Guest Column | November 15, 2013

4 Questions Every VAR Should Ask


By Denise Hampton, director, North America channel strategy, programs, and marketing, Zebra Technologies

How to become more competitive in today’s crowded marketplace.

Technology is advancing. Customers are more sophisticated than ever. Transformational market changes are driving down prices and profit margins. In turn, solution providers like you are feeling the pressure to find new ways to identify sustainable differentiators in the market to separate you from the rest. And if you’re like many VARs, you are a small business up against numerous cash flow and brand-building challenges.

As a solution provider, it’s imperative to identify and build competencies that end customers will value and to constantly evaluate vendor relationships that are the core of your solutions. With limited time and resources, you need to decide where to place your bets.

To help overcome these challenges and build credibility and brand awareness for your small business, consider the following important questions:

1. What is your value proposition?
Prospective customers have one thing on their minds when selecting solution partners: “Why should I do business with you?” And you better have solid answers that resonate with them. If you don’t — there are dozens of other VARs who will. Intentionally discover what matters to your core client base and develop competencies and solutions to meet those needs.

When building a working value proposition, it’s vital to define the solution you can provide that solves the customer’s business need and decide what added services are most feasible for you to offer based on the skill set of your team. From there, you can evaluate the options of either up-skilling current team members or hiring new people with desired competencies to widen your reach. Also consider the viability of branching into new applications or verticals, thereby adding even more value to your customers.

Become an expert — take time to learn all about the applications for your products and services. Here is a tip: take advantage of training programs offered by vendors. Access to their extensive resources can fast track your knowledge-base.

2. Are you offering unique solutions?
It’s not just about the products anymore — it’s all about total customer experience. This may require you to extend partnership networks to not only include traditional “attached” services like consulting, deployment management, and on-going asset management and maintenance; but to also expand into “nonattached” services which may not intuitively connect to a specific product. This adds significant value to the solution, provides additional revenue streams, and makes your brand stick.

In fact, Zebra’s research has shown solution providers who offer differentiated value commanded 5 to 10 percent additional margin points on Zebra hardware, as compared to others, because customers do not feel compelled to break apart a truly value-based solution when purchasing.

3. Which partners best enhance your solutions offering?
Once you’ve decided on the specific solutions you will offer, it’s time to choose partners that best fit your bill. These could be vendor partners or other complementary solution providers. It’s important to evaluate these new potential partnerships, but also re-evaluate trusted relationships to keep up with the growing demands of your clients. Keep these factors in mind when making your choices:

  • Which partners will fill gaps and best complement your value?
  • Do these partners match your market focus?
  • Is their brand strong — will it be trusted by your customers?
  • Does your partner have skills and experience to support your solutions?
  • Will they be dedicated to investing their time and talent to being a trusted partner?

4. What is your marketing plan?
It’s important to emphasize that marketing isn’t a one-time campaign — it’s an ongoing relationship. Your goal should be to consistently engage and nurture your customers long after they sign on the dotted line. Create a marketing calendar that includes regular communications and touch points — providing informational value to customers while boosting credibility and establishing your brand. Light on resources? Leverage the thought leadership (i.e. white papers, articles) and established brands of vendor partners to supplement and compliment your marketing efforts.

In today’s market, it’s vital that VARs establish a strong valueproposition to hold their own in the face of competition. Having a keen awareness of your sustainable brand value helps retain current customers and win new ones. As credibility and brand grows, so grows your business!