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Tactics for gaining ground in big-vendor territory

In my last entry I wrote about large suppliers and their in-the-field resources and the problems that creates. After all, a larger supplier probably has more local resources than you do. Typically, they have you outnumbered in both engineers and salespeople.

In the past, many resellers have based their value-add on their ability to offer a complete solution. For example, if you’re working with a storage vendor, part of your value-add might have been to offer the backup products that complete the solution. The challenge is that many of the larger vendors already offer complete solutions. They have systems, disk, tape, software, etc.

Today, to avoid being stymied by this, there are two, not mutually exclusive, tacks that you can take. The first tack is to become better at integrating the manufacturer’s solutions than the manufacturer is. It may seem strange, but as a supplier grows, it struggles to be good at installing its own products. By focusing on a particular integration point, you can actually become better than they are. In fact, you may not even need to be better; by being just as good but more available, you can win their services business. It can take weeks to go through the political red tape of a larger organization to define and engage professional services. If you can respond in days and still do a good job, you’re going to catch someone’s attention.

If you choose to go down this path of being better at integration than the supplier is, you may have to make a decision not to sell hardware but to let the manufacturer sell the hardware and your services direct. (But don’t assume that this is always the case; many times it may be easier for the manufacturer to run the entire project through you including hardware and software.)

How do you convince your supplier to use you for services? This is a grass roots effort. Work with the local sales and engineering teams. Sell them on your services, show them your lab (if you have one) and ask them what areas about their own organization’s professional services cause them frustration or, better yet, cost them opportunities. Have them do one project through you, so you can prove your services value. Or, go the opposite route: Instead of fighting the direct guy, work with him by running a project through him. Most supplier salespeople will gladly give up services to have one fewer competitor in an account, especially if that competitor becomes an ally.

This is not a perfect solution for every reseller. You need to have a receptive local supplier team, you need to believe in the products you want to install, and you have to be able to implement them in a fashion that you know will be successful.

The second tack for addressing the problem of big vendors that already have a complete solution is to bypass the big supplier entirely and go with a midrange supplier that doesn’t have a large local sales and engineering team, or build the whole solution on your own. I’ll address that option in a later entry.

Please register for “Win in 2009,” a seminar designed for reseller engineers, salespeople and owners.

George Crump is president and founder of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation’s largest storage integrators. 

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