Last month, I had the privilege of being invited to the first Heartland Technology Solutions (HTS) IT Channel Vendor Summit, hosted by SMB partner industry expert and CEO & founder of HTG Peer Groups, Arlin Sorenson. In a clear departure from typical industry events, this one was held at Arlin’s farm outside Harlan, Iowa (also HTS headquarters), amidst soybean & corn fields, and complete with home cooked treats after a day packed with interactive discussions! Around 30 guests from different companies such as Microsoft, Kaseya, HP, Cisco, to name a few, got together to get a firsthand look at the channel from a VAR’s point of view. It was a forum for vendors to learn and take advantage of the candid panel discussions, debates and partner presentations and not merely pitch products. Attendees also got guidance on how to engage effectively and drive more value into their relationship with partners. It was interesting to see how representatives from sales, marketing and product management of industry leading vendors had so much to learn from the group of VARs who were kind enough to share their business practices.
When it comes to building a Managed Services practice, VARs find t that selecting just one or two of the right technology vendors works best. Standardizing on a small set of vendors helps the VAR develop deep relationships with the vendor, become familiar with all the programs offered and become an expert on the systems so that deployments and maintenance become repeatable and efficient. Here are the top three things that VARs look at when selecting a vendor to work with -
1. Solid Products
Small Businesses tend to stick with what is working and do not seek change unless there is an incident/series of incidents, bad service, or an upcoming major project, move or event. Even so, VARs are constantly looking for new developments and typically evaluate new products around two to four times a year. VARs narrow down products that will either help solve a current customer problem or help save them money (by improving efficiencies etc.) However, identifying products that meet a business need is only the first step. The right technical capabilities, high quality, holistic solutions, and ease of use still remain the fundamental tenets of product selection.
2. Profitability Programs
VARs that are serious about their business and want to grow are not afraid to partner with vendors to be in a win-win relationship. VARs are usually more passionate and savvy about the technology than with the logistics of running a business and so sales & marketing support from vendors goes a long way in helping them build awareness and drive business. Go-to-Market enablement in the form of website development, lead generation campaigns, training etc, and sales acceleration / incentive programs that drive the top and bottom line, help the VAR identify vendors who are equally motivated for mutual success. In turn, serious VARs are more than willing to sign up for commitments from the vendor and be held accountable to reach a target.
A great product and attractive sales incentives are compelling reasons for a VAR to consider a vendor for a few customer accounts. However, in order to swing a full book of accounts, the single most important factor is the trust and personal relationship that a vendor takes the time to build with a VAR. VARs are not looking for a person pushing sales programs. They are instead looking for someone who can be trusted to be on the line when dealing with problems at a customer site, someone who can be approached for questions and follow-up, someone who can help the VAR learn the vendor products and programs and how best to use them. Simply put, they are looking for someone who can be their personal spokesperson or advocate. VARs would like the vendor to take the time to know them and their customers, whether it is through periodic check-ins, an occasional visit or meet-ups at common industry events. For example, a vendor who took the time to understand a VAR better would quickly see that money spent on a generic marketing campaign would have been much better spent in helping the VAR host a customer-appreciation lunch or event instead. The investment of time and effort to build a personal connection is key to building long term vendor partnership and loyalty.
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