QandA With Barb Miller, Director of Tech Data's Government and Technical Services Divisions

Tech Data kicked off its first TechEDG conference in Orlando on Tuesday, bringing together resellers and vendors that work in the public sector -- 100 and 43, respectively. GovernmentVAR senior editor Jill Aitoro sat down with Barb Miller, director of Tech Data's Government and Technical Services divisions, to discuss what distinguishes that landscape.

GV: This is the first year Tech Data has hosted a conference devoted to government and education specifically. Along with the conference, is there a refocus for Tech Data on working in the public sector?

Miller: I won't say we've lost focus, but I will say that possibly the reseller community didn't know we had focus. One goal of the conference is to publicize the fact that Tech Data has services in the government area. We've had them since 1989, but like any other service area, it's one of the least known parts of the company.

GV: How have the services changed since 1989?

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Miller: I'd say each year we've added services. Several years after launching, we added a government bid desk, for example. We then started tracking and sending updates on GSA and government pricing on a regular basis to any customer who is interested in that area. GSA pricing is tricky. If you submit the wrong price, you get dinged or fined, according to the resellers. So we added filters to catch any pricing that appears out of line to make sure the vendor didn't make a mistake or the reseller didn't make a mistake.

GV: There are so many distinguishing factors that go into selling to the public sector, it seems. What else do you see facing the resellers and vendors as they sell into that market?

Miller: One of the things that the resellers are always trying to do is expand the number of products that they're able to sell on their own GSA schedule. A lot of vendors hold GSA schedules as well. The vendors allow us to pass through letters of supply to the reseller so the reseller can add that vendor as if they had originally submitted that vendor on their own schedule. We do that for about 45-plus vendors and continue to add more and more.

GV: What other difficulties do you see facing resellers in this sector?

Miller: I would say probably accuracy of the pricing and accuracy of the bid, as well as making sure there's TAA compliance. If there's a requirement for products to be made in a TAA-compliance country, we track that information from the vendors and pass it on to the reseller.

We're also implementing a page on our Web site just for state business, with all the key Web addresses for state contracts. It is difficult to keep up with the state regulations.

GV: Are vendors more prone to hold on to government contracts and handle them directly, or do you still see them filtering to the channel?

Miller: I would say the largest vendors have their own direct sales organizations; however, they use the channel to fulfill either parts of the contract or special small business set-aside requirements. Vendors can't do everything. If they have a federal force, they might come to us to help spread their products through the education channel. Cisco, for example, has their own sales force, but Cisco is also part of this program because there are many multimillion-dollar accounts that they qualify as too small to take direct. They put that through the channel. EMC, too, has chosen to join the program and come through the channel. The smaller vendors are realizing they don't have the bandwidth to go direct, and the larger vendors are realizing they don't have the bandwidth to go direct as much as they want to go direct. It's a win/win for everyone.

GV: Who do you see on the vendor side really doing it right?

Miller: This is the truth -- at any given point in time, some are doing it right, and at any other given point in time, I'll hear the government sales team say they're taking it direct. So that's a hard question to answer. While many vendors support the channel wholeheartedly, there's still business that they will snatch up. That's just how business works.

GV: Specific to government, what are the key advantages of working through a distributor?

Miller: Some of these vendors did not necessarily have recognition in the government space. They come to us to gain that recognition. This show, for example, is a key opportunity for vendors to jump off their direct model and say, "Here we are, and we're ready to do the channel now." A contract doesn't specify what printer specifically is to be used, so those in the program that support government would be the ones we'd pick to fill the bids and send back to the resellers. That provides vendors opportunity and resellers the needed products to fill contracts.

What we really want resellers to know is that we are here, and we have services. We want to help them. For awhile, no one knew we had tech support -- the other hat I wear -- and now all of our partners call for tech support and system engineering. We're trying to make them realize the same about government, that we have the expertise.