Dealers can forget their cosy seat on the IT manager express ? if they want to sell Internet/intranet solutions, it?s all change. Those wanting to make money from this market must know their customers? businesses inside out, to bring Web design, training and consultancy skills to the table.
But according to Ian Morris, sales director at networking distributor Data Connectivity, this isn?t happening. ?The sale of Internet/intranet solutions is ad hoc and uncontrolled,? he says. ?Dealers are knocking things up and the companies they are supplying are then going elsewhere for graphic design and Web site maintenance. Resellers that could genuinely profit from offering those skill sets are losing business.?
Steve Lockie, sales and marketing manager at Data Translation Networking, has split operations into remote access and infrastructure, enabling the company to provide a dedicated Internet and intranet team. He estimates only about two per cent of resellers have the in-house capability to provide a complete Internet solution.
?There is a huge demand, but because the dealers are not fulfilling it, corporates are buying the kit and building their own. An Internet or intranet deal requires a long sales cycle, a lot of evangelising and handholding and a little bit of black art. But that?s where the money is made.?
Part of the problem is a lack of understanding of the differences between an Internet/intranet sell and the familiar pattern of a PC or network sell. The Internet is so visible, and has had so much coverage in the non-IT press, that customer demand for business solutions is being driven from board level. Lockie believes dealers need to recognise that such solutions fulfil a business-wide, rather than a purely technical need.
?Until dealers go to the top they will be providing technical solutions for techies. They have to build a bridge between the IT department and the boardroom,? he says.
Ian Emery, Internet services manager at corporate reseller DS Group, agrees: ?It depends on the particular solution, but we tend to approach the marketing director. To sell intranets you need an understanding of a customer?s business issues, products, and internal organisation. It is a far more complicated and long-winded process than a normal network sale.?
A key issue is whether the customer has a specific departmental need, a requirement for better communication with its own clients, or whether the system will affect everyone. The DS Group recently set up a departmental intranet to replace the paper-based library of an electronics department in Reading. The company had six electronics sites across the country, which had previously been requesting and faxing documents daily.
Because there has been so much hype surrounding the Internet and intranets, corporate demand for solutions is often divorced from any understanding of the true benefits. Mark Jakes, MD of networking dealer PDQ Data Systems, says: ?There is a big novelty barrier to overcome and a lot of expectations to manage.?
But how many of the dealers selling Internet/ intranet products are offering a true solution, complete with Web design and maintenance, consultancy, training and the ability to integrate it into a firm?s corporate structure? These are the areas where most profit is to be made for the dealer, but Emery believes many think of the Internet and intranet purely in terms of kit, a collection of firewalls, routers and browser-based software. ?A lot of resellers see the product, but product is a small part of such solutions,? he says.
?It?s not going to go away, and resellers feel obliged to push it because of the hype. But if they don?t understand the issues, they will not only lose themselves all the incremental revenue which comes from designing, maintaining and training on the system, they will also give the user the feeling that the intranet is useless.?
The DS Group is one of a small number of dealers that have the skills to provide a full Internet/intranet offering to corporates. The Internet services group which Emery heads is only four-strong, but has HTML design, firewall, email and training expertise, as well as ?a dotted line? to other developments within the firm and a partnership with Uunet Pipex. The group is planning considerable expansion in 1997 and is recruiting a graphic designer this month, as well as staff dedicated to back-end server products.
?We can draw on Lotus Notes consultants, Netware and intranetware experts, build engineers, consultants and trainers,? says Emery. ?The technology has developed at a staggering pace and resellers must have a dedicated team in order to keep up.?
The majority of dealers will not have the resources to afford in-house experts in every area of an intranet solution. One particular field that traditional dealers are unlikely to be experienced in is Web design.
The best option here is for resellers to strike up partnerships with Web design firms, such as Putney-based Net Position. Dominic Murphy, editorial director at the firm, says Net Position is keen to partner dealers in providing Internet solutions. ?We are keen that existing channels are given the opportunity to offer Web design. We can provide Internet access, routers and servers if necessary, but it is not our key expertise, and it makes sense to work with those people for whom it is an area of specialisation.?
Net Position works with about 20 resellers, largely in the Novell channel, but wants to expand. It is running a series of quarterly seminars geared towards winning dealer partnerships ? the next will be held at the beginning of March. These seminars combine a ?chalk and talk? format on Web design and Net Position?s offering, with hands-on sessions.
Murphy believes most dealers will continue to rely on such partnerships, rather than go to the expense of employing a full-time designer in-house. ?They will partner at least until they see how it goes,? he says. ?There are those heat-seekers and early adopters that will bring it all internal, but from what I?ve seen they are few and far between.?
Morris agrees. ?In-house is great, but it?s not that important,? he says. ?What is key for resellers is the ability to offer their customers a true and full solution. Many will outsource both management and design.?
PDQ and Teksys are both resellers which have dealt with Net Position. Teksys is a traditional PC dealership selling into corporate accounts, and is working on an email Internet gateway and customer ordering and information system with the Web designer. MD David Freer says although his company initially got in touch with Net Position for this particular project, he sees the relationship strengthening as Teksys gets more requests for intranets.
?Teksys tries to provide a one-stop shop, focusing heavily on services, so we view our relationship with Net Position as an extension of our partnership with the customer and as a strategic alliance. We will act as a link between customers and Net Position to ensure that the client only has to have one point of contact.?
PDQ has been working with Net Position for about a year and is convinced of the need for expert Web site design in Internet/intranet solutions. ?Anyone can knock up a Web site, but if you want to provide a professional solution, you can?t do it all in-house,? says Jakes.
?Before we dealt with Net Position, we passed page design to graphics designers, who approached it from the design rather than the Internet angle. We ended up with glorious, colourful, but technically poor sites.?
But if employing in-house professionals is not cost-effective, then where can dealers find the external partners to offer them the help they need?
PDQ came across Net Position quite by accident ? when Jakes sold the company some software ? but a more systematic approach to finding a partner would be to search under Web designers on the Internet, or to approach manufacturers for advice.
Graeme Allan, UK marketing director at Bay Networks believes it is the responsibility of vendors and distributors to give this sort of help to dealers. Bay, along with pretty much any major computer firm, has laid out its Internet/intranet stall with, in this case, a personal networking strategy. The company says Web browser technology is revolutionising the network industry and, because personal Web pages are so easy to create, soon every PC is likely to become a Web server.
But although vendors have been pushing and hyping intranet technology for the past year, most recognise that their dealers are not completely comfortable with many of the add-ons which such a solution involves. Allan says: ?The technology is at a turning point and we need to be offering guidance to resellers, educating them and encouraging them to add value.?
It is the distributors, particularly the specialist networking players, that are trying to help dealers to understand the issues surrounding the Internet and intranet, and to put them in touch with the skills they need. Techex says it can put dealers in contact with about a dozen professional Web designers and authors, and may bring such skills in-house as a reseller service. Data Translation is running two seminars on the intranet in February, in conjunction with BT, Raptor and Shiva. Persona is in the middle of a similar series.
Paul Mainwaring, business development manager at Persona, says its seminars focus on putting across the market drivers and on the concept of solution rather than sell. ?We have implemented our own intranet at Persona, making it easier to sell the business benefits to dealers.?
Most dealers seem to feel that the intranet train is steaming along, and that if they don?t jump on they?ll be left behind. And although there is a lot of money to be made in this sector as a whole, most dealers will find the big bucks come from the services, design, consultancy, training and maintenance that comes with a true solution.
With good partners, an understanding of customer needs, and proper support from distributors and manufacturers, smart resellers will discover that the intranet express is actually a gravy train.
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