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D&H's Education, Enablement And Engagement Strategy Is A VAR Game-Changer

D&H's game plan for SMB VAR success emphasizes education, enablement and engagement. That strategy is powering partner sales growth.

For D&H Distributing, driving a better experience means making big investments in SMB VAR solutions empowerment, something that sets the distributor apart from competitors.

For Peter DiMarco, vice president of VAR sales, that sales offensive can be summed up as the "Three E's" -- education, enablement and engagement. "It's extremely important," said DiMarco, a former 25-year Ingram Micro veteran who has led the charge into more advanced solutions for D&H VARs. "We are constantly talking about the Three E's."

The Three E's are key to programs like HPE HERO and Cisco Meraki Driven. Those initiatives have taken partners from ground zero to certifications, on to enablement with marketing and demo kits, and finally to closing deals in the sales trenches with sales and solutions support from D&H.

At the heart of the strategy is boosting D&H's engineering talent. Over the past three years, D&H has more than doubled the number of engineering specialists in the VAR division doing complex solutions configurations with partners, said DiMarco.

These technology specialists on the front lines working with partners have become tech rock stars within the D&H VAR community. Among the two brightest stars are Jeff Hunt, a D&H Meraki master who trains about 100 partners on a monthly basis, and Chris Rigas, a D&H HPE luminary who is driving partner education and engagement for the HPE HERO program.

DiMarco estimates that Hunt and Rigas have propelled 100 partners to higher-tier Cisco and HPE certifications. "That's a big deal," he said. "What we are doing is helping partners move upmarket. With our engineers supporting them, these partners are winning deals upmarket they would never have gotten in the past."

Five years ago, 80 percent of D&H partners were providing solutions for businesses with 25 seats or fewer. Today, 60 percent are selling solutions in the 25- to 250-seat market.

That move upmarket has come with DiMarco driving a 25 percent increase in field sales, sales engineers, inside sales and vendor experts. "That's 40-plus people," he said. "That has provided a lot more sales coverage."

D&H's razor-sharp sales focus is one of its greatest assets, with 70 percent of the Harrisburg, Pa.-based company's phone calls outbound-focused calls with partners. "The fact that 100 percent of what we do for sales coverage is based in central Pennsylvania is a big plus," he said. "We don't have multiple call centers or call centers overseas. We enjoy low turnover, which really lends itself to the culture."

All in all, D&H has 25 percent of its sales resources hunting in the marketplace on behalf of VARs. D&H Dell Commercial Sales Champion Jeff Ritchey has a rabid following in the Dell VAR community as a result of his willingness to go into the sales trenches to drive better engagement between the Dell end-user reps and channel partners. "He is regularly brokering on behalf of VARs to get added to a deal or get help on a deal," said DiMarco. "It's almost like eHarmony between the VAR and the Dell end-user rep."

With VARs expanding and enhancing their sales forces, D&H also has played an active role in training new sales reps for its VAR customers. Over the past three years, DiMarco estimates D&H has trained some 500 new VAR sales reps. "We invite them up to our facilities on our dime to learn about cloud and the industry," he said. "That has been a big hit for customers. We are helping those sales reps get started."

The high-touch, personal partner model along with the investments in advanced solutions have proved to be an unbeatable combination for D&H and its partners. Since DiMarco came on board in 2015, the D&H VAR business is up 43 percent, about triple the rate of standard SMB market growth. That trend is continuing into the new year with VAR sales up 30 percent in the most recent quarter.

With the increase in the VAR business, D&H also has established four annual sessions for more than 100 D&H VARs called VAR Track. The VAR Track sessions have effectively transformed the D&H trade shows from buying shows to education, enablement and engagement shows.

"We are doing boot camps, workshops, security and cloud seminars with a record number of one-on-ones to help our VARs grow their business," said DiMarco. "The whole company has rallied around these VAR customers, giving them a true white-glove experience. It has been really cool to see that take off."

The big takeaway from the sessions: action plans aimed at driving sales growth. DiMarco estimates that 200 VARs have built action plans as a result of the VAR Track sessions.

Partners also are big fans of the one-on-one sessions featuring D&H Co-Presidents Dan and Michael Schwab at the D&H VAR events. "Partners love the wisdom from Dan and Michael on how D&H itself has grown the business," said DiMarco. "Many of our VARs are interested in the D&H employee-owned business model as well."

DiMarco said one of the secrets to D&H's success with the Three E's is the roll-up-your-sleeves, help-partners-succeed mentality that is pervasive throughout the company.

"What I love about D&H is that even after 100 years in business, we act like a startup," said DiMarco. "We don't overcomplicate things. We simplify and get things done. There is not a lot of analysis and posturing. You build the business case, you have a short discussion with Dan and Michael, and most of the time they say yes. D&H has built a great culture of making sure the company is helping all of the employees here work together to make the business bigger. I say that with a lot of sincerity and passion."

DiMarco said that there is an entrepreneurial spirit and drive that is powering the D&H VAR market-share gains. "The work that I have done at D&H in the last three years feels like the work I did at Ingram in the late '90s and early 2000s," he said. "There is a startup feel, an energy and ton of focus on how are we going to grow."

In addition to DiMarco, D&H has brought in a number of other former Ingram Micro and distribution executives to help drive the VAR transformation. Tim Billing, former Ingram Micro vice president of vendor management, is now senior vice president of vendor management and purchasing; Peter Gambino, former Ingram Micro vice president of the Advanced Technology Division for the Cisco business unit, is now director of sales for D&H's Cisco business; and Donny Lu, a former Westcon-Comstor sales manager, now oversees the D&H HPE business.

Ultimately, DiMarco estimates, the Three E's have helped 500 VARs grow their business by 20 percent over the past three years, totaling $100 million in growth.

"It's been great to see how these partners have transformed their lives and their businesses," said DiMarco. "I have built my career on building relationships and helping people. That is what D&H is all about. That stands out. That is what really makes me feel good."

DiMarco said he views the VARs that he works with and serves day in and day out as part of his "work" family. "I love spending time with them," he said. "These are lifelong friendships."

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