Adding value does not need to be complex or difficult. You don't have to have invested years of effort and taken hundreds of hours of vendor training to be able to add value for customers - you just have to keep it simple and focus on a specific customer need.
Everyone in the channel talks about adding value, to such a degree that the term has almost become a cliché.
It could also be argued that the expression is pretty meaningless anyway within the context. It is implicit that resellers deliver value. If they do not, what exactly are customers paying for? If it is just the product that the customer wants, it's easy enough for them, in many cases, to simply buy it online, avoiding the middleman.
Most customers want more than the product itself, and do recognise - even if this is not clearly spelled out by either party- that what they are paying for is the reseller's knowledge and experience, as well as the hardware and software that make up the offering as a whole. They are paying to be advised and looked after by someone they can trust.
When we talk about "adding value" in the industry, we are usually talking about something that goes further than this implicit and assumed value proposition. Once again, without actually saying it, we are talking about something much more special than the everyday "added value" that resellers offer as a matter of course.
It might be that we are referring to the provision of remote management and security monitoring; or the design and implementation of hybrid infrastructures. It might also be that we are referring to our in-depth understanding of the needs of a particular vertical market or a specific technology and how it can be deployed.
Have a clear focus. The implication here is that adding value is difficult, complicated, or requires great skill and insight that has taken many years of dedication and focused effort to acquire. But in my experience that is not always true. Adding value does not always need to be complex or difficult.
Much of the time, it is simply a matter of having a clear focus, and making good use of some of the tools and additional knowledge, which can often be acquired fairly quickly through standard vendor training, to deliver additional value to your customers in a very simple way.
For example, right now many organisations are expanding their WLANs to meet an increased demand for access, brought about by user expectations and the growth in mobile device use. Consequently, there is a real need in the market for resellers that can expand and configure extended WLANs.
This means having some knowledge of how to set up and manage controllers and access points, and how to segment the network, set up different SSIDs and virtual LANs. They must be able to ensure the network is secure and know how to allocate and apply bandwidth allowances.
That might sound like quite a lot of knowledge and specialism, but in fact, most reseller engineers can learn how to do all that inside a day or perhaps two on a focused training course. ZyXel runs such courses for resellers each month.
There are also tools to help you add value. To help with WLAN set-ups, we provide partners with our own WAN-optimising tool, which can identify the best locations for devices and configure them for optimum signal strength and performance.
By using this and other, similar tools, resellers can address a specific challenge and add considerable value to customers.
Keep it simple. Similarly, with security, understanding how to analyse customer needs and deploy unified threat management offerings can be extremely valuable, and the requisite skills can be acquired by resellers that already have some basic technical knowledge (and most do) fairly quickly and with minimal investment.
Resellers that acquire these focused skills in particular areas are also setting themselves on a course that will eventually see them become a genuine VAR. As experience and knowledge develop, overlap will emerge between different areas of knowhow - WLAN set-up, security, network infrastructure, and so on.
Resellers cannot be expected to leap from a position of offering the value implicit in the advice and guidance they give to all their customers as a matter of course to becoming a complete VAR overnight. But by keeping it simple and focusing on a current and clearly identifiable need, resellers can genuinely start to build their skills and capabilities.
Antony Byford is UK and Ireland head of channel at ZyXel Communications
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