It wasn't that long ago that tech suppliers-from small VARs and MSPs to the largest vendors-struggled to get non-IT executives involved in the IT purchasing process. Some would meet and talk about how to do an end-run around the internal IT manager and get to the CEO or business owner who held the purse strings.
Thankfully, that battle is over. According to Gartner Inc., more than 40 percent of IT spend is now authorized outside the traditional IT department, and that number is expected to top 90 percent by the end of the decade. But many IT service providers are unprepared for this sudden, radical change and are scrambling to figure out how to approach new decision makers now that the process they are comfortable with is obsolete.
"I've seen a lot of MSPs that don't have any sales process," says Chris Wiser, CEO of TechSquad IT, a Waukesha, Wis.-based MSP. "They just go in and say, 'This is what we've got and let us know.' I'd say 98 percent of MSPs have very little sales or marketing approach."
By comparison, TechSquad IT has a carefully outlined strategic sales process. It is this mature, value-based approach that allows Wiser to see the industry shift as an opportunity rather than a threat-and he can point to results that prove it. "We just picked up two 90-user companies as clients. In both cases the decision was made entirely by the financial executive."
Numerous tools are available to help MSPs become better at sales and marketing. Wiser's own sales process improved after he and his team attended the sales training academy sessions offered by CharTec, an MSP in Bakersfield, Calif., that opened up a sideline teaching other MSPs how to sell. Other resources include the Technology Marketing Toolkit offered by Robin Robins and sales training provided by most vendors.
FOCUS ON OUTCOMES
According to Larry Walsh, president and CEO of Port Washington, N.Y.-based channel advisory firm The 2112 Strategy Group, Wiser has the right idea. "The VAR community has been fixated on function rather than outcome," he says, adding that when the conversation does address outcomes it is usually limited to cost reduction. "The IT industry defines ROI. Up to now it has been about automation. It takes a task that was traditionally done by a human or a group of humans and it puts it in the hands of a machine that is managed by a smaller group of humans. That's all great, but it's all about cost reduction."
Walsh also notes that success today is predicated on the VAR's ability to recognize the way the decision maker enhances his/her value to the organization and then focus the approach on supporting that.
"Education becomes a much bigger part of the role," says Charles Weaver, president of industry group MSPAlliance, based in Chico, Calif. "[Non-IT buyers] need to be responsible enough to understand what the repercussions of [their] decisions are going to be."
Concludes Walsh: "There is an opportunity for our traditional VARs to be smarter. We've had too much reliance on the FUD [fear, uncertainty, and doubt] factor: 'If you don't contract with us bad things will happen.' That's not untrue, but only one small part of the story."