Magazine Article | June 19, 2012

7 Distributor Offerings You Can't Neglect Any Longer

By Jay McCall, Business Solutions magazine

Four value-added distributors share the most overlooked services you should be taking advantage of.

At a recent distributor event I attended, I had the privilege of talking with a lot of VARs and MSPs (managed service providers) and sitting in on some of the learning sessions. One thing that really struck me was how unfamiliar the attendees were — many of them long-time partners of this particular distributor — with the various services the distributor offered. After the show, I was curious to find out whether this scenario is unique to that particular distributor or whether this is common among others. As it turns out, every distributor I spoke with spoke emphatically about how underutilized their services are by their partners. In some instances, only 1% of a distributor’s partners are taking advantage of a particular service. I asked probing questions to four major distributors and asked them to narrow down the most important services that are being neglected by VARs and MSPs. What follows is the top seven (in no particular order).

Service #1: Field Support
Not to be confused with sales support, field support entails using your distributor’s engineering and technician resources to answer a customer’s technical question or help with an implementation. “This is particularly helpful for an SMB partner with limited IT resources,” says Jamie Ferullo, director of sales for the SMB Unit at Ingram Micro. “An example would be a digital signage VAR that comes across a virtualization opportunity. In the past, the VAR would have had to turn away the business. Now, they can leverage our field support services to win more business.” If resellers meet a certain sales volume with Ingram, this service is free. If not, the VAR can purchase a field support subscription for as little as a three-month time frame. According to Ferullo, 10% of Ingram Micro’s support calls are now with Ingram’s tech support, the reseller, and the end customer.

Service #2: Network Assessments
Many successful networking VARs start their sales engagements with network assessments. Yet, there are still a large number of VARs that skip this step altogether. One alternative option to investing in your own network assessment software is to use your distributor’s network assessment service. “In most cases, this process can be performed without the VAR having to drive to the customer’s facility and connecting an appliance to the customer’s network,” says Paul Constantine, president of ScanSource POS & Barcoding. “We offer a network assessment service to VARs that works remotely via a browser-based interface and is priced based on the number of end points being monitored.” The price starts at just under $500, according to Constantine, and can be as much as $1,000 based on the number of end points being monitored. Depending on the situation, a VAR can often mark up the cost of the service by 25% to 100%. Even more important is that the service includes a detailed report, which a VAR can use as a talking point with its customer about the health of networked appliances (e.g. servers, routers, and switches).

Service #3: Custom Configurations
Here’s a service that many larger VARs see the value in, but smaller VARs don’t: product staging and configuring. For example, let’s say you’re a VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) or unified communications (UC) VAR and you win a 30-phone install with a law firm. How does your process work for getting the phones and software to your customer and setting everything up?

Some VARs prefer to handle the entire implementation process themselves:

  • Taking each product out of the box
  • Installing software (in this case IP telephony software)
  • Configuring the software for the customer (e.g. configuring the auto attendant and call flow, assigning extensions, etc.)

Think about how long it takes one of your engineers or techs to perform this task, using the example of a 30-phone VoIP install at a law firm. The distributors I talked to believe VARs could cut their install times in half by taking advantage of the distributor’s staging and configuration services. “We don’t treat this service as a profit center,” says Constantine. “Rather, we just look to cover our costs. That said, this is a service that typically requires a VAR to have us quote them a price in a real situation and actually try it out.” Constantine points out that every VAR is different, which makes it difficult for distributors to know all the VAR’s expenses and the effects on outsourcing this process. Some costs they need to take into consideration include: truck rolls, loading software, and a technician’s total time investment.

Service #4: NOC Services
In this month’s issue (July 2012, for those reading this online) of Business Solutions magazine, we feature unified communications VAR-turned-MSP, Harbor Networks, which made a $1 million investment building its own NOC (network operation center) to be able to provide off-site storage and other cloud services for its customers. If you’re a 40-plus employee reseller like Harbor Networks, you should probably consider doing this as well. Before you do, however, or if you’re a smaller VAR/MSP, you should consider working with your value-added distributor to see what kind of NOC services they offer. Unlike a typical third-party NOC provider, your distributor has a vested interest in your success because you’re buying more than just data center space from it — you’re buying IT hardware and software, and let’s not forget the fact that you represent lots of end user customers. SYNNEX offers NOC services to its partners (called SERVICESSolv NOC), which includes 24/7 remote monitoring, remote remediation, and Microsoft OS patch management service for both servers and workstations. According to Bob Stegner, senior vice president of marketing at SYNNEX, “This service enables VARs to provide a 1-hour response SLA [service level agreement] with greater than 95% issue remediation, all delivered under their own branding. Another benefit of using this outsourced service is that it frees up a reseller’s technical personnel to focus on other facets of their service portfolio.”

Service #5: Cloud Monetizing
If there’s one topic that’s hot across every technology category and vertical market it’s the cloud. Yet, a lot of VARs are struggling to figure out how to make money selling cloud solutions. One of the keys to cloud success requires the VAR to have visibility into how many storage and computing resources its customers are using in the cloud. Distributors like SYNNEX offer their reseller partners an IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service) platform, which enables VARs to sell cloud computing solutions as a utility. “This platform includes a metering system that provides transparent, granular tracking of consumption, which is necessary for effective cost accounting,” says Stegner. Without this level of visibility, a VAR or MSP is left guessing how much to charge. Because of the dynamic nature of applications and data, it’s next to impossible to guess correctly.

Service #6: Marketing Services
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked with a VAR that admitted they’ve done zero marketing because they’re just too busy. “Marketing their success and solutions is often that one thing that VARs know they need, but fail to execute,” says Dean Reverman, global marketing manager at BlueStar. “The reasons they don’t do marketing could be that they don’t feel comfortable marketing [e.g. Where to begin?] or maybe they just don’t have the resources to generate content and create a drip marketing campaign with multiple touches.” Almost all of the distributors I spoke with agreed that their business development and marketing services are underutilized by their partners. Some of the marketing services BlueStar offers, for instance, come from a designated Web portal called FUSION, which enables VARs to develop marketing campaigns in just a few minutes. The portal enables VARs to create a variety of campaigns, such as direct mail, telemarketing, graphic design, Web development and optimization, online education, and printing services.

Service #7: Peer Community Groups
If there’s one topic I’ve become a cheerleader for over the past six months, it’s this last one: peer groups. After attending Ingram Micro’s SMB Alliance event and HTG’s Peer Group Summit and talking to MSPs like MJ Shoer, president of Jenaly Technology Group (check out the June issue of Business Solutions magazine for the details), I’ve become convinced about the power of being involved in a channel peer group. In fact, I’ve talked to a few MSPs who belong to more than one peer group. Galen Lambert, CEO of Computer Solutions Inc., is an HTG member as well as a member of Ingram Micro’s SMB Alliance peer group. The way this MSP, who’s been in business for 25 years, explained it to me was that HTG helped him set business goals and follow best practices, whereas the SMBA group gave him a stronger voice with his vendors. He felt strongly that when he raised a concern to a vendor via the SMBA community, it was taken more seriously and handled more urgently than if he were to approach a vendor only representing his business alone. According to Ingram’s Ferullo, “We see the top 1% of Ingram’s VAR base taking advantage of the communities we offer.” Why such a small percentage? “The challenge with most small business owners is that they’re so busy performing so many job roles in their companies that they have a difficult time getting out to a peer group event. Once we are able to get them out of the office for a couple of days and in front of their vendor partners and peers, things start to click, and they see the value they’ve been missing.”