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In the Channel Contenders survey, solution providers said their customers request a specific brand 43 percent of the time.
However, solution providers also said they can convince customers to go with an alternative vendor 53 percent of the time after the customer requests a market leader.
That's pretty clear evidence that solution providers offer influencing value to their customers, said CSI Technology Outfitters' Hedrick. "We have studied our solutions well and we're supposed to be the adviser coming to the table to guide them," she said. "They don't have time to study alternatives. Our job is to bring solutions to them. Sometimes something [they don't request] is truly the better solution."
In addition to better prices or margins, solution providers said alternative vendors can also offer more technology innovation than established market leaders. In some cases, those smaller players often end up getting acquired by market leaders down the road, but in many cases that's not until solution providers have helped generate interest in the vendor.
"We keep our eye open for alternatives for innovation. We take a look to see what's coming down the pike. The little guys are a lot more nimble with what they can come up with," Hedrick said.
She cited virtualization as an example. While CSI Technology Outfitters is using technology from VMware, the VAR is also looking at additional solutions.
"We want to match the clients' needs," Hedrick said. "They request [a brand] pretty often. Sometimes we can convince them otherwise, especially if we're not familiar with their brand. But sometimes they've been working with a solution for a long time.
They've got enough involved and we would miss out on some market share if we don't [go with their request]."
Of course, not every solution provider is looking for more Channel Contender partners. VARs like Arlin Sorensen, CEO of Heartland Technology Solutions, based in Harlan, Iowa, are looking to pare down the number of vendors they offer in this economy. "We're probably more involved with HP than we've ever been in today's tight economy. We're doing more with fewer key vendors, but the deeper we get with them, the more support, the more marketing investments, the more training they'll make in us," Sorensen said. "We're working hard to consolidate the relationships we have."
But Corinne Sklar, vice president of marketing at Bluewolf, a New York-based solution provider, said looking to provide more options and more technology to customers is a key part of winning business in today's IT landscape.
"Everybody is trying to get deals closed. For sure, there's a sea change happening right now.The status quo, the term 'business as usual,' is going away," Sklar said. "People are opening their minds. They have to look at viable cost-saving options. As cloud-based solutions gain enterprise clients, it's causing CFOs and IT departments to say, 'Just because we've done it this way for the last 10 years doesn't mean we have to continue to do it that way.'"
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