CRN Fast Growth Execs Highlight Employee Retention, Customer Care

Hot technology trends like cloud computing and virtualization are great for growth, but solution providers say finding the right employees and keeping them happy is a major ingredient for fast-growing VARs.

At the 2011 CRN Fast Growth event in Miami, Fla., a panel of solutions providers on this year's CRN Fast Growth list discussed several of the elements that have helped their businesses grow. And while technology itself plays a big role in that growth, the panel members stressed other keys such as enhancing customer communications, hiring top talent and then properly compensating that talent.

Jason Ulm, vice president of sales at Appia Communications in Traverse City, Mich., said his company emphasizes strong communications with customers; the better you explain what a solution does, the easier it is to justify what's on the bill at the end of the day, he said. "We like to make sure the customer experience is as strong as possible," he said, "and that starts with communication."

One of the first things that Appia focuses on with new hires, Ulm said, is customer communication training. The company also pushes its employees to create unique solutions that would be exceedingly difficult for competitors to replicate. "The idea is you paint a picture that's hard for others to repaint," Ulm said.

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Ulm said Appia works hard to create a comfortable work environment where people can be themselves and therefore be the most productive. "As long as they're meeting their goals, I don't care if they work from home or work from 2 p.m. to midnight," he said.

Dave Wasserman, managing partner at Sovereign Systems in Roswell, Ga., said his company specializes in high-level engineering and as a result, Sovereign has invested heavily in vendor training and technical certifications. He also said because Sovereign is a smaller and younger company, it can attract talent from larger companies by giving them a chance to stand out rather than get lost in the mix with hundreds or thousands of other employees.

John Convery, executive vice president of marketing & vendor relations at Denali Advanced Integration in Redmond, Wash., said his company works to create a family-friendly atmosphere at work by holding events where co-workers can attend with their spouses and children.

Some solution providers may find it difficult to hire and train younger employees that have grown up in a world of Facebook, text messaging and Twitter. But Michael Haley, president of Edge Solutions of Alpharetta, Ga., said his company is finding a lot of valuable employees in the Y Generation. "We're embracing the Millennials," Haley said, adding that the company started a college internship program recently.

Along with focusing on employees, the panelists also discussed the importance of building and maintaining strong customer relations. "You can't take the customer for granted," said Convery, who added that Denali has only lost two clients since the company was formed nearly two decades ago.

Convery said the health-care market accounts for half of Denali's business, and as a result, the solution provider spends a lot of time and effort building solutions tailored for specific health care clients. "We're very proud of our innovation" he said. "No one has any money, so you have to get creative and really innovate with the solutions you offer customers."