to Hagiwara, who joined OKI in 1990 and is responsible for building the company’s position in the business-to-business printer, document output and management markets, while growing relationships with channel and business partners and core business customers across the UK, Ireland and Nordic region, the company’s UK and Ireland channel base comprises around 100 partners who are managed by OKI’s field sales division.
Nine months ago the firm also created a telephone account management structure (TAM) in fifteen countries. In the UK, there are between 100 and 200 reseller accounts who are looked after by TAMs.
As part of its strategy to increase its share of channel business and appoint new partners, this team is also charged with calling dealers to explain OKI’s offer and how it can help them win new business, with the end goal of getting them on board.
“The TAMs are a relatively new introduction for OKI UK,” Hagiwara said.
“What we are trying to do with this approach is engage with more channel partners by telephone and this team has a brief to recruit new dealers to join us as an OKI business partner.”
“The important thing here is that we’re providing local support to resellers, so when a UK dealer calls, they get to talk to a specialist in the UK, and if they need additional support, then one of the team will go and visit them,” Seeber added.
“We need to provide different levels of support to resellers, we recognise that those operating in the traditional printer/copier space have different needs to IT resellers for example,” Seeber explained, adding: “It’s important that we have both field sales and telephone-based sales teams in place to serve our channel customers.”
“We want the dealer sales team to increase our share of channel,” Hagiwara said. “We need a mix of distributors and VARs with a broader channel base.”
OKI’s range caters to different segments. “We have a new product range for the e-commerce market and a subset of products with different specifications to enable us to give margin back to the face to face channel,” Seeber said. At present, OKI has approximately ten e-commerce partners. “We cannot ignore the online channels, but we now need to develop the classical channel,” he added.
OKI printers are available through Midwich, Exertis and Northamber and consumables are sold through Beta, VOW and Westcoast. Seeber hinted that a new distribution deal was in the pipeline. “We also have a yearly promotional planner, that’s important to have in distribution, and the offers are available exclusively to OKI partners,” he said.
Seeber explained that the company has a bespoke rebate scheme that recognises hardware and software sales in place for partners. “Not just within the copier channel but also within the classical channel,” he said.
“We are not a mass vendor. Our approach is to work with partners, and show them how they can do more business and secure more margin with our products,” he said. “Dealers that sign up as Business Partners are not set rebate targets but have access to exclusive OKI offers. We aim to grow our share within that partner to upgrade them to Premium status,” he added.
Hagiwara said that whilst OKI is looking to increase the number of business partners it currently has, its focus is on quality not quantity. “The UK channel is polarised,” he said. “We have a good presence with direct market resellers who take online and telephone orders directly from end users and whilst this transactional business is important, we are heavily focussed now on building our VAR channel.”
The company has recently appointed a new Head of Sales, Dylan Haworth who has joined from Brother. “Dylan is charged with business development across the board – graphic arts, wide format, dealer and end-user,” he said.
Hagiwara pointed out that OKI does not conduct direct business. “The challenge [for Haworth] is to develop the channel and in particular he will focus on winning new business that we will fulfil through the channel.”
OKI is targeting double-digit growth in the next financial year. Hagiwara sees the key drivers for growth coming from the traditional office print market, solutions, graphics arts/print on demand sector and wide format.
“With our new Smart Solutions, OKI partners can add more value to their customers. Our new range of colour printers and MFPs has been designed to transform the way printers are used within businesses of every size and opens up new market possibilities for our partners,” he said.
The new portfolio is designed to change perceptions of what a printer can do for businesses and organisations. Through both face to face and web-based channels, OKI says it will educate and encourage end-users to take a fresh look at the potential of these affordable devices to help them build their brand, save time and money and enhance productivity.
Solutions for every industry
“Our products are easy to use, that’s our key strength,” Hagiwara said. “They can also help develop a streamlined and secure document workflow and management, enabling businesses to enjoy the benefits of a digital organisation.”
OKI’s open platform, sXP, allows for connectivity to other solutions, for example to an existing pull printing fleet or to third-party software applications for example PaperCut, Drivve Image, Ringdale FollowMe or YSOFT SafeQ. A software development kit is also available for software developers allowing a rapid development of tailor-made solutions.
Hagiwara argues that OKI’s free embedded solution, proprietary software SENDYS Explorer provides partners with a competitive edge. “It enables businesses and organisations to capture, convert to searchable formats, distribute, upload to cloud solutions and print documents across a whole range of departments and industries for example in healthcare, retail and in office printing, while its optional Output Manager connector allows administrators to manage all users’ print, copy and scan jobs, as well as protecting document confidentiality,” he said.
Developing new solutions and driving channel sales in this area is very much front of mind for OKI. “This forms part of revenue recognition, we count solutions sales to give more rebate to our partners,” he added.
In conclusion Hagiwara said: “Our key message is that we are empowering business to make a big impression. We are giving the traditional channel the power to add value over the online operators. We can offer them a value-added solution, apps can be plugged in, they can tap into OKI’s MPS programme and we can tailor solutions for each customers’ needs – all of that adds value.”.