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Roundtable: Taking a strategic solutions approach

Roundtable: Taking a strategic solutions approach

After years of strong growth and buoyant market sentiment, the industry is facing its toughest challenge yet: How to keep customers buying ICT in the face of a recession. ARN hosted a roundtable with a group of industry thought-leaders to look at the importance of strategic solutions selling.

From left: MARK ABLETT, JUNIPER NETWORKS | JOHN BUTEL, ORGANISED SOLUTIONS | GAVIN LAWLESS, AVNET
JOE ARCURI, IBM | ANDY HURT, AVAYA | NADIA CAMERON, ARN | GREG WADE, FRONTLINE SYSTEMS
JOE MCPHILLIPS, COMMVAULT | GERALD LIPMAN, FREDON | MARK JOHNSTON, SERVICE ELEMENTS
PAUL COSGROVE, TARDIS | CRAIG NEIL, NSC | PUSHKAR TANEJA, GLOBALCONNECT

From left: MARK ABLETT, JUNIPER NETWORKS | JOHN BUTEL, ORGANISED SOLUTIONS | GAVIN LAWLESS, AVNET
JOE ARCURI, IBM | ANDY HURT, AVAYA | NADIA CAMERON, ARN | GREG WADE, FRONTLINE SYSTEMS
JOE MCPHILLIPS, COMMVAULT | GERALD LIPMAN, FREDON | MARK JOHNSTON, SERVICE ELEMENTS
PAUL COSGROVE, TARDIS | CRAIG NEIL, NSC | PUSHKAR TANEJA, GLOBALCONNECT

Nadia Cameron, ARN (NC): What are some of the key steps in making a solutions sale?

Pushkar Taneja, GlobalConnect (PT): It’s really about understanding our customers’ needs and understanding their business. Once we have an intimate knowledge about what they’re doing, we can have a discussion on how we can provide them with a solution. It’s not about the actual technology we’re providing them with, but the business solution. And it’s also getting buy-in from them about the solution we’re offering.

Mark Johnston, Service Elements (MJ): One of the things we focus on is running peer-to-peer relationships. Our business is very much principally led – whether that be at the business level, sales level or technology level. We have three directors in our business and they do a hell of a lot of selling and running of those peer-to-peer relationships with our customers. So when customers deal with us, they know they’re doing business with decision makers that can stick by a promise. Yes, it’s understanding the solution, but it’s all about driving those peer relationships with the people that make the decisions.

Craig Neil, NSC (CN): Solution selling is a lot of things – it’s certainly peer-to-peer, understanding solutions, and a lot of factors. I also believe you have to have the right people and the relationships and synergies. We often look at the individual that’s going to make the decision at all levels, and try to match people to that. I think that’s important – people like the right solution, price and outcome, but ultimately they also buy from people they like.

NC: How has the economic downturn affected your solutions sale strategy?

Paul Cosgrove, Tardis (PC): I think we have all seen people delay decisions, which is one of the key things at the moment. But I think solution selling, as opposed to pure product selling or quoting, is the way to continue to improve your business and bring in revenues you need when times get a bit tough. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be doing it all the time, but sometimes it’s difficult to get sales people at that level to do solution selling. It’s pretty easy to get sales people to do selling, but solutions are more difficult.

Joe Arcuri, IBM (JA): It’s critical now in the downturn – the only thing people are doing is buying solutions to fix problems at a reduced cost. All the business as usual stuff has slowed significantly. So solution selling in this kind of environment is critical not only to growth, but sustainability.

Joe McPhillips, CommVault (JMc): I think that’s where vendors can help the channel – the vendors can engage more with the customers at that level. With the greatest of respect, the channel will always find it difficult to know more than the vendor, and if you’re representing the vendor in a particular situation, you may not be getting the full value of what that vendor can offer in terms of the customer and talking about cost reductions and efficiencies in infrastructure.

Gerald Lipman, Fredon (GL): Vendors are helping, and there’s no question there is value to be had from vendors who are able to educate us and look at that level of support. In the downturn, our approach has been to try and focus on being ‘smart’ – for us, this is understanding where the opportunities are and focusing on those opportunities. It doesn’t necessarily mean, when times are tough, that you call on a million people. The strategy is to call on people who are spending money. We tend to focus on those organisations and have a strategy for dealing with them – we try and understand what they want, be prepared for it, and do our homework before having meetings so we know the opportunity well.

Andy Hurt, Avaya (AH): Gerald [Lipman] encapsulated it well by saying you have to work smarter. What we’re focusing on now is the qualification process and making sure we’re drilling down and working on the right opportunities that are real today. One interesting point I wanted to make is we’re finding selling only starts when a customer says no. It’s very easy to take orders and I think there has been a lot of that over recent years as partners just transacted with customers. People are saying no more often, so the core skill of selling is coming back to the fore. But 12 months ago, it was very hard to get to the underlying business issue. Today, customers are very open about what those business issues are, and it’s keeping them awake at night. So it’s in your face and you’ve got to relate straight back to that customer.


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