Improving the relationships of solution providers with midmarket customers, recruiting and retaining top talent and emerging technologies were the topics of conversation at a midmarket-oriented panel discussion at Everything Channel's VARBusiness 500 event in New York City on Tuesday.
Solution providers said that one of the biggest challenges they face is making the sale with a midmarket customer.
"We've had a tremendous problem with getting them to decide what they want to do. We'll sit down and talk with them, and they'll say they want to rebuild their infrastructure and do this and this over 18 months," said John Azzinaro, president of Kenilworth, N.J.-based solution provider NetTech. Once his company has presented a proposal, customers often begin to dissect it to cut costs. "Then you get chewed down on the pieces."
While some solution providers said finding the right person to pitch at a midmarket company was a challenge, for Bob Cagnazzi, CEO of Bluewater Communications Group, New York City, said problems can arise from trying to pin down busy people. "You're more likely to get the right audience in a midmarket client -- the business decision makers and folks in IT than you would at a large enterprise -- the issue is that they tend to wear a lot of hats, and the organizations, in my experiences, they don't have processes and a methodology in place," he said.
Becoming a trusted IT advisor is still the holy grail of the solution provider business, they said.
"Eighty percent of our business comes from recurring relationships. That's the one thing we nurtured in order to have the trusted relationship. The foundation is trust and they have to understand that you're there to help them do their business rather than plug a solution in. Once you achieve that, you're in," said Mont Phelps, president and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based NWN Corp.
"The thing that we avoid doing is running around with a solution looking for a place to fit it. When you do, you depreciate the whole potential relationship," he said.
And it's the tough times that create stickiness. "You have to have gone at least around the block once. You have to go through difficult times, problems. Everybody is great when things go well. A reputation evolves when the chocolate mousse hits the fan. Tough times doesn't build character, it reveals character. Tough times reveal the values that you have within the company and what you do," Phelps said.
Vendor support could be improved, according to Mike Thompson, president and CEO of Groupware, Campbell, Calif.
"We could always use more support -- for training and certifications I think that's available. Not as much from actually driving demand generation? I'd rather have them invest in me," said Thompson.
Howard Stone, corporate vendor relations manager of Mindshift Technologies, Commack, N.Y., echoed Tompson's sentiment.
"It makes the most sense in terms of letting vendors invest in us to do the marketing as we're doing it If you think about yourself as the customer -- what are you looking for if an IT vendor came to you? You'd care for the most part what hardware and software they're selling, but you have a particular problem or set of issues you're looking to them to help you solve. [Vendors] are trying to sell their project, we're trying to sell a solution and it's sort of a mismatch," Stone said.
"Our job in defining what the solutions are is to pick the products that meet the customer need," he said.
Phelps agreed. "In the midmarket most of the solutions are multi-vendor therefore most of the advertising and promotional things should be multi-vendor. It's inefficient and not smart."
Solution providers disagreed on whether it was more painful to see top talent recruited away by vendors, competing solution providers or customers, but all said that keeping trained employees and finding new, qualified hires was a challenge.
The threats of outsourcing and low female participation in the industry were cited as possible reasons why recent graduates aren't turning to IT careers. To combat that trend, Lewis Johnson, president of Siwel Consulting, New York City, said his company is turning to hiring older candidates.
"We've had great luck with mid-range people. They work harder. They want to work. They're also more amenable. You may not find them with the skill set you want, but you can invest in them and I think that investment is more valuable," said Johnson.