Avnet is making significant investments into its vendor portfolio, sales and engineering teams, channel training and marketing tools to help partners better sell solutions to customers. Country manager, Gavin Lawless, outlines the distributor’s plans to NADIA CAMERON.
Why is selling a solution so important in today’s environment? Gavin Lawless (GL): Infrastructure, and the organisational environment, have become a lot more complex over the years. Ten or 15 years ago, it was fine to drop a whole lot of products and have a standalone solution, whereas today, everything is interconnected. When you’re going in and talking about servers and storage, it’s very hard not to talk about things like network infrastructure, security and other things. So having a solution is critical. In the end, an end customer generally wants to have someone look after them, who can talk about a broader environment. Solution as a term is very broad – it could refer to a networking solution, or a storage solution, or something that’s all-encompassing. It doesn’t necessarily mean that one partner has to look after the entire organisation, but it does mean you have to know more than just the sum of a couple of parts. The other thing is selling solutions is cheaper – if you don’t get the solution right the first time, you will have to rip pieces out and replace. So selling solutions is more cost-effective in the long-term.
Why do we still need to promote selling solutions? GL:I think like everything, the industry evolves and there are many organisations out there selling solutions. The difficulty comes more in the medium-sized reseller space, where they’ve made a good income out of selling point products for a number of years. Moving to selling solutions is actually quite an investment for a business – it costs a lot more to hire the right staff, or to train existing employees. That is one of the bigger obstacles. But aside from that, I do think many organisations have made that move and done it pretty well, especially the larger systems integrators. Those larger partners who have not been selling solutions are going away – they’re falling over, we’ve seen that. I’ve spoken to a lot of partners over the last 18 months, and those selling solutions did very well, even in tough times, because a lot more of their revenue was coming out of services and consulting, and they weren’t just dropping boxes. Sure, product revenue might have declined, but their organisational revenue didn’t.
A solution doesn’t mean you’re only selling services. Essentially, a solution can still be a whole lot of individual boxes being sold together. There are still quarterly drivers and targets to hit, and different vendors and distributors pushing different products, but it’s the integrator’s job to make sure it’s all combined together comprehensively.
What operational changes do resellers need to make in order to sell solutions? GL:As I said, solutions are very broad and there are a number of niche resellers who are focusing on fairly narrow product sets such as storage or security. They’re still selling solutions but, of course, there are other larger organisations selling all-encompassing solutions. Within the larger organisations, there’s a fairly common siloed structure in place – you’ll have your siloed business units which might cover network infrastructure, servers and storage, or unified communications – and that is where your specialisations come in. Over the top of that, you’ll have the horizontal structure which ties it all together. This might involve project managers, engineers or sales people. You will still always have your highly technical specialists who focus on a very narrow set of products, but you have to have a layer over that that ties it all together.
Have vendors and distributors done enough to help partners sell solutions? GL:I don’t think so. By and large, vendors and distributors are selling products and there’s a lot of vested interest in those organisations to sell products. But I think it is evolving. You’ve seen a lot of vendors starting to form alliances and collaborate with each other.
Do vendors and distributors have a responsibility to drive solutions? GL:I’m not sure vendors have a responsibility to drive solutions. A lot that’s coming out of vendors today does incorporate solutions to a degree, and they are very aware of how their products tie into a broader offering. But as you’d expect, they’re interested in selling their own product sets. Certainly, from a distributor’s point of view, there’s potentially a responsibility. At Avnet, that’s clearly a path we’re taking. We have always tried to go to market selling more complex technology, and to be an organisation that helps partners understand those technologies. So for us, selling solutions is a natural progression.