From VAR to IT Solutions Provider: A Brand Journey in B2B IT
The world has changed in the IT distribution landscape. VARs are reinventing themselves as solution providers. This comes with a challenge: while the models have shifted, many VARs still look and sound like resellers. And who's going to seek out a reseller when they are looking to address transformational strategic issues?
Back in the day, the value-added reseller (VAR) filled a role as an extension of an original equipment manufacturer’s (OEM) sales team. A VAR extended geographic reach, facilitated on-site integration, maybe offered credit or ongoing maintenance services.
The last decade has seen a shift across a number of key dynamics, notably the rise of cloud and the diminishing need among OEM’s for a physical supply chain.
Certainly a number of VARs have successfully been able to reinvent (e.g. look at companies like ePlus or Presidio) - whether by offering a deep level of strategic advisory well upstream of any physical purchase and/or by directly delivering a host of cloud-based services.
Yet while many VARs may have expanded their capabilities, they often fail to position themselves as the strategic partner that their prospective buyers need within this new IT landscape.
Here are 3 brand “must-haves” to compete in this new reality:
1. A Brand Story that Bridges
One of your first challenges is to convince customers that you can provide strategic advice on infrastructure vs the “value add” of selling the component parts of that infrastructure. You’re up against major consultancies (IBM, Accenture) and major managed services providers (AWS, Microsoft). What makes your firm a better IT Solutions Provider than your competitors?
Simply talking about what you do will not set you apart. You need to show how you are different and better than these other options.
Develop a brand story statement (about 25 words) to define that difference-- a difference that must bridge the gap between the VAR business and the strategic services both upstream and down. Look at your:
- Place in the ecosystem Do you have a unique position? Does it give you a unique point of view? If so, what’s your unique view of the future and how clients should get there?
- Vertical expertise Do you have specialized sector experience? If so, what makes you uniquely able to deliver in that sector better than anyone else?
- Process or delivery Do you have a unique approach or methodology? Who is involved, why and what unique benefit do they bring?
- Technology Does your advantage lie in specialized tech, dashboards, AI? Can you make the claim that you are “most innovative?” If so, what’s the benefit of that?
- Track record If you find it hard to identify the difference, ask yourself which engagements with clients have been most lucrative and why? What resources or processes did you bring to bear that helped you succeed?
Compare your statement to your competitors’ “About Us” on their websites. Have you captured your difference and why customers should come to you vs them?
2. A Well Designed Portfolio
The structure of your portfolio tells prospects not only what you offer but how you view those offerings working together to benefit them.
Look carefully at your website to see your products, services and solutions through the eyes of a prospect.
Then ask yourself:
- What signals does our portfolio send? Do we look like a VAR with tacked on strategic services or have we presented offerings in a way that aligns with how our customers think about their infrastructures?
- Is our portfolio clarifying or confusing? Are our strategic and managed services offerings clear or are we confusing customers with our own branded names for the work we do?
- Are we accessible? Do we have an easy path of entry for a prospect to purchase our strategic or managed services?
- Does is all fit together? Is it clear how our offerings interrelate?
- Does the portfolio reflect our point of difference? Does the presentation of our offerings support our brand statement or do we look like everyone else?
You should also ask your sales team: When talking about our offerings, what gets in the way of a sale? Which brings us to ….
3. A sales-enabled Sales Team
To sell advisory services upstream and managed services downstream, your sales team is going to need to make a consultative sale.
Your sales team must be your greatest ally in your effort to convince prospects your firm is more than just a VAR.
Position your sales team for success:
- Have a Point of View about the customer’s opportunity: A great professional services sales pitch starts with deep understanding of the pain your prospect is likely feeling. What might that be and what’s your firm’s take on it?
- Help them to see: Help your prospects visualize the problem they are likely facing and how your firm can help resolve it. This picture can be anything from an ecosystem diagram, methodology diagram, charts, whatever it takes.
- Suggest a solution: You’ll need a way to tee up your advisory offerings. This can be done with a simple list of “3 critical areas you need to address” or, if you have a good sense of what the prospect needs, a direct appeal to a service or solution that can help.
It’s critical that you get this part right. Prospects will assess your advisory ability by how well you engage them in the sales process. That means a discussion about the trends and challenges the prospect faces and routes to solve them vs a discussion about how great your own firm is.
Shifting market perceptions is no easy task.
It takes planning and staging over time. Brands are not built in a day, a week or even a year. As the VAR business changes, the winners will be the companies that can project the strongest and most differentiating strategic advisory story.
Jonathan Paisner, founder and principal of BrandExperienced, works with B2B firms struggling to achieve clarity in their marketing and communications.
Mike Cucka is a brand strategy consultant who clarifies complex brands and technologies, bringing clarity and impact to B2B services and technology brands.
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