Synnex Panel: VARs' Local Reach Will Drive Stimulus Success

A panel of vendors told about 140 solution providers at Synnex's Red White & You conference in Dallas Wednesday that both thinking and acting local is now more important than ever -- especially in winning public sector business.

"One of your most important attributes is the fact that you have local knowledge. You are our eyes and ears," said Jody Zimmerman, director of strategic government relations at Intermec. "It's very easy for you to develop contacts in municipal and state government. There's competition for dollars, but there's also an element of pride that permeates that whole layer. [A state] can have bragging rights over a tech system they put together, and at that point they're more willing to tell other states about it. You'll get promotion from government."

"I want you guys to understand the market better than the customers do," said Mike Humke, vice president of public sector sales for Hewlett-Packard's solution provider organization. "We're a year away before we're going to see a lot of the dollars from the stimulus coming out, and we've got 2010 budgets to get out in front of. We've got to talk to agencies, schools, superintendents, everyone to show them how to use consolidation, virtualization and generally do more with less. You've got to be a consultant and position yourself not only today but be in a position to capture the dollars when the stimulus flows. You play a very valuable role in public sector and you will continue to play that role. This is a great place to be."

Zimmerman suggested leveraging state and local associations to get your name out there as a solution provider.

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"You have large municipalities with more money to spend than rural and isolated counties, and they are hungry for information," he said. "The only way they get that information is with a sales call. If you can become a speaker and do educational sessions at, say, the county recorder's office or whatever is local and talk about, for example, document tracking, you're educating 50 people at once. When you leave that meeting, there's conversation among those people. They remember you. Establish your local base and work it well with the people you know best."

Zimmerman, Humke and Robert Farrow, the vice president of federal sales for Fujitsu, all identified state and local governments, education and health care as the best opportunities for VARs.

"The participative student model in education has come of age and that's a big sector for us," Farrow said. "And health care is one of the big beneficiaries of the stimulus."

All three advised, however, that the federal stimulus was but one variable in the whole public sector equation.

"The stimulus thing is going to be the first of many," Farrow said. "The $787 billion is the good news, but when you start to peel back the onion, about $32 billion is going to IT projects. About $20 billion of that is going to health care, $630 million to education and the rest split between federal and state. The majority of that money is going to be dispersed through grant programs -- and those are going to rely on the tentacles out in the field. Those tentacles are you."

"I don't want to take away from the stimulus, but I'd spend some time understanding what the omnibus is and the federal budget in 2010. All those things come into play," Humke said. "Obama has to turn the federal government back around -- he has to get stability back around and he's not going to do that on just the stimulus. So the key message to you is: It's not a hardware play, it's getting inside the agencies, the schools, the facilities and saying, 'Let me help you understand how you're going to meet the challenges.' You need to position yourself as an asset to agencies and schools."

Next: 'Green' Isn't A Deal-maker

Steer clear of buzzwords such as "green," the vendors advised -- and focus on opportunities behind those trends.

"At the end of the day, I'm still not seeing a lot of green initiatives move solutions," Humke said. "Green is not going to drive a sale. It's going to help you win, but it's not an end-all answer. Don't get caught up in it. There are four things going on in the market today: financial pressures, internal pressures, constituent pressures and environmental pressures. Green only fits into the last one."

"We can help you provide a green story for your customers, but you have to take a look at what's really driving the solution," Farrow said. "Are they just checking a box, or is it a real issue, like a data center that's power- and space-constrained?"

But while it's not a deal-maker, Zimmerman said, the ability to check off the "green box" is becoming more important for public sector end users to demonstrate not only fiscal responsibility but also social responsibility.

Green isn't something to ignore, just something to understand pragmatically, he advised.

"Being able to check off that box means they have considered that and implemented it in their purchasing," Zimmerman said. "They are important, but are not going to drive receivable sales."