What should we look for in a value-added reseller for our IT purchases?
Our advice: Everyone in IT has heard the term value-added reseller. Yet how many of us can honestly say the reseller we use truly adds value? If your current VAR isn't living up to your expectations, or is leaving you wanting more, here's what to look for in selecting your next source for IT purchases. Offering competitive prices is one consideration, but there should be a lot more than just seeking the lowest price. Here are a few additional considerations:
First, the VAR should know your industry. This isn't an absolute requirement, but having someone who knows the nuances of how your industry works, the role of IT, and IT success stories in your industry, can proactively suggest new IT trends that can improve your company's overall efficiency. It's valuable to have someone who has "been there, and done that." You want a team player, not a box pusher.
Second, the VAR should be responsive to your pre-sales inquiries, and be a good communicator and listener. No one likes playing telephone tag, or waiting for days for a call back. Select a VAR that seems honestly interested in your business. The VAR should listen closely to what you have to say, your requirements, and your concerns, and should bring the conversation full circle by asking meaningful questions. Partner with a VAR who takes ownership of pre-sales inquiries, and follows through on getting answers to your questions. Also, once a purchase is made, the VAR should stay with the sale, tracking it, and offering you updates. You shouldn't have to guess when your order will arrive.
Third, the VAR should carry all the major technology lines relevant to your company. If there's a particular product not represented by the firm, do they take a proactive role to link you with the right supplier? Not realizing a sale today, but being a real partner in researching a solution, speaks volumes about how the VAR values your account.
Fourth, the VAR should have excellent relationships with major hardware and software manufacturers. This can bear fruit in introducing you to advance product announcements, non-disclosure arrangements, and access to technical resources at the manufacturer's level. Having this level of "steering" involvement with your VAR can aid immensely in your decision making and getting the right answers quickly to your questions and from the right people.
Also, find out how the VAR handles post-sales support issues. A VAR committed to service will take complete ownership of post-sales problems. A VAR who is focused on only the next sale will send you to the manufacturer for support. As always, check references before doing business with anyone.
Much of this sounds basic and straightforward. Yet, it takes effort on the part of a VAR to make it happen. That's what you should be looking for in your next VAR. A box pusher is only an order taker. You should be demanding more.
Beth Cohen, TAC Thought Leader, has more than 20 years of experience building strong IT-delivery organizations from user and vendor perspectives. Having worked as a technologist for BBN, the company that literally invented the Internet, she not only knows where technology is today but where it's heading in the future.
Stephen Rood, TAC Expert, has more than 24 years experience in the IT field specializing in developing and implementing strategic-technology plans for organizations as well as senior project-management and help-desk operations review. His consulting experience has included designing and implementing a state-of-the-art emergency 911 call center for the city of Newark, N.J., and managing technology refreshes for a major nonprofit entertainment organization and a large, regional food broker. He also worked at Coopers & Lybrand, General Foods, and Survey Research. He is the author of the book "Computer Hardware Maintenance: An IS/IT Manager's Guide" that presents a model for hardware maintenance cost containment.