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
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
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
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
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
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?
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.