Breaking Out of the Reseller Mold

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Sean Burns is vice president of Business Development at Ahead, the #2-ranked company on CRN’s Fast Growth 2011 list.

In the reseller world, it’s common for a VAR or system integrator to talk about being an IT solution provider but uncommon to actually put your money where your mouth is. That, however, is how Ahead has operated since opening our doors in 2007. It’s also how our revenue jumped from $3 million to $121 million – including services as well as products – in just four years.

From the beginning, our goal was to build a company around what the client needed – not around the usual product silos. That led us to four decisions that have proved to be the engine that fueled our growth as a true IT solution provider.

1. Establishing an organizational structure where the sales and engineering teams are all cross-trained. Instead of dedicated storage, server and network specialists, for example, we have account managers who address all of a client’s data center needs.

2. Agreeing to focus on the next-generation data center and ride the perfect storm of virtualization, storage and cloud technologies that we saw emerging as we were assembling our business plan.

3. Committing ourselves to being vendor-independent, so that we could match the client to the technology. As a result, we sell a variety of best-of-breed solutions for virtualization, storage, servers, network infrastructure and so on.

4. Hiring the talent to deliver consulting, product procurement and implementation services under one roof to provide a seamless experience for clients – and, of course, build our revenue in the process.

Ultimately, we confer with prospective clients to determine their business requirements and deliver a road map with concrete recommendations for the next 24 to 36 months. The document is written to help CIOs justify the suggested investment to their CFOs and other stakeholders from an infrastructure, business and financial perspective. That not only helps get projects off the ground but also keeps clients coming back for more.

We may start with a server virtualization project, move to desktop virtualization, upgrade the entire data center infrastructure, set up a disaster recovery data center, and keep on going. We don’t have to sell follow-on engagements – they fall into place because of the foundation we build from our first encounter with a client.

Ours isn’t the only reseller path to growth, but it’s the one we’ve followed. And – if you’ll excuse the pun – for us, it’s been the secret to getting Ahead.

Next week, Sean Burns talks about how investing in his business by adding an IT lab resulted in a increased revenue.

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