When The Customer Speaks...

We recently asked four CIOs of midmarket companies to help solution providers and their vendor partners understand the key issues facing today's IT buyers. The venue was Everything Channel's XChange '08 event in Dallas and while you've always heard the words "the customer" mentioned in passing at these expansive events, truth be told there wasn't always enough attention paid to the real issues facing IT buyersand#8212;until this year. The following CIOs were on hand to share their collective wisdom with several hundred VARs and their vendor partners: John Perrin of Farner-Bocken Co.; Win Hansen of Wilshire Homes; Tom Dunnigan of South Carolina Student Loan Corp. and Niel Nickolaisen of Headwaters.

What did the audience hear? Well, for starters, the midmarket CIOs agreed that even though the U.S. economy is going through a turbulent period they are not pulling back on IT spending. That was a surprise, but all agreed that funding IT projects that could either save their organizations money or help drive incremental revenue were important and not about to be put on the back burner. You will be glad to hear that all of the CIOs said they rely extensively on partners. While they want to hear from the vendors whose products they are using, their main focus has been and will continue to be on selecting the right solution provider organizations to deliver products and services. In fact, many of them have taken cherished and strong-performing partners from previous employers to their current job. That's how much they value a good VAR, and the point was not lost on the vendors who attended.

What the CIOs said they find most offensive is vendors who decide to take an enterprise product and turn it into some magical midmarket solution by disabling features they believe only enterprise customers will use. That is also the reason these IT decision makers don't like talking to partners about products but, rather, about the overall solution. As Nickolaisen is fond of saying, CIOs of midmarket companies do not have enterprise budgets. They are a cost-conscious bunch who must understand the total cost of ownership when it comes to a solution. How much staffing a solution requires and upkeep beyond initial investment are important criteria.

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For the most part, these CIOs were optimistic about the future of their companies and their continued investments in IT. It is not news that they are interested in virtualization, enhancing security or dealing with complex regulatory issues. What is eye-opening, however, is the sheer amount of opportunity that exists in the midmarket. We had four articulate CIOs offer thoughtful inspiration to an audience of several hundred solution providers. Guess what? There are nearly 200,000 such customers out there in the U.S. alone. Any VAR that isn't willing to do his homework and pick up the phone to a midmarket customer is clearly missing an opportunity.

We will have more insight and news on the midmarket as Everything Channel hosts its Midsize Enterprise Summit West Sept. 14-17 in Dallas. Stay tuned and tune in.

What interests you most about the midmarket?
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