When I first launched my IT consultancy, I underestimated the importance of forging strong vendor relationships. If you fail to identify a cooperative distributor, you may wind up working late piecing together the proper equipment and licensing required to complete a complex estimate yourself, struggling to broaden service offerings, and limiting your product options.
You need to do your homework when you're picking the right distributor for your consultancy. I recommend considering these three factors to ensure you're working with a distributor that best matches your consultancy's needs.
1: Don't discount sales support
Upon opening my office, I surrounded myself with a handful of partners: one for computers, one for servers, another for networking hardware, another for antivirus, yet another for printers, etc. While I noticed I wasn't receiving aggressive pricing, the sales executive at one distributor proved friendly and helped where he could. We talked football and discussed vacations we took. He knew which clients I was supporting and made product recommendations when I described difficult projects.
That's the kind of assistance you need from a distributor, whether it be Arrow Electronics, D&H, Ingram Micro, Tech Data, SYNNEX Corporation, or some other partner. A good distributor will assign a sales executive to your account. Your office should leverage that individual (and his or her supporting team) to help prepare estimates, track down licensing information, determine system requirements, and make product recommendations.
Long ago I quit trying to track down 8-port KVMs that support both USB and PS/2 connections, 48-port PoE gigabit switches, and database servers with licensing for deployment within virtualized environments featuring automatic site replication. Now I bring my sales rep in as early in the sales cycle as possible. While he's working with the Microsoft licensing team, VMware sales experts, and server hardware manufacturer contact to build the estimate, I'm addressing other clients' needs, meeting new customers, and closing trouble tickets. It's a great fit, but one the distributor must be capable of fulfilling to ensure the dance works. Be sure the distributor you choose is capable of providing such assistance if this type of service would prove helpful for your office.
2: Technical expertise is critical
If your office is going to recruit a distributor to assist in preparing and closing complex bids and projects, you need to have faith in the distributor's technical expertise. Make sure you're using a distributor whose technical specification capabilities meet or exceed your own. Don't blindly follow the guidance provided; always be sure to review webinars and product literature and remain as current as possible with critical technologies to ensure your recommendations don't come up short due to an unforeseen missed dependency or incompatibility. But, you can certainly leverage well-trained distributors to help maintain pace.
I ultimately stopped using the well-natured sales rep from the earlier example in part because his firm didn't possess the technical breadth and product offerings to which I increasingly found my office requiring access. Despite the service, his team had trouble answering questions such as, "Is this OEM version of Windows server downgradable to a 32-bit version?", "How long would a specific backup system likely require to back up 40 GB of data a night?", "Is an OS license required on the virtual machine I'd be installing if used only for failover?", "Does a specific router support 14 concurrent site-to-site VPN connections?", "Does a specific switch support jumbo frames?", and more.
Now my office works with a larger distributor that possesses entire teams available at the ready to answer licensing questions, determine hardware requirements, identify incompatibilities in larger quotes, and teach me how an unfamiliar technology operates and what it requires. That's invaluable at times.
3: Pricing is important but not paramount
As the economy has tightened, it's critical that consultancies assist clients in maximizing their technology investments. Only by working with a sizable distributor can a consultancy ensure it's obtaining aggressive pricing in order to help pass competitive pricing or savings to the client.
The first firm I used for purchasing workstations frustrated me. Occasionally I'd see advertised pricing that was less than the price being offered my firm by my sales rep. That's unacceptable but not unusual. Distributors have so many distribution channels that they frequently lose track of which channel possesses the best pricing.
If you're reselling gear for a distributor, it's a sales representative's job to ensure you're receiving competitive pricing. As you consolidate more of your office's buying under a single distributor, you will find your pricing (and sales support service) improves. That's one reason to avoid the practice of using multiple distributors for different products that I originally employed.
Instead, by consolidating the number of vendors with which the firm works, we now have a greater partner in our primary distributor. Calls get returned more quickly. Orders are processed faster. When trouble or questions arise, there's much greater cooperation because my office and the distributor realize we're partners working together to grow both organizations over time. If you don't enjoy such a relationship now, seek a distributor willing to partner in just such a manner.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.