Technology channel companies are rapidly moving from a one-and-done, buy-and-install approach to becoming strategic advisors for SMBs, unlocking significant growth opportunities and paving the way for greater digital agility.

This is according to a Sage report, “Small and medium-sized business demand for digital advisory services fuels IT channel growth”, which surveyed 2 800 technology channel decision-makers globally and revealed a pivot from traditional sales to strategic, advisory-driven relationships. This transition is not only enhancing digital agility among small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) but is also opening up substantial growth avenues for technology resellers.

“In South Africa, resellers consider financial data, analytics technologies, and reporting tools particularly useful for providing advisory services to customers, with 77% endorsing their importance,” says PJ Bishop, vice-president: partners, alliances and accountants: Africa & Middle East, Sage.

“Furthermore, 68% of South African SMBs identify cybersecurity technology as the most critical tool for enhancing digital agility in the channel industry over the next 18 months. This is closely followed by a strong emphasis on AI and automated services (63%) and databases and CRM systems (57%).

“The data clearly positions cybersecurity as a crucial pillar for building digital agility, with the overwhelming majority of South African resellers highlighting its importance.”

From a global perspective, the research highlights that more than half (55%) of technology resellers have shifted their focus toward providing strategic advice and services, aiming to improve SMBs’ ability to swiftly adapt to market shifts, evolving customer demands, and new technological breakthroughs.

Notably, 73% of IT resellers believe SMBs consider investing in digital agility as a high priority, seeing it as a way to drive business growth (29%), enhance competitiveness (24%), and increase efficiency (23%).

“These findings mark a significant shift within the channel industry. The move towards more personalised solutions and stronger customer relationships is revolutionising our support for SMBs,” says Sippora Veen, vice-president: global partner marketing at Sage.

“With the adoption of advanced technologies like AI, and a commitment to building skills, we are better positioned to help SMBs face challenges and thrive in the digital era. This collaboration is essential for fostering innovation and mutual growth. ”

Key findings from the study include:

* Adoption of Innovative Technologies: 54% of channel companies are focusing on driving the adoption of innovative technologies for SMBs to help them become more digitally agile, indicating their focus on ensuring SMBs not only access but effectively utilise technology to enhance responsiveness and competitive edge in a rapidly changing market.

* Digital Agility of SMBs: 54% of SMBs are recognised as ‘fairly digitally agile’ by channel leaders, highlighting their quick adoption of technologies that enhance efficiency and customer experience. Continuous investment in digital tools and training, supported by channel partners, is essential for maximising the benefits of a digital-first approach.

* Critical Technologies: 58% of channel leaders believe that AI and automated services are crucial for fostering digital agility, followed by cyber security solutions (57%) and cloud/SaaS applications (47%). Focusing on these areas can enhance SMB efficiency, security, and scalability.

* Shift to Advisory Roles: Channel leaders are moving into advisory roles to use technology and data analytics for personalised solutions (58%), build stronger customer relationships (55%), and offer unique services to meet changing customer demands (52%). This shift underscores the industry’s focus on innovation and customer-centric strategies.

* Challenges when providing advisory services to SMB customers: Keeping up with fast-paced technological changes is a key challenge for 46% of channel companies. Additionally, 44% face resistance from SMB customers who either don’t see the value in advisory services or prefer traditional sales methods, and 36% struggle with a lack of employees with the right skills. These issues highlight the need for continuous learning, better communication, and investment in skilled talent.

Yet, 90% of channel leaders are confident in SMBs’ ability to achieve digital agility within the next year, reflecting strong optimism for their potential to effectively adopt digital solutions, which presents growth opportunities for channel partners and supports an ecosystem that bolsters SMBs’ digital capabilities and competitiveness.

Sage’s research underscores the importance of deepening collaboration between IT resellers and SMBs to fully harness new technologies and enhance resilience against market changes. By focusing on areas like cyber security, digital transformation, and operational efficiency, IT resellers can boost their growth while helping SMBs navigate these challenges successfully.