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Michele Warren
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SMB VARs Seek Out Margins And Support

Last week I wrote about what SMB VARs look for in vendor partners. Now I want to talk about what solution providers look for in their vendor's partner programs.

Last week I wrote about what SMB VARs look for in vendor partners. Now I want to talk about what solution providers look for in their vendor's partner programs.In my conversations with VARs, several factors were mentioned, but there were three that came up over and over again. Here they are:

Margins. First and foremost, solution providers want to know that their work with vendors is going to pay off. "I look for a program that entices our organization financially to resell their offering," says Greg Schaller of Trifecta Technologies, a provider of e-commerce solutions. Adds Harry Segal, president of Networks Unlimited, a Hudson, Mass.-based security VAR: "I want to see discounts that are in line with the degree of education we'll have to invest to explain the technology and the problems it solves. The more time we need to invest in the typical sale, the higher the discounts should be. Highly competitive markets (and are there any that aren't today?) also deserve greater margins.

Support. This was a recurring theme. And solution providers aren't looking for just one brand of support--they want it all, across the board, from training and marketing to post-sales and technical.

"We support our clients as best as we can. We listen to them, and we're responsive," says Jim Bartow of Enterprise Business Network, whose portfolio includes CRM solutions. "We want our vendor partners to do the same." Schaller says having access to partner resources helps him market a partner's offerings more effectively and provide value-add to customers. "Training resources and an effective knowledge base--both functional and technical--increase our ability to successfully market, implement, and support the partnership," he adds.

As for Segal, he places an emphasis on a vendor's technical and marketing support. "Will we have easy phone access to pre-sales tech support so we can get questions answered and ensure that the product/service is a good match for the customer's needs?," he asks. "We want to make sure we'll have a satisfied customer after the solution is deployed." On the marketing side of things, Segal looks for a "willingness to devote vendor resources, including dollars," to marketing programs his company can produce for customers and target markets.

Evaluation/NFR Units. This one surprised me a little bit, only because I didn't expect it to be such a high priority.

Bartow likes to use Not-For-Resale products for training and demos. Segal does the same, relying on free or "attractively priced" demo products to educate his team. "We want to run the vendor's [offerings] in production mode, in our own environment, so that we'll experience the same benefits as our customers," he says. "But even more important, our engineers must have hands-on experience with the products in order to become product experts. Also, we need to replicate any technical problems customers are experiencing so that we can help troubleshoot them."

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