VARmageddon

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Today it occurred to me, with all momentum we are seeing with the cloud the biggest change we are seeing is the demise of the VAR (Value Added Reseller.) VAR is a term that was cooked up in the techie acronym kitchen 20 or so years ago to differentiate solution centric resellers from box pushers. The only problem is, everyone calls themselves VARs. So like the little league team that gives everyone a trophy, nobody stands out.

The problem with describing yourself as a VAR is by definition, your starting point is selling stuff. From there, you add value around those products. This is where the cloud is changing things. The migration of services and applications into the cloud is creating a mindset where the customer is focused more than ever on business outcomes, not the building blocks that make those business outcomes happen.

My point isn’t that the cloud is making solution providers irrelevant – there’s going to be plenty of hardware and software being sold to keep us all afloat (and then some). True, the pendulum is swinging right, but it will swing left again (think centrex and mainframes). The big change is how IT decision makers are approaching decisions. If your value proposition is to sell technology and wrap value around it, you’re behind the 8-ball. If on the other hand your value proposition is to solve problems and create outcomes (that happen to employ technology), you’ve got an advantage over 99% of your competition. Ironically, you end up selling more hardware and software.

A quick survey of the fastest growing partners’ websites prove this point:  very little mention of technology or vendors, just business outcomes – what else matters?

Are these guys having fun or what?

No, these guys don’t look like they’re having much fun. When we think of the famous California gold rush, it’s easy to conjure images of enterprising adventurers hitching a ride west to pursue vast fortunes. I’m reminded of this romantic hype when I hear so much discussion about the cloud. Only problem is, the cloud by nature is very difficult to make money in unless you have very large economies of scale. Sure, you can scratch away living, but ultimately it becomes commoditized and over-mined. 

The vast majority of the people that went searching for vast fortunes in the hills of Northern California never found them. Sure, they found a few nuggets here and there – enough to keep a tent over their head. On the other hand, the real money was made by the people that took advantage of the implications of the gold rush, not the gold rush itself.  The real money was made by people who sold shovels and whiskey or the trading posts that allowed miners to put food and supplies on credit. 

What are the implications of the cloud and what opportunities do they create for you? A big one is mobility. The cloud allows people to access new applications that were previously cost prohibitive -from any device.  Maybe your cloud strategy should really be all about mobility, fat wireless pipes, and identity management. Video which will become ubiquitous is going to be one of the biggest applications to move increasingly into the cloud in the next couple years. Most enterprises don’t have the shovels or whiskey to make this happen, do you?

http://twitter.com/@convergencesoup

 

ROWE your boat.

rowing_crew

If you’re like me, you’re starting to get a little fatigued with all of the talk about BYOD. Most of us (including your customers) have setup a rule in our brain to automatically right-click-delete any discussion about this fast growing technology opportunity. If you’re officially BYOD’d out, I’d like to suggest you consider another four letter word which I think you’ll be hearing a lot about in the coming years. ROWE, Results Oriented Work Environment is a growing trend that has fascinating repercussions on how your customers spend their IT dollars. 
 
ROWE represents a shift in the relationship employers have with their employees. While, traditionally, companies got the most out of employees by having them in the office, working set hours, and measuring them by what they appear to be doing, ROWE embracing companies throw all of these old-rules out the window and measure their employees by the results they generate. This could mean flexible hours, working from home, unlimited vacation time, and many other concepts that I believe you’ll see more companies embrace to get better results from their teams. Companies that have implemented ROWE are often able to attract better talent without having to pay more money.
 
Do yourself a favor and google ROWE and think about the technology implications. Less real estate, more remote work environments, VPN, telework, mobility, virtual presence, collaboration, video, call accounting, cloud services and even yes, BYOD.. these are all the building blocks of a smooth running ROWE environment. A really clever VAR might start a ROWE consulting practice where you help companies determine whether ROWE makes sense for them. You could help clients develop policies, best practices and business continuity strategies. By partnering with commmercial real estate brokers and business process consultants, you could extend your reach into a very large market.
 
Want to start a ROWE practice? Catalyst Telecom can help, give me a call..

Moneyball and WLAN

If you’ve seen the movie or read the book, you know that Oakland’s GM Billy Beane changed the game of baseball by recruiting players based on a different set of metrics than the good ol’ boys club had done for decades.  By putting laser focus on the on-base percentage and slugging percentage (total bases divided by at bats), the 2002 Oakland Athletics were able to field a team that finished first in the American League West despite having only 41M in their strapped budget. They did this by finding “value” players that were often overlooked by the bigger teams because they didn’t fit the traditional profile of a good player.

If you are a VAR and liken your business to a baseball team, you have a lot of marquis players on your roster. Many VAR’s like to focus on the home run specializations: WAN, LAN, Data Center, Storage, Security and VoIP because they can generate the really big deals. Many of these same VAR’s don’t want to sell WLAN because these deals don’t produce substantial dollars. For this reason, I believe Wireless LAN to be the technology equivalent of a sabermetric hidden gem because it has a high on-base percentage. The flood  of customers refreshing their WLAN, the insatiable thirst for wireless bandwidth, and the explosive BYOD movement are all creating unprecedented demand. This means your chances of getting on base are extremely high. Once you’re on base, there’s a hundred other things you can sell that customer once you’ve earned their trust. The deals aren’t as big, but if you’re playing moneyball, you understand that getting on base wins more games in the long run.

Good Selling

Tom

https://twitter.com/convergencesoup

The Power of Testimonials

When you provide a proposal to a customer, or ask a decision maker to have that first meeting, do you leverage the power of testimonials? Everyone will tell a customer they can execute and fulfill all their hopes and dreams, but how does the customer know if you’ve got the goods? The best sales professionals have a plethora of testimonials on Linked In (if you don’t, you’d better catch up) — why not leverage those testimonials outside of Linked In to demonstrate your credibility? There’s no reason you can’t include a testimonial in a proposal or an email – why not make the most of these kind words. Take it a step further and include a “view my profile” button your customer can click on to see a real person’s profile on Linked In.  By doing a simple <print-screen> and a little cut and paste in microsoft paint (accessories), you can include a testimonial that looks like the below:

Note, it’s a good idea to give your testimonials a “heads up”, but my guess is they won’t mind since they’ve already provided the testimonial. One of the biggest components of converting a prospect to a customer is convincing them you can execute – these testimonials serve to that end.

Good Selling

Tom

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Sales Magnet

Here’s a trick, compliments of yours truly, to capture critical contacts with whom you can further your sales efforts.  Create a group on Linkedin out of thin air. I just created a group called “CIO Executive Assistants Network.” Before doing so, I went on to cooltext.com and slapped together the following logo in two minutes:

Next, I joined every Executive Admin/Assistant Group on Linkedin – some of which automatically accept me. The next step is to go onto these groups on Linkedin and promote my new group – targeted specifcally to EA’s that support CIO’s. This is a more specific niche than any other groups currently existing on Linkedin. Within hours, members have started to trickle in. I bet within a month I’ll have over 100 members.

Here’s the cool thing: Every time a member joins the group, it gets broadcasted to everyone in their network. Over time this creates a snowball like effect. I’ve executed this game plan successfully in the past with the NorVaya Linkedin BP Network (many who read this blog are a member).

Mind you, this isn’t a “trick”. In order to pull this off (and not betray the trust of these members) you’re going to have to use this group altruistically. This doesn’t mean you can’t also advance your cause by controlling the conversation and establishing yourself as a trusted figure.

So what’s the endgame? Access. As we all know, access to decision makers is half the battle. Using the above strategy, you can get very creative — sky’s the limit!

If you like ideas like this, follow me on twitter: https://twitter.com/convergencesoup

Good Selling!

Tom

A “smart pill” for your business?

If you learned there was a pill that could improve your cognition, memory, intelligence, motivation,  and concentration — would you take it? In the movie Limitless, the character of Eddie Morra (played by Bradley Cooper) is confronted with precisely this dilemma when he runs into an old friend on the streets of New York. The friend claims to be working for a drug company about to bring such a pill to market. Eddie, a struggling author freshly dumped by his girlfriend and late on his rent, decides to take the magic pill called NZT-48 in a “what do I have to lose” moment.

As you may have guessed, the pill has profound effects on Eddie. He’s able to access virtually 100% of his brain allowing him to effortlessly write the first 90 pages of his book within hours to the amazement and awe of his editor. As he continues to take the drug, Eddie turns his life around overnight. With his newfound genius, Eddie can access and analyze diverse knowledge and data within his brain to write brilliant prose, speak foreign languages, play complex Chopin pieces, build a fortune by day-trading stocks and even woo beautiful women.

While this “clear pill” is a product of Hollywood fiction, it may interest you to know there is in fact an evolving genre of drugs and nutraceuticals referred to as nootropics or smart drugs. These drugs are thought to work by (a) altering the brain’s supply of neurochemicals; (b) improving the brain’s oxygen supply; and (c) stimulating nerve growth. According to NZT-48’s fictional (yet hilariously realistic) website, the “clear pill” elevates receptivity and synaptic sharing between the hippocampus, the amygdala and the striatum.

While the current or future efficacy of such a smart pill is debatable, I’d like to pose a different question. What if a “smart pill” existed for your business? What if your business was like Eddie Mora with many of the same problems: struggling to go to market with a new product, being dumped by customers, and struggling with cash flow?

It seems to me, there’s a lot of consilience between a brain and a business. Using the components that NZT-48 targets, we have the following divisions of the brain.

The hippocampus is responsible for forming, sorting and storing memories. Not only does it file and store memories, it connects related memories together to give them meaning. If we imagine your business is a brain, the hippocampus represents the information that is vital to your business.

The amygdala, located deep within the medial temporal lobes, is the engine that manages social interaction enabling integration and cooperation with others.. Interestingly, the size of the amygdala directly correlates to size and complexity of a person’s social networks.  Continuing the assumption that your business is a brain, the amygdala represents your interaction with associates, clients and vendors.

The striatum, the largest part of the basal ganglia, is largely responsible for automatic movements we make without thinking. In the context of a business, the striatum represents business processes.

If we set out to reverse engineer a smart pill for your business, we would have to unlock the maximum potential of all of your capital and assets (human and otherwise) by more effectively sharing information and resources.  In order to do this, your smart pill would have to do the following:

• Increase access to internal and external information
• Speed the delivery of this information so better decisions can be made in real time
• Allow fewer people to do more work by removing internal friction.
• Integrate business processes with lightening fast communication..

Of course, this magical pill doesn’t exist –yet another invention of Hollywood fiction. Or is it? As if I myself have just ingested the controversial transparent apothecary, I’m suddenly able to access obscure information deep inside my brain. In fact, it occurs to me that there is indeed a business-grade smart pill and it’s called Unified Communications.

If UC is a smart pill for enterprises and not all smart pills are created equal, then Avaya Unified Communications is the equivalent of NZT-48. Avaya’s Aura architecture speeds information delivery by allowing users to instantly lock into the quickest mode of communication for every situation via presence based, multi-mode communications. As a result, vital information travels through the business like electrical charges traveling at the speed of light through Eddie’s brain. With all of the right information accessed at the right time, line of business managers are able to make quick decisions in real time while mortal competition flounders with human latency and inefficiency.

Referring to the three divisions of the brain which NZT-48 targets, UC facilitates the rapid flow of vital information through social networks to enable better, faster decisions. But what about the striatum of your company: business processes? This is where Avaya Aura separates itself from garden variety nootropics.

If there was an easy way to integrate the flow of information not only through social networks, but also with business processes.. well, then we just might have the holy grail of smart drugs. If we had the ability to “plug in” communication actions to business processes, we could further take human latency out of the business by not letting people “get in the way” of what needs to be done based on real time changes in the business. It seems that this would require a sort of synapse that would transmit a signal resulting from information (events), directly to a business process flow which could choose the best mode of communication given the information at hand.

I know you won’t be surprised to learn that Avaya, through intense R&D, offers exactly this type of synapse, or rather an SDK (software developer kit) to rapidly integrate business applications with communication. This SDK is called ACE and it stands for Agile Communications Environment. It is the secret ingredient the boys in the kitchen baked into this NZT-48 and it can take your business to a level no other UC platform can.
By ingesting this technology, might not your business make better, faster decisions? Would it not unlock the full potential of all of your people, assets and information? Would you not be able to bring better products and services to market faster than your competition? Respond to changes in the market faster? Avert supply chain issues by instantly taking corrective action? In business as in life, what else is there?

“I don’t have delusions of grandeur. I have a recipe for grandeur.” – Eddie Morra

Unlike NZT-48, Avaya Aura UC can be purchased through an Avaya Business Partner near you. What you do with it is limitless.

-Tom Walker

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Know Thy Offense..

A lot of VAR leaders I speak with admit that they don’t  have the caliber of sales force that they want.  Or even more common, 20% of their reps are generating 80% of their revenue. Let’s face it when it comes to selling virtualized architectures, communication enabled business processes, business continuity solutions, multi-media collaboration, and all of the other intricate solutions you offer — how many sales people can consistently navigate these complex scenarios?

Most partners are telling me sales professionals are becoming more scarce who can find a net/new opportunity, discover customer needs, develop a solution strategy, gain consensus and close the deal.  What I’d like to suggest is that perhaps the problem isn’t your sales people– perhaps you have unrealistic expectations of what your sales people should be doing to grow your business.

In 1971, Jack Lengyel accepted a job as head coach of the Marshall University’s decimated football team. The previous year, 75 players and coaches died in a tragic plane crash leaving the school with essentially no football program whatsoever. Coach Lengyel, against sharp criticism, recruited a rag-tag group of young players with little experience and managed to cobble together a team.

After a few practices, it became readily apparent to Coach Lengyel that he wouldn’t be able to employ his beloved Power-I offense he had used with great success when he coached at Wooster. Despite all of the success he had in the past with this offense, he took a realistic assessment of what his offense was capable of. He realized, his players just didn’t have the athleticism or experience to run the Power-I.

Lengyel realized if he was going to field a viable team,  he had to simplify his playbook — dramatically.  That’s when he decided to adopt  “The Veer” offense.  The Veer allowed his under-sized players to employ double teams and angles to block defenders. You see, the Veer is a triple option offense that allows the Quarterback to make a last minute read on the defense to select one of three actions. The simplicity is derived from the fact that everyone on the offense does the same thing on every play allowing them to focus on precision and execution.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know that the Thundering Heard won their first home game of the season against Xavier. Given the inexperience of their team, this was nothing short of a miracle.  My points in all of this are the following:

1. Partners that have a structured sales process always outperform competitors who do not.

2. You need to assess the skills of your sales people to develop a realistic sales process.

3. Once you have done this, where there are gaps — you need to provide expert resources as an overlay to your players.

4. Sales reps that consistently deliver precision move the ball forward with predictable results – this only comes from repetition.

So my challenge to you, the VAR, is to take an honest assessment of your sales team.  Do you have a consistent sales process and does it fit the abilities of your sales team?

Tom

Follow me on twitter: www.twitter.com/convergencesoup

VARketing Hacks

I know many of you are looking creative ideas to ignite your marketing efforts without breaking the bank. I’d like to introduce you to a website called Fiverr. This is essentially an online marketplace for individuals who will do virtually anything for $5. Now I know what you’re thinking, you get what you pay for. Well, my response to that is you’d be surprised. Since these individuals focus on very specific tasks, they generate huge economies of scale, allowing the smallest of marketing budgets to do some really creative things.
 
Below are my top suggestions on how VARs can leverage Fiverr in their marketing efforts.
 
1. Get thousands of twitter followers and/or Facebook “likes”
 
Nothing makes the spidey senses tingle like a twitter or facebook presence with no followers. Fiverr provides a quick way to build a facade of street cred. Mind you, the followers and friends you get will be of zero value to your business since they’re just a random assortment of followers – mostly people who paid the same fiverr specialist $5 to get them 1000+ followers. What this does is allow you to pass the initial sniff test when your real customers and prospects are deciding if you’re really on the social media grid. The bad news is (for you slackers), somebody at your organization is going to have to put weekly effort into keeping your real followers engaged and interested. Fail to do the real work, and you may lose them forever.
 
2. Graphic Design
 
Need a logo or graphic for a new marketing campaign? Fiverr has hundreds of good graphic design people that can literally take your concept and create a logo or graphic (or several) for just $5. I had someone design my convergence soup can logo and was able to pick from three different concepts. Also, there’s many designers who have really cool flash intro’s that can be customized with your brand or message.
 
3. Increase your Google Ranking via Youtube
 
There’s hundreds of people recording very creative, humorous videos (many of which are tasteful) and these people are willing to include your brand in these videos, or more imporantly include a link to your website. The trick is to have someone do a video that is consistent with your theme, goal or solution. As an example, someone juggling a cell phone, tablet and laptop while riding a bike could point people to your website. More important than the immediate traffic, this increases your ranking when people are searching for companies like yours. Other ideas include magic tricks, stunts, spoofs, etc..
 
4. Contacts for Prospecting and Marketing
 
I was surprised to find several people selling all varieties of contact lists. Another one that I thought was interesting was lists of online forums for specific industries. For $5, wouldn’t you like to find out which are the most popular online forums for CIO’s and IT Managers? Or how about a list of all the Linkedin Members who are Open Network status?
 
5. Tedious Marketing Tasks
 
Let’s face it, a lot of marketing activities aren’t glamorous. You can find people on Fiverr (highly rated) that will perform one or two hours of work for $5! Think about time consuming tasks like online research or data entry. There’s a lot of smart, talented people in countries where the dollar is still strong just waiting for you to throw them an Abe Lincoln.
 
So now that you know what $5 can get you, just imagine what $50 or $100 spent on Fiverr could do. Of course, all of these ideas require discretion and good judgement, but I do believe they offer some creative new directions to stretch your marketing dollars in 2012.
 
Cheers,
Tom 
 
Follow Tom Walker on twitter: www.twitter.com/convergencesoup

Benjamin Franklin, Virtualization, UC, and the Fate of the United States

Before I wrote this post, I asked my mom to draw the above picture.  I described the message I was trying to convey, what I envisioned, and 24 hours later,  I was ecstatic to see how amazingly well she captured the essence of what I was trying to explain.

There’s only one problem: I forgot to tell her whether the ship was coming or going.  I intended for the ship to be going away but if you look at the picture above, you really can’t tell. The smoke clouds seem to be trailing the ship;  however, we appear to be looking at the bow. Maybe the ship is coming along with the wind? Or maybe my mom found a picture of a real steamer that was in fact pointed in the stern and simply captured that feature?

Smash cut to 1787 at the Constitutional Convention. Benjamin Franklin, upon gazing at the back of George Washington’s chair marveled at a carving of a half sun.  “I have often looked at that picture behind the President without being able to tell whether it is a rising or a setting sun, “ Franklin proclaimed. “Now at length, I have the happiness to know that it is indeed a rising, not a setting sun.”

As the carving was open to interpretation and experience, so too may be the picture above. If you are a VAR with a virtualization practice, are you leaving Unified Communications behind? If you are a UC VAR, has your ship finally come in — a way to implement UC, Call Center, Messaging and Collaboration on a single server?

One thing is for sure, almost every enterprise is making a concerted effort to virtualize as much as they can in their data center. Are you in synch with this trend? If you are not talking about UC in the context of virtualization (and vice-versa), you may be, well.. missing the boat (which reminds me of a previous post).  When you look at this drawing in 12 months, what will you see?

-Tom