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SMB Nation has been serving the Bainbridge Island area since 2001, providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support, and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.
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What’s the real value behind Unified Communications?

If you asked 10 IT Directors or Managers for their definition of UC, you’d probably get 10 different answers so let’s simplify it to “An easy way to work together via voice, video, online collaboration and mobile devices”.

That easy way to work together is really what Unified Communications should be about.

In this sense Unified Communications is simply a way to describe what business has always needed – communications and collaboration working in harmony to achieve tangible benefits for the bottom line and for the user experience.

Defining the ‘what’ of UC is good but we also need to ask why businesses need Unified Communications.

“Using Mitel’s suite of UC and collaboration solutions, we can close about 10-15 sales a day at the end of the month, and can get the money into the bank account faster.” Paul Whiting, IT Manager, Revolution Tea

Mitel works with businesses across the world and here are five of the most common reasons these customers cite for choosing UC technologies.

Productivity Enabling better ways for people to get more done together.

Continuity Ensuring the business is always available to do business.

Mobility Supporting a connected workforce demanding 24/7 access from anywhere and using any kind of mobile device.

Integration Leveraging, rather than stranding, existing and potential IT investments.

Future Proofing Being ready for future challenges and developments in technology.

This customer feedback is covered in depth in a guide which explores the most popular reasons for Unified Communications deployments and shares real-life feedback from businesses about the potential value of UC.

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StorageCraft ShadowControl v3.5 now available

Recovery solution features new, powerful management capabilities for backup, recovery

             DRAPER, Utah – Dec. 17, 2015 – StorageCraft Technology Corp. today announced the release of StorageCraft® ShadowControl® v3.5, which allows IT professionals to more easily protect data and IT systems. ShadowControl is a remote monitoring and management appliance for IT environments protected by the award-winning StorageCraft ShadowProtect® or StorageCraft backup and disaster recovery solutionsbackup and disaster recovery software.

StorageCraft ShadowProtect v3.5 has numerous new features, including three time-saving remote management capabilities:

  •  Push Installation - using one of the supported discovery mechanisms, push install the latest StorageCraft ShadowProtect SPX or ShadowProtect 5 software to unprotected Windows or Linux endpoints quickly and easily, all from the ShadowControl management console.
  • CSV-Based Discovery - in addition to current hypervisor-based endpoint discovery, administrators can now provide a CSV-based discovery list of physical or virtual endpoints that can be used to monitor and manage with ShadowControl.
  • Centralized License Management - automatically activates newly-installed SPX or ShadowProtect 5 endpoints through ShadowControl by importing perpetual product keys into the license pool or by applying managed service provider (MSP) product keys generated through the MSP portal account.

“For more than a decade, IT professionals around the world have trusted StorageCraft recovery solutions to protect their systems and data. StorageCraft ShadowControl v3.5 makes backup and recovery even easier, allowing IT professionals to devote more time to other activities because they know they can depend on simplified management of their backup and disaster recovery environment,” said Brandon Nordquist, StorageCraft’s vice president of product management.

Other new ShadowControl v3.5 features and enhancements include: scheduled appliance backup support, generate certificate signing request (CSR) directly from the ShadowControl appliance, lock SPX backup jobs to prevent modification or deletion locally, enhanced IT Service Management (ITSM) notifications, and improved ShadowControl appliance update instructions. Additional information about StorageCraft ShadowControl v3.5 is available at www.storagecraft.com/shadowcontrol.

StorageCraft backup and disaster recovery solutions include the highly regarded StorageCraft ShadowProtect software line for Windows and Linux systems in physical and virtual environments. ShadowProtect is available in multiple versions so IT professionals can easily use the version that meets their needs, such as best-in-class backup, disaster recovery, system migration and data protection for servers, desktops and laptops. In addition to ShadowProtect, the company’s backup and disaster recovery solutions also include StorageCraft Granular Recovery for Exchange, StorageCraft ImageManager™ and StorageCraft Cloud Services™. 

About StorageCraft Technology Corp. The StorageCraft family of companies, founded in 2003, provides best-in-class backup, disaster recovery, system migration and data protection solutions for servers, desktops and laptops. StorageCraft delivers software products that reduce downtime, improve security and stability for systems and data, and lower the total cost of ownership. For more information, visit www.storagecraft.com.

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Using Cloud Services to Build Your Business in the New Year

By: Pete Engler

With the start of a new year quickly approaching, it is a great time for resellers to evaluate their success over the last year and consider any changes to their business strategy or portfolio of products. For 2016, that will likely mean offering cloud services for your customers, or expanding the cloud-based service offerings included in your portfolio.

Over the last few years cloud computing services have dominated the Information Technology market, becoming the cutting-edge solution for many different products and services. Now that cloud computing is a few years old and customers are beginning to see the many benefits of using cloud services, the shift toward those solutions is growing at a rapid pace. Many IT products have made or are making their transition into the cloud as a preferred option for customers over the deployment of traditional premises-based solutions. Because of the increasing availability of cloud services from trusted vendors, and the high demand for cloud-based solutions by SMB and enterprise customers, now is the time for you to consider using the cloud as a way to expand your reseller business and increase revenue in the coming year.  

According to Forbes, the cloud computing market is increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.8 percent and the trend is not likely to slow in the next several years. In addition to the market growth rate, the number of new products being introduced into a cloud infrastructure is also accelerating. International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts the number of new cloud-based solutions will triple in the next four to five years. With adoption rates of cloud services growing at such healthy levels the drive for cloud services is not going to let up anytime soon.

Cloud computing and cloud-based services have many benefits for your customers. One benefit is that cloud offers an easier path to make changes. Many cloud services have the option of month to month contracts, making it much easier to add or drop services, or change vendors. Another key benefit is not having a large upfront capital expenditure as you do when purchasing a premises-based solution. Removing this costly barrier to entry is quite appealing to smaller organizations and new businesses that may have more cash constraints. Conversely, a key pain point for businesses adopting a cloud solution is bandwidth, which can be easily remedied with the wide choices and lower cost of internet services currently on the market. 

For resellers, there are many benefits for selling cloud services. Most cloud services pay monthly recurring revenue (MRR) as long as the customer is enrolled in the service. Monthly recurring revenue that is built up over time offers revenue stability for you, instead of starting the monthly sales cycle at zero. Additionally, as resellers, you now have the option of purchasing cloud services through a simplified online process, making it much easier to buy and manage the services for your end customer. Increased competition and product options also result in better service and prices for the customer, and in faster deployment times and reduced support time. All of these benefits also work in your favor as a reseller or integrator and ultimately translates into higher margins.

The need to add cloud products and services to your portfolio of products has never been more important than now. Chances are, if you haven’t already faced a competitive situation where a cloud solution is being offered, you will soon. The start of a new year is a great time to research and select cloud-based solutions that will benefit the customers you serve, but also make you more competitive and help increase your margins.

Pete Engler is the channel marketing manager at Digium, a business communications company based in Huntsville, Ala., that delivers enterprise-class Unified Communications.

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Windows 10 + Office 365 & Special Topics = Immediate Knowledge Power!

Thu, Nov 19, 2015 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM PST

Presented by: & Harry Brelsford CEO of SMB Nation and Grant Thompson Founding Partner MG Technology Group

Join us for Part III of our three-part webinar series focused on Windows 10.

In this installment, we direct our expertise to discussing Office 365 integrations with Windows 10 plus a host of special topics that have accumulated over the first two webinars.  Windows 10

Topics include:

  • Windows 10 with Office 365 is the Azure AD Join
  • Any special reason why you are still using Office 2013 instead of Ofiice 2016? 
  • What’s the current state of OneDrive storage with Windows 10 and Office 365? 
  • Can you have both a personal and business OneDrive? 
  • What is the difference Windows Home and Windows Business SKUs? 
  • Windows Media Center was removed form Windows 10. Does Microsoft plan to make it available in any way or is there a workaround to regain that functionality? 
  • Is there a Windows 10 Certification exam available yet?
  • What about the Microsoft "snooping" in Windows 10 and other security concerns?
  • Through Virtualization - can I control two simultaneous outgoing audio streams (two disparate audio jacks/cards) 
  • And MUCH MORE…

Also remember since your customers are attending, you can register this event with Microsoft Community Connections and receive giveaway software and materials

349 X 115 MOD REG RND2

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Sennheiser helps activate the potential of Unified Communications with the launch of wired headset series Culture Plus

Old Lyme, Conn., November 9, 2015 – Sennheiser, a leading provider of premium headsets and speakerphone solutions, announces the launch of its new wired deployment headset Culture Plus. The new headset series is designed to facilitate office workers’ adoption of Unified Communications (UC) solutions and help activate their full potential.

Culture Plus headset  Seinhauser

Transitioning to UC environments means changing habits and communication cultures – within the organization as well as for the individual employee. As a direct communication interface between people, headsets play a significant role when implementing UC and positive communication experiences are crucial for higher adoption rates and hence a positive Return on Investment (ROI).

Sennheiser’s new Culture Plus wired series has been specifically designed for UC environments and swift user acceptance. The new, comfortable headset combines Sennheiser’s outstanding sound quality, 'instant comfort' features and an attractive design. Certified for Skype for Business and compatible with all major UC and softphone brands, the Culture Plus series is ideally suited for enterprises and offices that are adopting a new UC work-culture.

Culture Plus features Sennheiser’s sound quality, benefiting caller and listener alike. Sennheiser Voice Clarity, which is based on wideband sound, provides a warm, more natural listening experience while the noise-cancelling microphone ensures optimum speech intelligibility by filtering out ambient noise, delivering an optimal communication experience even in the noisiest environments. In addition, sound enhancement profiles automatically adjust audio settings to optimize either the voice quality of calls or the user’s multimedia experience. Culture Plus also features Sennheiser’s advanced ActiveGard™ technology developed to safeguard users from acoustic shock and sudden sound bursts.

The new headsets’ sleek look and quality design help ensure rapid user adoption. The stylish, contemporary appearance has been crafted with the user in mind, ensuring a good look whether used at the office desk or during video calls. The flexible, lightweight headband features leatherette padding that adjusts for a personalized fit, while large, acoustic foam ear pads with soft, removable leatherette covers ensure flexibility and wearing comfort throughout the day. The bendable boom arm allows the microphone to be placed in perfect position to ensure optimal microphone performance.

A functional in-line control unit ensures calls can be managed intuitively and seamlessly with the touch of a finger. In addition, the unit controls the switchable Noise at Work limiter compliant with EU’s Noise at Work Directive¤¤. When not in use, the headset can be stored and transported in a practical carry pouch.

“Headsets are an important consideration in any UC deployment”, says Lars Riis Rasmussen, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, EMEA, at Sennheiser Communications. "Culture Plus is an ideal solution for organizations that want their office workers to rapidly adopt headsets in a UC environment. It combines Sennheiser sound quality and instant wearing comfort in a communications experience that will make it easier to enjoy the benefits and activate the full potential of UC solutions.”

The addition of the Culture Plus wired series complements Sennheiser CC&O’s broad product portfolio of headset and speakerphone solutions for contact centers, office and UC environments, which capitalizes on Sennheiser’s 70 years of sound leadership, research and development.


About Sennheiser
Audio specialist Sennheiser is one of the world's leading manufacturers of headphones, microphones and wireless transmission systems. Based in Wedemark near Hanover, Germany, Sennheiser operates its own production facilities in Germany, Ireland and the USA and is active in more than 50 countries. With 18 sales subsidiaries and long-established trading partners, the company supplies innovative products and cutting-edge audio solutions that are optimally tailored to its customers' needs. Sennheiser is a family owned company that was founded in 1945 and which today has 2,700 employees around the world that share a passion for audio technology. Since 2013, Sennheiser has been managed by Daniel Sennheiser and Dr. Andreas Sennheiser, the third generation of the family to run the company. As part of the Sennheiser Group, the joint venture Sennheiser Communications A/S specializes in wireless and wired headsets and speakerphones for contact centers, offices and Unified Communications environments as well as headsets for gaming and mobile devices. In 2014, the Sennheiser Group had sales totalling €635 million. www.sennheiser.com


For more information on our professional headset solutions, please visit www.sennheiser.com/cco

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New SAP IaaS for Business One Cloud benefits small partners most

by Mark Cox • November 11, 2015

SAP announces a new infrastructure-as-a-service option for Business One Cloud which has been available in Canada since last Thursday, and in the U.S. for several weeks before that.

NEW YORK CITY – On Tuesday SAP entered the infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) business around its SAP Business One Cloud solution. It provides SAP partners with more choices for deployment. Run in data centres operated by SAP, this new services offering will come with a range of complementary services like backup and restore, disaster recovery and platform maintenance. It is available now in North America, with expansion to Europe and Asia scheduled around mid-year 2016.   Luis Murguia

“Three years ago, we started a journey to make Business One a player in the cloud,” said Luis Murguia, senior vice president and general manager, SAP Business One. “Our strategy was very simple – give the Business One customer a great customer experience in a 100 per cent partner-centric model, with subscription licensing available. Then two years ago, we introduced our multi-tenanted SAP Business One Cloud Control Centre that let partners host it, and have up to 25 customers running on the same copy of Business One.”

Murguia said that this July, SAP expanded the offering again with the introduction of browser access, allowing Business One to be run on a browser.

“Still, what was missing was infrastructure,” Murguia said. “Partners typically used AWS to host. The problem is that the ones which were small businesses can’t get good pricing from AWS. So we decided to get into the infrastructure-as-a-service business, and will offer the hosting ourselves to partners, so they can offer a full cloud experience for less.”

The offering was actually made available in the U.S., several weeks ago. In Canada, it has been available only since last Thursday

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Deploying Windows 10 Webinar / Thursday Nov 12, 2015 12 PM - 1 PM PST

Presented by: Harry Brelsford CEO of SMB Nation & Grant Thompson Founding Partner of MG Technology Group

Want to learn more about Windows 10? Wondering where to find the information? Sign up here! 

Join us next Thursday for an educational webinar on Deploying Windows 10. - windows 10 logo

This webinar will take you through Windows10 deployment from an outside-looking-in independent expert viewpoint. Needless to say, there are new and updated ways to deploy Windows 10. In this session, we review new recommendations for upgrading existing devices using a simple in-place upgrade process, provisioning tools for transforming new devices into ones ready for enterprise use, as well as updates to traditional deployment tools and techniques (ADK and beyond). We also talk about application compatibility, hardware requirements, and other common deployment questions.

Bottom Line: You’ll learn about the new release cycle, Azure AD, upgrade paths and scenarios, dynamic provisioning, and more. And can you really run Windows 10 on a stick?
Be sure to invite your customers to show them how the Windows 10 solutions can help them operate more efficiently and empower them to grow their business.

Also remember since your customers are attending, you can register this event with Microsoft Community Connections and receive giveaway software and materials.

349 X 115 MOD REG RND2

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The Doyle Report: Passportal Names MSP Pioneer Dan Wensley President

Why one man’s new gig could be your next big opportunity

By: T.C. Doyle| MSPmentor

Dan Wensley joins Passportal as President. More than a “sell-to” product that MSPs can use to help run their businesses more efficiently, Passportal’s technology is an identity and password management system designed and packaged to be sold by MSPs to end customers for an affordable price.

When does someone’s new job spell opportunity for you? When that individual puts himself in a position to help grow your business. This is precisely what Dan Wensley, a familiar name in the MSP community, has done since signing on to become Passportal’s president and de facto partner strategist. Before getting to the “whys,” here are a few “whats.”  Dan Wensley

For more than a decade, Wensley has been a familiar name and face in both the MSP community and partner ecosystem at large. A founder of MSP Partners, he spent seven years as vice president of sales and marketing for Level Platforms Inc. (LPI) before it was acquired by AVG. More recently, Wensley oversaw Plan27, a lead generation company that worked closely with MSP companies. In addition to his full-time duties, Wensley worked closely with CompTIA, where he served a three-year term on the trade association’s board of directors.

Here’s where the story gets interesting.

In October 2011, Wensley met and then became fast friends with Colin Knox, the CEO of Passportal. (You can see a photo of the two in an early meeting, which is making the rounds on Twitter here.) Passportal’s mission is to make secure password management for IT professionals simple. Its motto: “The End of Sticky Note Security.”

For the uninitiated, Passportal has developed a “fully managed, cloud-based software solution that automates password protection and makes storing, managing and retrieving passwords quick and easy from virtually any connected device.” That’s according to the company.

Knox, of course, could have chosen any number of go-to-market strategies to make his company successful. He could have gone direct to business customers or straight to consumers to build momentum for his brand. Instead, Knox decided to sell his technology exclusively through channel companies, MSPs primarily. “We are the only password management solution that is designed by an MSP for MSPs like yours,” the company says. “We are your channel provider that is integrated with all the tools you love including Active Directory, Connectwise, and Autotask.”

This is where Wensley comes in.

After years of helping to give the MSP market shape and definition, Wensley signed on with Passportal a year ago to help oversee its partner sales and management efforts. Wensley says he saw in an instant a nexus forming around security, RMM technology and password management innovation. Funny thing about Wensley, though: before joining Passportal, he was a self-described password slob. At one point, he says, he had as many as 32 different sticky notes stuck to his office wall with various passwords. Try as he might, he concedes he could never keep track of them. When he heard of a solution that could, he became intrigued—doubly so after learning that it was sold exclusively through the channel.

“I got involved [with the company] some time ago and have been taking it sorta slowly and methodically,” says Wensley. “After discussing where we wanted to go for the next few years, it became apparent there was a mutually good fit here.”

So here’s the “why” and “what it means” for you.

Passportal is now offering a passport management solution that is no doubt better than the one you likely offer customers, which is likely one-step better than an Excel spreadsheet and the safeguards that have been incorporated in PSA and RMM solutions but likely short of the few, comprehensive enterprise-class solutions offered from some very expensive companies.

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A Better Way to Calculate the ROI of Your Marketing Investment

By: Werner Reinartz and Rajkumar Venkatesan

Traditionally, marketers calculate the ROI of a marketing investment by measuring how much sales increased in its aftermath. This is a blunt metric: maybe the consumer had a different interaction with the brand that influenced them. Or maybe they had an intrinsic preference for the brand and would have made a purchase anyway. blog

Today the situation has changed. Marketers have access to data that allows them to track individuals’ various interactions with a brand before their purchase, and better understand what role each interaction — and individual preferences — played in the eventual sale.

This approach, called “attribution modeling,” allows companies to attribute appropriate credit to each online and offline contact and touch point in a customer’s purchase cycle, and understand its role in the revenues that ultimately result. A good attribution model should show, for example, precisely which ads or search keywords are most associated with actual purchases.

Developing an attribution model is a gradual process. You can’t get there all at once. There are four key stages in the journey:

Stage 1: Prepare your data

You can’t have any kind of attribution model without data around touch points and outcomes. Many companies collect this data but often store it in different databases and in ways that make comparison difficult. Once companies can access and analyze data around touch points and purchases, they can detect patterns and are ready to apply simple attribution models. These involve applying rules of thumb, such as “give all credit to the last point of interaction” or “give equal credit to all points of interaction with the customer before a purchase is made.”

They may sound simplistic, but even simple rules-based models can deliver immediate results. This was the case at one company we recently advised. Only after considerable efforts to get data for each touch point aligned in one repository could the company begin to figure out sensible rules of thumb to guide marketing investments. It began by simply allocating resources to each touch point as a direct function of its marginal ROI. Even this rather rough and ready approach sharply improved the company’s overall marketing ROI.

Stage 2: Experiment

As managers get more comfortable with a rules-based model they can begin to conduct experiments to fine-tune the attribution rules. Most importantly, you can start to assess the degree to which a given touch point depends on other touch points; you could, for example, test a search tool’s role in a customer’s cycle by turning display advertising on or off. This allows managers to identify clusters of touch points that might individually look less powerful but that collectively pack more punch than simply focusing on those that look individually strongest.

An insurance company we interviewed conducted several regional experiments to evaluate the synergy of television, organic search, and display advertisements. The company varied the exposure of its consumers to TV ads across the different regions they served. They found that organic visits to the website and display advertisement click-through all increased disproportionally in a region when consumers there were also exposed to TV ads. This experiment motivated the firm to start better coordinating their marketing campaigns across media channels.

Stage 3: Apply statistical models

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Better Call an MSP Part 7: How to Best Navigate MSP M&A Activity

By Shannon Mayer, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Continuum Managed IT Services

The seventh installment of a monthly blog series offering tips and best practices on various ways MSPs can help their SMB clients work through the most challenging daily business issues.

In the last installment of, “Better Call an MSP,” we offered tips on staying ahead of the game when it comes to malware and virus attacks. Let’s switch gears and discuss the recent M&A activity that’s occurring on the enterprise and SMB levels. This type of activity is becoming more prevalent with both vendors and MSPs as they grow with the market. For instance, just recently, Dell acquired EMC, Barracuda purchased Intronis, and Solar Winds was acquired by two private equity firms. The same goes for the various MSPs that have been acquired or have joined forces to merge into one larger company to better serve clients.

What does all this mean for MSPs? First and foremost, transformation, now more than ever, is a necessity, rather than a proactive measure because as the market consolidates, competition increases. As an IT solutions provider, it is critical to deep dive into your business, looking at where you can add opportunities to set yourself apart from your competitors; this includes everything from offerings and services, customer service and value proposition. Let’s examine this closer.

1.) Increase Services/Increase Value Proposition: This is a good starting point, especially since there are specific focuses currently on certain services. For instance, security is currently at the forefront, and there are many opportunities in this area, such as password management, managed print and telecom. One way consolidation can be a positive for MSPs is by partnering with another firm that has the expertise and resources you want to add. For instance, if you want to add managed print, but don’t currently have a solution, seek out one of your peers who might have this area solidified. I have heard of several MSPs (including Continuum partners) who have partnered to add telecom and vice-versa; all of which have led to positive results.

When it comes to value proposition, separate yourself from your competitors to stay current and unique. This is especially important as you don’t want your services to sound too much like everyone else’s. How can you overcome this hurdle? One way is to perfect your “elevator pitch.” Can you honestly tell a potential customer what your value proposition is in 30 seconds or less? If not, then think about how you can be clear, concise and to the point without any added jargon or “filler” material.

2.) Build Customer Service: Regarding commodization of the MSP space, customer service is critical to your success. Did you know that it costs six to seven times more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing one? Think about the financial aspect of this, not to mention the time it takes to obtain and then onboard a new customer.

We’ve also spoken about pricing in this blog series, specifically when it comes to competitors trying to undercut each other. However, if your customer service goes above and beyond expectations, then you are more likely to retain your current customers (and also add new ones at the same time). In fact, according to global management consulting firm Bain & Company, “A customer is four times more likely to defect to a competitor if the problem is service related rather than price or product related.”

3.) Cultivate Relationships: Aside from always ensuring your customers are well taken care of, also show your appreciation for their business—not just when they have a problem that needs to be addressed. The key is to be proactive rather than reactive if you want to be unique in your business model. Don’t wait for a customer to call you when they are at the point of their system shutting down. Set up monthly check-ins to see how things are running; get to know them and what their needs are for both the long and short term.

Another way to do this is by “showing” rather than “telling” them, possibly on a quarterly basis. Lay out on paper what you as the MSP have done to support their IT efforts; numbers speak louder than words, and if there are specific instances of ROI that you can share, then make sure to highlight those components. This way, they can visibly see where their money is going and how it’s being utilized toward their business. If you need guidance in mapping out a strategy for these types of reports, look to your vendor partners for guidance and tools that can help. Many MSPs often are not aware that their vendors are always there to help and educate them, as well as providing products and services.

Letting your customers know you appreciate them doesn’t always have to be all about business. You could also let them know they are important by holding a local “meet and greet” type of event where you can socialize and they can get to know you and your staff in a casual setting. Other gestures like a special gift during the holidays or other company milestones can go a long way as well. You could also establish a loyalty program in which customers earn points that they could use toward services and product discounts.

Whether you start with implementing one of these components, or all three, remember that the key is to think of areas where you can position yourself as a unique market leader, ensuring you stay competitive, while providing the highest level of customer service to both current and new clients.


Shannon Mayer is Continuum's Senior Product Marketing Manager and is directly responsible for platform go-to-market strategy and messaging as well as business intelligence. She manages the Continuum Peer Groups program and content for Navigate 2016, Continuum’s annual partner conference. Shannon was named a 2013 Channel Chief by CRN and has also been named to the MSPmentor 250, CRN’s ‘Top 100 People You Don’t Know, But Should’, and CRN’s ‘Women of the Channel: Power 100’ lists. Follow her on Twitter: @shannonjmayer.

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Building Your Reputation as a Trusted Advisor

By: Pete Engler

The reasons a customer chooses to do business with a value added reseller (VAR) often extend beyond the menu of available product and service offerings. The decision can also be influenced by the brands (or vendors) that the VAR represents, and the geographic region served. Reputation of the VAR also comes into play – and can be one of the most influential deciding factors, especially when there are competing VARs vying for a customer’s business. As a VAR, your position in the marketplace and the reputation you’ve earned could make the most significant difference in closing a sale with a new customer.

As a VAR in the technology space, it’s not uncommon to offer a multitude of different products in order to better position yourself to help solve a customer’s business need. Although, an expanded selection can cloud the customer’s decision or leave him confused and unsure of the best route to take. Helping your customer make the best decision and helping ensure your revenue continues growing really depends on your ability as a VAR to position your business and service expertise over the product(s).

What exactly does it mean to position your VAR business and services over products? First, a VAR needs to be an industry and business expert. That means having the capability to properly evaluate a business and its needs efficiently and determine the best solution path to implement. This seems obvious but it can be tricky due to the changes in the buying process. Consider that prospective buyers in business-to-business settings have typically completed 57 percent of their due diligence work before they engage a sales representative, according to a Harvard Business Review survey. Today’s buyers are more prepared and further down the sales funnel before engaging sales support due in large part to the infinite resources and peer reviews available online. This means customers are also further down the decision path before seeking out a VAR’s service and experience during the sales, installation and support process. If a prospect has already set his mind on a particular solution, but it’s really not the best fit, it makes your position as an advisor more challenging. Your expertise can certainly help prevent the customer from making a costly decision, but you first have to convince him that there’s a better alternative.

Being a trusted advisor for your prospects and current customers does require industry and solutions knowledge, but it’s more than rattling off product specs. The customer probably already has that information as part of the early funnel due-diligence. As mentioned previously, your role is to conduct a careful evaluation of the business's needs, so any problems can be identified and addressed, all within budget constraints.

Business owners are masters of their core business functions, but when it comes to choosing the right technology, they can overlook key solution integration details, pricing and feature gotchas, and other lesser-known deployment and maintenance considerations. That’s why they depend on you. Your expertise as a trusted VAR is critical to recommend and implement the technologies that keep their business running on a daily basis, and help the business avoid having to go through a trial-and-error selection process.

Once the sale is complete, your role as trusted advisor moves to the installation, maintenance and troubleshooting phases. This is where you and your team’s capabilities are tested most and where the greatest opportunity exists for damage to your reputation. If the install does not go smoothly, confidence is weakened. After the solution is installed and should an issue arise, you must move to resolve them quickly. Training of your customer support teams on the products and solutions installed is also imperative. Nothing erodes confidence more than an uninformed support staff that is unable to adequately resolve issues.

In the end, it’s your ability to manage any unexpected system hiccups and minimize headaches in the long-term that will solidify your reputation as an expert that can be depended upon by your customers. Building a reputation as a trusted advisor isn’t a tough thing to accomplish; but it is dependent upon your ability to consistently match the right solutions with each prospective customer, deliver expertise through competent and trained employees to install and maintain the solution, and provide top-notch customer service. The benefits of having a solid reputation as a trusted advisor are many; and it’s conceivable that you could grow your VAR organization exclusively on referral business.

Pete Engler is the channel marketing manager at Digium, a business communications company based in Huntsville, Ala., that delivers enterprise-class Unified Communications.

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State of the Channel 2015: Cloud Turns from ‘Threat’ to ‘Opportunity’

5th Annual State of the Channel Research Banner Ad 220x150

By: Carolyn April, Senior Director of Industry Analysis at CompTIA  -

The tech industry, like most others, has its fair share of pundits. Some predict gloom and doom if the stock market has a single down day or jump on every vendor or provider setback as if it were a long-standing trend. Then there are the channel optimists, who emphasize the positive points around industry news and put a rosier spin on any negative concerns. A commonly accepted business practice is to listen to both camps for their views and reasoning before developing your own conclusions, especially when your investments and reputation depend on the decisions you make with that information.

Overall, most IT professionals remain optimistic about the future of our industry, even in the face of tremendous change and new business challenges. In fact, six out of ten channel firms have a positive outlook on what the future holds for the channel in general, according to CompTIA’s 5th Annual State of the Channel research project. Five years ago, many VARs, solution providers and other industry professionals were concerned about their long-term business prospects with cloud computing gaining traction. The turnaround in the channel’s outlook is quite significant.    

Cloud computing is now cited as the chief reason to be optimistic about the channel’s future since, among other things, it opens doors to new opportunities. Whether or not there is reason to be this hopeful remains to be seen. But, according to our most recent study, channel companies are seeing the cloud as less of a threat. They are discovering that cloud isn’t a single business model; it gives them the chance to plug in at various points. They can sell SaaS, integrate cloud with on-premises solutions, broker and aggregate cloud options, develop applications and offer complementary managed services and other support options.

On the flip side, the cloud also has its skeptics. A subset of our study respondents remain pessimistic and about future of the channel and cite cloud a one reason. This is especially true of those channel firms that sell primarily to very small end customers. Why? Among these small-sized clients, cloud solutions offer a no-brainer alternative to on-premises hardware and software solutions (where many VARs still prosper). Likewise, one third of channel firms indicated that a wider availability of purchasing options and customer self-sufficiency were sources of concern for the channel’s future. This may be behind many of the smallest channel companies rethinking their customer value proposition. For example, 26% of firms with less than 10 employees currently list pure consulting services as their main source of revenue. If their end customers decide to convert to an all cloud model, these small VARs have to create support service offerings to help guide their clients’ decisions. Those opportunities seem to make the most sense. 

While cloud has the promise to simplify things for some customers, others continue to struggle with the growing complexity of IT. That’s great news for channel companies. The third platform technologies (mobility, cloud, big data, and social media) perplex many small businesses today, so IT firms that can help design, implement and support these solutions are truly relevant.

Companies with those capabilities should be optimistic. Of course, there are other reasons why the study respondents had a positive outlook on the channel’s future, including:

• Wider variety and use of technology by all types of customers and end users

• Increasingly complex solution and service options

• Larger demand for vertical industry expertise

These are market realities that provide channel companies with a reason to be optimistic and a number of roles to fill. The opportunities are theirs for the taking if they take the appropriate steps. With solid recruitment efforts and effective training programs, it will make it easier for channel firms to focus their efforts on emerging and more sophisticated technologies.

VARs and MSPs should also be making continual improvements in the business practices. A makeover of sales and marketing strategies can help bring in new customers from different verticals. Back office automation can help reduce billing and cash flow issues, and other tools can improve customer service and support operations. Channel firms that embrace an “as-a-service” way of life typically have a more optimistic outlook.

There’s plenty to be positive about in the IT industry right now. Based on all the information we compiled during the latest State of the Channel survey, a majority of firms are definitely more optimistic than they were five years ago. The real question right now seems to be “will that positive outlook continue?” Time will tell.  

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