Solution providers should be sharpening their focus on specific vertical markets, increasing their marketing investments and determining their cloud strategy to stay competitive in 2011 and beyond, said Tiffani Bova, vice president of research at Gartner, during a general session at XChange Solution Provider Monday.
Bova gave seven recommendations to the audience of several hundred solution providers: attack specific vertical markets, invest in new sales talent, rationalize unprofitable business and clients, develop sustainable differentiation, determine a cloud strategy, don't let vendors determine your company's growth, and devote resources toward marketing.
She stressed that the last item is something that few solution providers cover adequately.
"Marketing needs to be a sustained investment. It's not something you should think about on Saturdays when you're playing golf. Without full-time marketing, you're 'kind of pregnant.' At the end, you want to have a baby, but you're still kind of pregnant," she said. "Hire someone going for a degree at a local college. You just need someone to pay attention to it. Overall, you guys get 75 [percent] to 80 percent of your business from existing customers. You rely on vendor leads to give you new customers. Trust me, don't do that. You're the only one who cares enough about your growth."
In many cases, new salespeople could also be plucked right out of college, more specifically business school, Bova said. "[Those people] can have a conversation with customers about their innovation and growth, not someone from your competition that's been selling hardware for the last 15 years."
Meanwhile, VARs looking at embracing a cloud strategy may have to face firing some clients if those customers aren't ready to adopt that technology. "They may want to buy on-premise [solutions] but that's not the business model you want for your future," she said.
Some solution providers may not want to sell cloud services but they're still going to have to transform their business model either way as demand for the cloud explodes over the next several years, said Bova.
"If you choose to do nothing around cloud, you can still be successful. But if you choose not to do anything, you have to get better at what you do today," Bova said.
The reason is that VARs looking at the cloud space are likely to have an advantage because it's the direction customers want to go, she said. Of course, getting there is no small task.
For one, VARs should be building application development expertise, or at least finding a partner who can, to provide the proper connections and integration across the cloud, Bova said.
"If you don't have the capability to do software development, you're not getting into cloud. It's hard to deliver a hybrid cloud without the capability of writing APIs to get to speak to each other or little tools to get databases to communicate with each other," she said. "If you don't have software capabilities today, you will only be able to go so far as being able to develop cloud-based solutions. Try to partner with small software developers to enable cloud business."