An Inside Look At Ingram Micro's Solution Center11:56 AM EST Fri. May. 30, 2008
Back To School For Everything Channel
Ingram Micro has two Solution Centers, one in Santa Ana, Calif. and the other in Buffalo, N.Y., where solution providers can either come to learn about new products or programs from the distributor or its vendors, or bring in clients to either demo new products or test possible configurations before placing an order.
On this day, however, the "students" were editors and managers from Everything Channel. In addition to this ChannelWeb reporter, students included, from left to right, Larry Hooper, vice president and editor of ChannelWeb; Edward Moltzen, managing editor for the Everything Channel Test Center; and Robert DeMarzo, senior vice president and editorial director of Everything Channel.
Believe it or not, this was not a posed photo.
Keeping It Simple
The Santa Ana Solution Center has classrooms that can fit up to 50 solution providers, who either come in for training or to bring clients to explore different solutions, said Kara Stewart, program manager for the Solution Center.
Stewart said that many of the products that Ingram Micro sells are hooked up and running in the Solution Center. "Everything we have here is working," she said. "No manikins."
Once a solution provider visits the Solution Center, there is a good chance that he or she will be back, Stewart said. "Once our solution providers hear about it, they want to come often," she said. "Some come almost every day."
Notice the simple PowerPoint slide next to Stewart. Could it be that someone finally got the message that reporters and editors hate sitting through complicated PowerPoint presentations?
Helping Solution Providers Close The Sale
Ingram Micro has dedicated a number of engineers to work specifically with the Solution Center, including Akbar Sibtain Fazli, who specializes in products from Hewlett-Packard, Palo Alto, Calif.
Fazli is a long-term Ingram Micro engineer who in the past couple of years transitioned to working specifically with HP products after HP asked Ingram Micro to have an HP specialist in the Solution Center. HP even helped support the project.
Customers usually come in to visit the Solution Center with their solution providers late in the sales process, Fazli said. "It's after they've seen the [solution providers'] PowerPoints," he said.
OK, so not everyone hates sitting through PowerPoint presentations. . . .
Digital Home: What Works, What Doesn't
Customers and their solution providers typically come in for particular solutions aimed at particular business agendas, said Marko Rogan, a Solution Center engineer who works with multiple vendors' products.
"We show them what solutions are available," Rogan said, standing in Ingram Micro's digital home show room. "And we show what technology is half-baked. We are sort of like an insurance policy. We show them what works, and what might not work."
Unlike vendor-specific showrooms, which focus on the vendor's own products, the Ingram Micro Solution Center is vendor-neutral, Rogan said. "We show the benefits, the great things," he said. "But we also show the gottchas. For example, the videoconferencing market is exploding with the rise in gas prices. But customers often have network issues that need to be resolved first."
Getting Our Butts Kicked
ChannelWeb editors thought they were being seated on a comfortable couch in Ingram Micro's digital home room until the couch started shaking and rumbling in syncopation with dinosaur attacks from the 2005 remake of the "King Kong" movie. Stewart said they were experiencing a demo of the ButtKicker, from The Guitammer Company, located in Westerville, Ohio.
The ButtKicker installs under a chair or sofa and features a low-frequency vibration in response to the bass sounds of musical recordings and movies to add realism to the listening and watching experience.
"One reseller brought a customer in, and the next day he ran out and bought a ButtKicker," she said.
More Than One Bargains For
Customers who visit the Solution Center with their solution providers often end up with more than they expected, said Shirley Lee, group marketing manager for sales programs and the Solution Center.
"We often have a customer come in to look at one solution," Lee said. "But it's almost like a kid coming into a candy store. Our engineers don't work on commission. But they often help customers see other solutions."
Rogan is demonstrating the latest VoIP equipment from Cisco Systems, located in San Jose, Calif., including its Unified Communications 500 series of products for small businesses which offer the ability to be configured for up to eight, 16, 32, or 48 users.
Fazli shows off his corner of the world: a few racks full of HP servers and storage, including the "Shorty" compact HP BladeSystem c3000 blade server chassis.
Fazli said that local solution providers often bring several people in at once for training. However, for those solution providers who live some distance from either Santa Ana or Buffalo, he visits them on-site, taking Shorty along in a special crate built by HP.
Ingram Micro's Solution Center is mainly aimed at midrange server, blade, and storage solutions focused on products from such vendors as HP, IBM and EMC, said Scott Look, vice president of infrastructure technology solutions at Ingram Micro.
Ingram Micro is in a real big education push around building solutions based on those products and related technologies like virtualization, Look said.
Ingram Micro is also currently developing new financial programs for solution providers to provide credit by working with the credit arms of its vendor partners, and is training its field sales reps to be able to talk to C-level customer executives about financing opportunities, Look said. "We want a cradle-to-grave program so our resellers don't have to invest so much time in developing their solutions," he said.
A lot of midmarket partners today are unfortunately still selling products, Look said. "We're helping them move more into solutions," he said. "For example, some partners sell storage, but not effectively. We want to help them be more storage-centric. Our goal is to enable partners to go in and focus on that storage component to create a storage practice in addition to their server practice."