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On The Record With Robert Cohen and Autoesk's Senior Manager, Market Development, Tom Kopinski

Wednesday, April 07, 2010 | Category :
    • In the News

In an industry that has far too few seasoned executives, it was a pleasure to catch up with Tom Kopinski, a 20+ year IT channel veteran who is currently on his second stint with Autodesk.


Robert: What is the biggest challenge facing resellers in today's world?

Tom: Change initiatives have become a constant event in most companies today. VARs need to move from a transactional model to a solutions model where they help customers to manage change and solve business problems.

Robert: As the world leader in computer-aided design (CAD) and the 5th largest software company in the world, how are you helping VARs to make the transition?

Tom: Although Autodesk is one of the leading software suppliers to the design, engineering and entertainment communities, we operate in very competitive market environments in the different industries we serve. Since pioneering computer aided design more than 25 years ago with AutoCAD, we've focused on supplying software to help companies design in better ways. By extension, our channel also must be focused on empowering our customers to solve business and design challenges for competitive advantage.

To help our VARs make the transition, we first needed to change the mindset of our top internal sales personnel and our top channel partners. Our traditional approach of presentation based sales training to push a new sales strategy forward was not going to do the job during one of the worst economic times in recent history. So we took a chance on a customized business simulation program that gave our resellers greater confidence to have business conversations, not just engineering conversations. Solving the engineering problems does translate into business benefit. It's about not settling for the tactical share of a customer's budget.

Robert: Is this working and can you explain the process?

Tom: It is working great. The objective was to transform our sales channel by having them define the value of Autodesk through business results rather than the feature sets and go beyond the end user within the company. We needed our 1,700 VAR partners who accrue 90% of our sales, to sell higher within an organization. The simulation is to help them to look at business opportunities and solutions.

Robert: So, let the games begin.

Tom: Working with BTS, the world leader in business simulations, we begin by putting our sales force and VARs "in the shoes" of a CEO of a fictitious industrial machinery manufacturing company. This allowed them to meet with the senior leaders of the fictitious company and wrestle with the decisions these executives must make. The VARs get to see what it is like to be a new CEO for a manufacturing company. They have to establish an annual budget, think about revenue, growth, SGA, cash flow, strategic initiatives, etc.

Then it starts to get exciting when: events are presented to them that were not anticipated and staff come to them with problems, and choices have to be made.

Each team gets a score based on profit growth that they can compare to other teams. They really get to see what it is like to run a small manufacturing company. This simulation gives our channel partners first hand experience with the mindset of C-level people and a better understanding of how to sell business solutions.

After running the company, the participants switch roles so that they are now the sales person calling on the company and the executives they previously managed when acting as the CEO.

Participants increase their confidence, competence and mindset by creating an easy to use model to expand "the sale" through an initial customer contact through the series of role playing scenarios. Thus far, more than 500 VAR sales reps have gone through the simulation since March 2009, spanning 12 countries and 8 different languages.

Robert: Was the simulation a success?

Tom: So far the results are very impressive. Based on pre- and post- surveys, 40-85% of the VARs who went though the program felt comfortable with the new approach and accompanying terminology and the number of sales personnel and VARs who called on directors or higher in customer firms has increased 27-45%. We are now expanding the program.

Robert: What's life like working for a 30 year old software publisher with $1.7 billion in sales and a virtual monopoly in its core area and yet is not very well known or understood by the IT channel?

Tom: In the manufacturing product design and development market , there is a crowded field of competitors, and we still have a long way to grow. For example, in December 2009, IDC reported Autodesk held 13.8% of the 2008 worldwide core product lifecycle management market. In that same report, IDC wrote that "Autodesk is uniquely positioned for large multimillion-dollar customers and also for small manufacturers seeking to achieve affordable innovation."

Most SMB manufacturing companies spend an average of 2  3% of their revenue on IT. Yet, for our type of design and engineering tools, the expenditure is often only a fraction of that average. End users will spend a lot on an ERP solution but are hesitant to make the same level of investment in tools that will directly help them in the area of product design..

This means that there is a lot of room for our industry to grow ... and a multitude of opportunities for our VAR partners. But, to take advantage of these opportunities, resellers must properly address what engineering solutions will mean to their customer's top and bottom line. Historically, most CAD resellers are more comfortable talking to an engineer about features then they are talking to a C-Level person about business solutions and results.

Nearly 90% of our sales are through the channel. Our success and our partners' success will increase when we become better at working together to sell solutions.

Robert: Are you seeing the results you want?

Tom: We are getting there. We will all be better in the long run. We need to show our partners how it can be done and give them the confidence to know that together we will get there.

Robert: What do you see as the major obstacles currently facing the Channel Advisor part of the IT channel?

Tom: I prefer to call them opportunities! From manufacturing perspective, we have seen a shift in the way customers spend money. Customers are still spending, but they must be more judicious in the way they allocate their time and budgets. There are lots of opportunities out there.

Robert: How does a VAR uncover these opportunities?

Tom: In today's economic climate, the software VARs who will win are those who evolve from a transactional business model to a solutions selling model. If a customer is calling about a transaction, the VAR needs to find out the business reason that is driving the technology need. Asking the customer the right questions can equal a much bigger revenue opportunity.

Robert: Sounds simple. Now how do they do this?

Tom: They have to find out how much of their customer's budget they are getting. The easy way to do this is to take 2% to 3% of their customer's annual revenue. If a purchase is less than 5% it is probably a tactical, not strategic deal.

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