Inspire 2022: The “New VAR” is Here, and They’ve Brought Software

By: Jim Roddy, President & CEO at the RSPA

The state of industry events in early 2022 is similar to the state of retail shops in May 2020. Back then stores had to declare “WE’RE OPEN!” while shows and conferences today announce during the days leading up to the event “WE’RE STILL ON!” I’m thrilled to report to you that Inspire 2022, the RSPA’s annual leadership conference, drew a sizeable crowd of executives and future leaders to the Wyndham Grand in Clearwater Beach, FL, Jan. 23-26.

The 160+ attendees were comparable to numbers recorded at past Inspire conferences, a huge difference compared to NRF and CES which each experienced a reported 75-80% decline in attendance this year. Digging into the Inspire 2022 numbers we see:

  • A quarter of the attendees were first-timers, many of them the next generation, 30-something VAR and ISV leaders
  • More VARs attended this year’s event than the last Inspire (Bahamas 2020), a strong sign the reseller community is poised to move forward in 2022
  • Inspire attracted a record number of ISVs this year despite the COVID headwinds

Honestly, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to report separate VAR and ISV numbers from Inspire or RetailNOW, the retail IT channel’s summer trade show. No, the RSPA isn’t planning to withhold that information; it’s just getting more difficult every quarter to distinguish one business model from the other. Many of the resellers who have attended Inspire for years/decades recently developed (or acquired) their own software intellectual property, and many of the first-time attendees have from their inception built a solution around their proprietary software.

During Day 1 of Inspire, I shared on the main stage that RSPA has labeled these software-focused orgs DISDs: Direct Independent Software Developers. But calling them “New VARs” would be accurate, too. They operate like a VAR, focusing on a niche market, building a bundle of hardware, software, and services, and selling directly to merchants. Back in the day, an SMB IT solution provider had to choose to be a reseller or software developer. There just weren’t enough resources – in terms of labor, expertise, or cash – to be both. But since the hurdles to develop software have lowered dramatically, now an SMB can be both a VAR and ISV. Hence the birth of the DISD.

I predict over the next 5-10 years we will witness a significant rise in the number of DISDs in our channel, each serving a niche through the creation of a narrowly-focused software or app. The number of traditional VARs will shrink slightly through consolidation, retirement, or they’ll transform into ISV/VAR Hybrids like many have already. But VARs won’t disappear and DISDs won’t threaten resellers. They will peacefully coexist and partner at the center of the retail IT channel, serving merchants in their own unique manner.

The “New VAR” is here and here to stay.

Brattland’s Best Sales Advice for VARs and ISVs
For years VARs and ISVs have raved to me about talks by Dan Brattland, the President of COCARD. Before Tuesday, I had never seen Brattland present in person (our speaking schedules always seemed to conflict), and he did not disappoint.

Visit the RSPA Solution Center – a web platform designed to connect VARs and ISVs to providers of innovative solutions

With just 15 minutes remaining in Brattland’s hour-and-a-half workshop titled “VAR/ISV Sales and Customer Strategies for 2022 and Beyond,” I looked around the room and all eyes were still focused on the stage. (Well, I guess technically all eyes except mine because I was looking around the room but that’s not important right now.) No one was scrolling on their phone, no one was clicking a laptop keyboard. I’ve seen speakers lose a crowd two minutes into a talk, and here was a guy still wowing them 75 minutes in. Here are three of Brattland’s top observations from his Inspire workshop:

  • “Most businesses don’t change until they’re forced to change.”
  • “The biggest opportunity in your business is hiring someone to just schedule demos. That lets your salespeople do only presenting and closing. That changed our business. I call this ‘assembly line selling.’ Stop looking for superstars and start hiring specialists.”
  • “When selling, use ‘tie downs’ after each feature: Ask ‘Does that make sense?’, ‘Are you with me on this?’ and ‘Can you see how …?’”

ISV Challenges & Opportunities
In response to the channel’s increased focus on software developers, Inspire featured a Day 2 panel titled “Assessing ISV Challenges & Opportunities.” Moderator Mike Monocello of DevPro Journal quizzed Nadav Solomon, Co-Founder and President at ISV Tabit; Paul Leduc, President of VAR Globe POS Systems and ISV Bullfrog Technologies; and Joe Finizio, Vice President of Sales at ISV LINGA, for 45 minutes. Among their top observations:

  • “If you had a plan two years ago, it’s essentially of no value today. We have to reorient again. Whether it’s a (software) development plan or go-to-market plan, you have to change it. COVID forced us to think differently from the sales cycle to the support cycle to the solution.” Leduc
  • “The biggest threat is not knowing you can grow your business because you’re not focusing on your customers and their opportunities. Our business doubled last year because we took an agile approach – fail fast and figure out what works by listening to the customer and keeping in touch with them.” Finizio
  • “The way our employees looked at life and fulfillment changed during COVID. For us as leaders, we need to come up with creative ways to embrace that. We cannot change them.” Solomon
  • “Programmers are the hardest. We have a programmer who likes to start working at 7:00 PM and then work all night. We have to provide an environment that’s more flexible – it can’t be 9-to-5 in the office. We tell them, ‘We will let you work the way you want to work.’” Leduc
  • “We offer incentives to employees for hiring – the newest iPhone, a free vacation. After our employees are with us for a year, they’re comfortable recruiting their friends to join our team.” Solomon
  • “It should cost you about $500 per converted lead. If it costs you more than that, you’re doing it wrong. Leverage your digital assets like your website and Instagram, and then understand your conversion rates using a digital marketing platform and your CRM system.” Finizio
  • “The good thing about restaurant owners is they like to share. We asked our customers to bring us five more restaurants as prospects, and they were happy to do that. We have 47% market share in Israel and displaced many of the big providers without hiring one salesperson.” Solomon
  • “Data is critical if restaurants want to survive. We view data in three parts: data, information, and insights. We handle the data and provide the restaurant operator with the insights.” Solomon

More Diversity, But Our Channel Still Needs More Diversity
RSPA Board Chair Jeremy Julian noted that the speakers kicking off Inspire on Day 1 were all females under the age of 40, a first for not just Inspire but for perhaps any channel event. Heck, there was a time you couldn’t find three women in the audience for a retail IT channel presentation. On my shelf is a yearbook about the history of the ICRDA (Independent Cash Register Dealers Association), the forerunner to the RSPA, and one of the first photos is a group shot of an event from 1949. In the shot are 46 people, all men.

This week the main stage at Inspire featured Chelsey Paulson of Keystone Group International (“Your Strategic Playbook for Growth and Execution”) and Brianna Moriarty of Star Micronics and Allie Haskell of ISV/VAR Hybrid CBS NorthStar (“Tomorrow’s Channel Leaders & Customer”) on Day 1 and Linda Sudderth of Epson (“Insights for Building a Successful VAR Channel”) on Day 2. There’s still plenty of room for increased diversity – which results in different perspectives and more creative ideas – but Inspire 2022 was a step forward. Kudos to the RSPA W2W Community for driving more diversity in our industry.

RetailNOW 2022: WE’RE STILL ON!
Before the sun set on Inspire, the RSPA opened registration for RetailNOW 2022, July 24-26 at the Gaylord Palms near Orlando. RetailNOW 2021 attracted 230+ ISVs and 38% more VARs than the prior show, and we’re already seeing increased excitement for 2022. Follow this link to check out RetailNOW’s new website and to take advantage of the show’s early bird registration discounts and sponsorship opportunities.

Don’t forget to visit the RSPA Solution Center – a web platform designed to connect VARs and ISVs to providers of innovative solutions

Jim Roddy is the President & CEO of the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA). He has been active in the retail IT channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as an RSPA board member, one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board, and several years as a business coach for VARs, ISVs, and MSPs. Jim has been recognized as one of the world’s Top 100 Retail Influencers by RETHINK Retail, a Leading CannaTech Influencer by 420MSP, and is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences on SMB best practices. He is author of two books – The Walk-On Method To Career & Business Success and Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer – and is host of the award-winning RSPA Trusted Advisor podcast. For more information, contact