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.