Talking Shop With VAR 500 Execs

Solution providers said that one of the biggest challenges they face is making the sale with a midmarket customer.

"We've had a tremendous problem with getting them to decide what they want to do. We'll sit down and talk with them, and they'll say they want to rebuild their infrastructure and do this and this over 18 months," said John Azzinaro, president of Kenilworth, N.J.-based solution provider NetTech. Once his company has presented a proposal, Azzinaro said, customers often begin to dissect it to cut costs.

While some solution providers said finding the right person to pitch at a midmarket company was a challenge, for Bob Cagnazzi, CEO of BlueWater Communications Group, New York City, said problems can arise from trying to pin down busy people.

"You're more likely to get the right audience in a midmarket client--the business decision makers and folks in IT than you would at a large enterprise--the issue is that they tend to wear a lot of hats, and the organizations, in my experiences, they don't have processes and a methodology in place," Cagnazzi said.

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Becoming a trusted IT advisor is still the holy grail of the solution provider business, they said.

"Eighty percent of our business comes from recurring relationships," said Mont Phelps, president and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based NWN Corp. "... The foundation is trust and they have to understand that you're there to help them do their business rather than plug a solution in. ..."

And it's the tough times that create stickiness. "You have to have gone at least around the block once. ... Tough times reveal the values that you have within the company and what you do," Phelps said.

Vendor support could be improved, according to Mike Thompson, president and CEO of Groupware Technology Inc., Campbell, Calif.

"We could always use more support. ... Not as much from actually driving demand generation? I'd rather have them invest in me," Thompson said.

Howard Stone, corporate vendor relations manager of Mindshift Technologies Inc., Commack, N.Y., echoed Thompson's sentiment.

"It makes the most sense in terms of letting vendors invest in us to do the marketing as we're doing it. If you think about yourself as the customer--what are you looking for if an IT vendor came to you? ...[Vendors] are trying to sell their project, we're trying to sell a solution and it's sort of a mismatch," Stone said.

"Our job in defining what the solutions are is to pick the products that meet the customer need," he added.

Phelps agreed. "In the midmarket most of the solutions are multivendor, therefore most of the advertising and promotional things should be multivendor. It's inefficient and not smart."

Solution providers disagreed on whether it was more painful to see top talent recruited away by vendors, competing solution providers or customers, but all said that keeping trained employees and finding new, qualified hires was a challenge.

The threats of outsourcing and low female participation in the industry were cited as possible reasons why recent graduates aren't turning to IT careers. To combat that trend, Lewis Johnson, president of Siwel Consulting Inc., New York City, said his company is turning to hiring older candidates.

"We've had great luck with mid-range people. They work harder. They want to work. They're also more amenable. You may not find them with the skill set you want, but you can invest in them and I think that investment is more valuable," Johnson said.

VoIP and unified communications are growing in popularity, but virtualization was the emerging technology that all solution providers need to be selling now, solution providers agreed.