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VARs offer tips on selling into SMB market

As the SMB market becomes more crowded, landing the business takes preparation, perspective, and perspiration.

As VARs and systems integrators push into the small and mid-sized business segment, they are developing strategies and sharing ideas on what they think will be a winning approach to convincing potential customers to buy solutions from them.

Here are some of their tips on what they think solution providers should do to win business in the SMB space.

Gary Johnston, President of IT Partners, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based VAR and consulting firm, said solution providers and the customer's technical team need to get a precise view of what the customer wants to achieve with the new technology before proposing a solution.

Make sure they understand what the business is trying to accomplish. Just giving a quote to a customer on a piece of technology or on an implementation project is not good enough. Instead you have to ask why they want that piece of technology or a solution to be provided.

"You can build a much better relationship if you ask why, and if you understand the business need you're going to have a sale eight out of 10 times," Johnston said.

Don't be afraid to charge for an estimate of the work required.

Suggest to your customer that there is a fee if they allow you to assess the problems and make recommendations on technology solutions. Asking all the questions at the beginning of a project helps the solution provider understand all the needs of a business in the initial stages, and integrators can plan and implement the right technology without any surprises.

"Customers don't know everything that they need to consider until we sit them down and walk them through this Q & A process," Johnston said. "Customers will pay you for that because they know there's a value in it; they know you don't leave any stone unturned," Johnston said.

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Understand that you are going to work just as hard for the SMB business as you would for the business in the larger accounts. "You are not doing less work around an opportunity; it's the same amount of work, just on a smaller scale," Johnston said.

Mike Strain, director of storage at a Overland Park, KS based integrator Alexander Open Systems, suggests that the best way to approach SMBs is to develop a relationship with them, and the way to do that is by being knowledgeable about what you are selling and be an advocate for the customer.

Strain said solution providers should put themselves in the customer's position. One way to do that is to look at a number of options and collaborate with vendors to help the customer decide which one is right for them.

"My job is to advocate for the customer: here are your challenges, here are your needs, here are three options that may be different, so host-based versus networking, versus arrays and maybe a back-up solution. Advocating for the customer is huge," Strain said.

You have to know your market space, so if you are used to selling at the enterprise level where the customer is willing to pay a premium for a product, you have to understand that in the small to medium business and commercial space that's not always the case. You aren't going to make a million dollars every sale.

"For some sales you may have to lower your profit margins to get the deal done, so it's vital to know your space and know how your customer buys," Strain said.

Chandran Rajaratnam, senior vice president of operations at Buffalo Grove, Ill.-based integrator ASAP Software, said systems integrators must keep in mind that not all SMB's technical staff know the details of every aspect of technology, and suggests keeping explanations simple especially in areas like storage.

"You have to make it simple and easy for the customer to understand quickly and not go into a massive technical explanation," Rajaratnam said.

Jay Kishor, president of California Integrated Solutions, a Phillips Ranch, Calif.-based VAR, looks at the size of the company before venturing into a project.

Avoid anyone below 25 seats because it's a waste of time. They go around shopping for a lower price, Kishor said. "Twenty five seats and over is a sweet spot for us to play in because they have their own small IT person who is not trying to look at every VAR, but they want to build loyalty with a solution provider," Kishor said.

Be product oriented and service oriented. You have to cater to the market you are in and not try to venture out of that market. 'If you are closer to your customers, the smaller SMB, the better the response you will get," Kishor said.

Francis Poeta, president of Cliffside Park, N.J.-based P & M Computers Inc., said when he goes after a potential client he looks at a customer's technology as a determining factor.

"If they have an IBM System i that's a good customer, because what we provide to our customers is based a little bit on that System i philosophy that they have to run their business," Poeta said. "So if that's part of their environment and they understand how that works, they are much more likely to listen to our pitch about building things correctly the first time," Poeta added.

Let us know what you think about this story; email Nicole Lewis, Senior News Writer.

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