XChange Solution Provider 2011: Scenes From Day Two

Picking Up Steam While Blowing Off Steam

XChange Solution Provider 2011 brought 225 solution providers face-to-face with over 80 vendors for three days of activities ranging from intense, deep-dive discussions on topics ranging from the cloud to how to run a business to the frivolities of counting how many basketballs fit in a Cooper Mini.

Discussions on Day 2 of the conference included looking at ways solution providers can run a successful business, turn themselves into cloud integrators, and successfully grow beyond the 100-employee mark.

Turn the page for highlights from Day 2.

Who Has The Best Poker Face?

The gamblers gathered around the tables for XChange Solution Provider's VIP Poker Night, sponsored by ConnectWise and LabTech. Looks like the chips were stacking up for quite a few solution providers.

Bow To The Channel

Samsung employees at XChange Solution Provider took the stage to bow towards the solution providers in an especially interesting expression of the company's love of the channel.

The bow came as part of a pledge by Doug Albregts, vice president of sales and marketing for the Enterprise Business Division at Samsung Electronics America, that his company will not compete with partners by taking deals direct.

"One of the things I can assure you of is that we are not going to sell direct. We will not take any deal direct, period," Albregts said,.

Albregts challenged solution providers in the audience to eschew competing vendors that do sell direct. ’Don’t support those vendors that sell direct. You’re not helping your cause, and you’re not helping the vendors that are being loyal to you and investing in you,’ he said.

Just How Many Basketballs Fit In A Cooper Mini?

EMC used a contest with that very question, with the prize being the Cooper Mini itself, as a way to get channel attention.

During the January roll-out of its big SMB push, EMC rolled a similar Cooper Mini onto the stage, after which 26 very nimble professional dancers stuffed themselves into it.

It was at that event that EMC introduced a new line of storage appliances, the VNX and VNXe, as well as a new channel program, both of which targeted the SMB storage market.

IBM: Keep It Simple In A Complex World

Elaine Case, vice president for North American business partner and midmarket marketing at IBM, said IBM is committed to simplifying its channel offerings even as the company continues to change the way it does business.

"We work on simplicity every day," she said. "And I'm not kidding. … As we grow, it adds to complexity. And it's almost like we're fighting back against [complexity]."

IBM has made several changes to make it easier for partners to meet the challenge of an increasingly complex world, Case said. For instance, IBM has been pushing specializations, such as a recently announced cloud specialty, because the only way for it to grow is by giving its partners the skills to grow as well.

How Solution Providers Can Stay Competitive

Solution providers should be sharpening their focus on specific vertical markets, increasing their marketing investments and determining their cloud strategy to stay competitive in 2011 and beyond, said Tiffani Bova, vice president of research at Gartner, during her XChange Solution Provider session.

Bova gave seven recommendations to the audience of several hundred solution providers: Attack specific vertical markets, invest in new sales talent, rationalize unprofitable business and clients, develop sustainable differentiation, determine a cloud strategy, don't let vendors determine your company's growth, and devote resources toward marketing.

Do You Feel Lucky, VAR?

Visitors to power equipment vendor APC got the chance to spin the wheel of fate. Fortunately, fate was good to all of the visitors who got extra discounts or bonus channel program rewards points.

Juniper Getting Aggressive

Juniper Networks is set to launch an aggressive marketing effort with partners, backed by a big hike in investments in its Americas channel activity, said Frank Vitagliano, Juniper’s senior vice president of Americas.

"We basically have made a significant amount of investment from a technology standpoint and a partnering standpoint, and our portfolio has never been stronger," Vitagliano said, noting Juniper's sales last year reached $4.3 billion on 23 percent growth. The company has $2.5 billion in cash and will be putting new resources into its channel sales effort, he said. "We’ve added about 30 percent [in resources] to channels Americas, my organization," Vitagliano said.

VAR Point of View: How I Became A Cloud Integrator

Kent Erickson, president of Pointivity, a San Diego solution provider that successfully navigated the treacherous transition to cloud services, urged solution providers at the XChange Solution Provider conference to take their fate in their own hands and fully embrace the cloud as cloud integrators.

Erickson said solution providers have a rare "blue ocean" high-margin opportunity if they transform their businesses to act as cloud integrators focused on business outcomes for clients rather than point product-focused providers. "This is a huge opportunity for all of you and that opportunity is growing," said Erickson, rallying partners to pick up the cloud integrator mantle. "This is a huge market. It is not going to be fulfilled, even if we all go after it."

XChange: How To Become A 100-Person VAR Business

One of the hardest things for a solution provider to do is grow past the 100- or 125-employee mark, said Larry Kesslin, president of 4-Profit, a channel-focused consulting firm.

Kesslin said that reaching that point requires some major changes, including additional management and letting other people do work that the principles used to do. And that's where many solution providers struggle.

Kesslin laid out seven "breaking points" that VARs need to manage as they grow, including keeping their eyes on long-term goals, empower good employees while cutting the bad ones, constantly communicate, have a clear partnership plan when there are multiple owners, avoid turning top salespeople into sales managers, get specialized help for things like human resources, and learn how to be a good CEO and not just an owner.