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Skaff and Black took questions from the solution provider audience in the session, which was moderated by Everything Channel Senior Vice President Strategic Content Robert DeMarzo.
Commenting on vendors, Black applauded Cisco's move to focus more aggressively on its core networking router/switch mission. "They took their eye off their core networking business for a while," he said. "I've noticed a very different Cisco." He said he recently cut down on Cisco SmartNet maintenance fees by moving in some cases to provide spare products in the field.
Skaff said he recently stuck with Cisco during a network product evaluation because of "entrenched knowledge" in his technical team. But he noted that the market is shifting. "HP has a compelling set of network solutions," he said.
Among the tips, the two CIOs gave to VAR500 attendees is no cold calls accepted and do your homework before you make a sales pitch.
"Invest the time to understand my business and what my challenges are," said Skaff. "Don't toss random solutions at me and see if they stick against the wall. It has to be specific. It has to be spear fishing versus throwing things at the wall."
As to what are the keys to choosing a VAR from a field of competitors, Skaff said he looks closely at whether partners are "viable" financially and have technical muscle to do the job. He said customer references are key.
Black said he usually does not trust the lowest or the highest bids and relies on his technical managers to evaluate the technical merits of a solution. He said he looks for partners that bring exceptional technical technical talent to a project. "I look for guys that are smarter than my people so my guys can learn," he said.
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