In business as in battle, victory often goes to the side with the best intelligence. Knowing what's in the other guy's head can mean a huge advantage when it comes to gaining ground or closing deals.
Jim Browning, the Gartner research vice president who focuses on IT spending habits for SMBs, dished some quality, actionable intel at last month's Midsize Enterprise Summit in Chicago.
While ostensibly aimed at advising CIOs of mid-market companies on IT management strategies, Browning's four rules for CIOS are no less important for IT providers that need to know how IT decision-makers in this coveted $900bn market are thinking and acting when it comes to technology deployments.
Not all the news is good, but it's all important for partners trying to hone practices and develop offerings that resonate with potential clients, particularly as IT budgets get tighter, the appetite for differentiating innovation diminishes, and CIOs are forced to justify every penny of their IT spend by connecting it to a measurable business case.
Here's what Browning and Gartner are advising mid-market CIOs and our take on how resellers can react to the recommendations to win more deals and realise higher value in engagements with clients that have 100 to 1,000 employees.
Rule 1: Do less with less
Browning turns the old "do-more-with-less" saw on its head, telling CIOs to take a hard look at all IT projects and scrap any that don't support a long-term business goal.
Our take: Providers have been advised for years to stop being generalists, to learn their clients' businesses, and to emphasise value through business outcomes, not technology sets. If there are any CIOs left not heeding this clarion call, Browning is determined to get to them with this message.
Rule 2: Standardise everything
A big part of Browning's message to CIOs is aimed at cutting the number of IT vendors and partners with which mid-market organisations work. The goal is to build simpler IT environments that work better and cost less.
Our take: Point products are a dying business and have been for a long time. The old axiom that there was plenty of business for everyone to get a piece is giving way to a channel environment where the top 20 per cent lock up business and outperform the market while the rest are left wanting.
How are they doing it? By covering all bases for their clients with highly integrated and comprehensive offerings that leave no business gap unfilled. Standardisation means lower TCO and better manageability for the user, and facilitating it is a matter of survival for partners.
The most important advice for VARs here is to brand your expertise and leverage it mightily.
Rule 3: Segment your users by task
Browning and Gartner advocate slicing and dicing the mid-market workforce into three to five user profiles, then giving those folks the specific technologies they need to excel in their work.
Our take: Being able to segment employees and supply them with associated technology tools to further business goals is a huge value-add opportunity for the channel. Nowhere is this more apparent than in BYOD implementations where client organisations are focused on user roles and data access capabilities.
The same applies to BCDR services. In fact, being a trusted advisor at this level requires deep knowledge of both business desires and innovative technologies. The ultimate solution is a balance of segment versus support costs.
Rule 4: Always consider "good enough" technologies
To hear Browning tell it, CIOs are constantly hammered with pitches for best-in-class IT offerings and are probably just as well served with a "good enough" solution about 70 per cent of the time. His advice to IT executives is to seek alternative sourcing models for every system upgrade.
Our take: Advice like this seems to put partners in a race to the bottom, where lower value, lower margin offerings become more attractive to buyers. At its heart, however, Browning's counsel amounts to a call for channel partners to right-size their offerings.
In a world where CIOs are encouraged to seek "good enough", there's wisdom in arming the reseller practice with a mid-tier offering or a loss leader that opens the door to more conversations about broader services and deeper engagements.
Rule 4 only works, however, for partners that are already well versed in rules one through three.
Chris Gonsalves is vice president of editorial at Channelnomics
As part of our special editorial partnership, CRN is republishing this article from Channelnomics
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