Divining the expectations of an IT client can try even the most patient and insightful VAR. We won't tell you what products they're buying (stay tuned for future articles on that very subject), but we can show you some ways to position and prepare yourself before submitting that next bid.
End users are primarily concerned with technology and price from a VAR
End users evaluate and select a VAR based largely on the technologies that they need (typically relative to specific vendor products) at the most competitive price. Asked what criteria they use to evaluate a VAR, about 65% of end users said that technology specialization is a factor, 64% said they consider price, and 60% consider manufacturer affiliation. Consequently, VARs can make their strongest pitch by illustrating ways that their technology products and value added services can meet a client's needs while being cost-effective to manage and maintain or otherwise saving money for the client. "This is really the manufacturer's value proposition," said Bob Laliberte, analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass. "What can the VAR do to differentiate themselves with services or support?"
Our end user survey revealed that other factors are less important, but are still noteworthy. For example, less than half of respondents pick VARs based on customer references (47%), installation support (44%), product availability (44%), training/support (42%), staff certifications (37%) or company accreditations (32%).
End users expect a fairly high level of product knowledge from their VARs
Ahout half of our respondents expect VARs to possess a good knowledge of product setup and configuration, but only 23% of end users required detailed knowledge of product troubleshooting or problem resolution. And only the remaining 27% suggested that they require limited knowledge from their VARs. "I have seen in the past where a VAR fell short of the mark because of lack of field experience with a particular product and hands-on exposure," said Allen Zuk, an independent IT risk management consultant formerly with GlassHouse Technologies.
This places a strong emphasis on product education, certifications and field experience in order to deal with installation, integration, setup and configuration -- the VAR can always reach out to the manufacturer or vendor partner for assistance with troubleshooting if the need arises.
End users are also expecting VARs to be more professional than the product vendor, bringing a professional attitude and demeanor to the client. "I have seen first-hand where a VAR was engaged on a client project to identify and fix significant problems with the client's email environment, only to have the client sponsor catch the VAR technician playing video games at the client site, during normal business hours, in front of the client staff and billing the client for their time on-site," Zuk said, noting that such actions can significantly tarnish a VAR's reputation.
End users look to VARs for effective product setup and configuration
About 51% of potential clients have reported that they use VARs most frequently for help with product setup and configuration following the sale, while 43% of respondents rely on VARs for presales activities like site assessments and product recommendations. Successful VARs can show a client what they need and help them get it running properly in their environment.
Other value added services like installation, troubleshooting, testing and maintenance are less important, but still relevant. About 40% of respondents look to VARs for hardware installation (this is different from setup/configuration), 38% use VARs for troubleshooting, 31% for optimization/testing, 28% for routine maintenance, and 26% for software installation.
Interestingly, custom development and managed services are not yet very important to end users. Only 28% of end users report that they use VARs for custom development, while just 26% use VARs for managed services -- a trend that we expect to see change in the near future as managed services and Software as a Service (SaaS) continue to gain ground. Experts like Zuk see managed services as an important growth area for VARs. "The emergence of more managed service offerings will be a potential avenue for the VAR to generate more business," he said. "The VAR will need to evaluate their support infrastructure to ensure scalability and flexibility for managed service offerings."
Go to the next part of this article: Understanding the end user's selection criteria
Or skip to the section of interest:
End user survey shows what clients want from VARs and vendors
Section 1 -- Understanding end user expectations
Section 2 -- Understanding the end user's selection criteria
Section 3 -- End user spending and engagements