Dominate The Field Service Market
This VAR expects to earn more than $14 million from field service sales in 2008.
Every time Business Solutions magazine talks to Stratix Corp., we find the VAR has continued its path of domination. From 2004 to 2008, the VAR climbed from $37 million in annual revenue to $109 million. According to Gina Gallo, president of Stratix, there's no sign of stopping this juggernaut. So, how does a data collection VAR maintain such strong growth numbers? It doesn't become complacent selling one product to one market. For Stratix, it saw the opportunity to leverage its mobility expertise within the four walls of its customers and make a natural move into the hot market of field service. Field service basically is automating the collection of data and reporting of customer transactions from a mobile workforce. Recent Aberdeen Group research found that 2/3 of polled companies are looking to purchase and/or upgrade technology to automate portions of field service processes. Stratix expects this market to help lead the company to $120 million in sales for 2008. If Stratix' field service sales strategy can help the VAR grow 10% this year, why can't it do the same for your company?
Who Is Your Ideal Field Service Customer?
Stratix identifies potential field service customers by the number of the customer's delivery routes/vehicles. Gallo explains that the VAR's ideal customer has at least 300 routes. With these customers, the decision makers vary. "With smaller customers, it's not uncommon to work directly with the CEO or CIO, as the purchasing decision is significant to them," says Gallo. "As you work with customers that have thousands of routes, you'll often deal with a committee containing the CIO, COO, VPs, and IT managers." Gallo adds that sometimes there is interaction with the end users of the technology.
To check out the October 2007 Q&A on selling mobile printing solutions to the field service vertical click here.
Regardless of who Stratix is pitching, the VAR strives to avoid being seen as simply a provider of hardware. Instead, when the company faces an opportunity, it will first attempt to understand the business processes of the customer. Specifically, Gallo says that the goal is to identify where technology can self-fund itself and solve the problems facing the customer. "Often, there are underlying issues causing pain points," says Gallo. "We begin by asking if we can go in and look at what they're doing and identify who is impacted." The business process review often leads to the discovery of previously unidentified impacted parts of the business. In one instance, Stratix identified an unnoticed flaw in its customer's inventory management process (see sidebar on page 30). The VAR pitched and then piloted a solution that resulted in a double-digit increase in sales for its customer and earned Stratix a multimillion-dollar sale. Gallo explains that learning the intricate business processes of a customer does come at a price. "We often slow down sales opportunities," she says. "It's easy to give customers a device and slap on a software application. However, you reduce your chance of achieving long-term success."
Success in field service doesn't come quickly. The average length of a field service sale greatly depends on the sophistication of the customer. Stratix strives to hold pilots to no more than 90 days. This includes fact finding, interviewing stakeholders, looking at business processes, and delivering a proof of concept with three or four measurable results. With field service, one of the most important metrics a VAR should highlight is the number of additional service calls or deliveries that can be made with a solution. Also, customers strive to minimize fleet sizes. "You might have a customer with 10 trucks, and they want to reduce it 8," says Gallo. "Can your solution reduce the number of trucks by bringing more efficiency to their delivery process? That's what customers are looking for." Gallo goes on to say that inventory metrics also hold much weight with field service customers. That is, if you can enable them to accurately account for product on hand and identify how much product they use, it might be possible for the customer to reduce its inventory and save money.
From a customer satisfaction standpoint, Gallo explains that VARs also can sell field service solutions based on the idea that a modern solution will automate invoicing (making it more accurate) and decrease time to bill. "Often, customers see a decrease in the time it takes to get bills paid because they're able to bill more quickly," she says.
Know The Challenges Facing A Mobile Workforce
While Stratix finds success creating and selling field service hardware and software solutions, the VAR also earns income by offering complementary services. Gallo explains that since there often are multiple components to a field service solution (e.g. wireless handheld terminal, mobile printer, media), many customers need a VAR to bring everything together. "Creating field service solutions isn't something many companies can properly do on their own," she adds. Therefore, the VAR offers services such as staging (preparing a device for deployment), kitting (where all the parts of a solution are assembled by the VAR), and spare pooling (equipment the customer owns, but the VAR stores and manages). "Customers will notify us when they're doing a large-scale rollout," says Gallo. "We bring all the technology together, staging everything, kitting, activating cellular service, and delivering the finished functioning solution."
Early in offering field service solutions to mobile workforces, Stratix noticed that both its customers and the VAR itself face the challenge of managing technology assets in the field and in various stages of project rollout. Therefore, Stratix created a Web-based asset management system, sVision, to give a real-time view of the assets included in a field service solution. Gallo says that some customers want sVision access just during a project rollout. This includes the order status of the included products, when hardware is being staged, and confirmation of shipping. With this increased visibility, sVision allows customers to adjust a rollout speed or change things like where hardware should be shipped.
In addition, sVision gives Stratix metrics crucial to the accurate management of its customers' spare pools. To determine a baseline spare pool, Stratix looks at two factors. First, it looks at the customer's experience with mobile technology. The second factor is the type of environment the equipment will be used in. "If the customer has never used mobile devices before and the environment is harsh, we'd probably keep a spare pool at 10% the size of the total project," says Gallo. "If the users are experienced and the environment isn't harsh, we'd recommend a spare pool size of around 3% to 5%. We always suggest that they can buy more if they need to." If Stratix starts a customer with a 3% spare pool, but sees a higher level of returns via sVision, the VAR can immediately engage and try to determine what needs to be done. Is it a training issue? Is it an issue on the device itself? Or, is it an issue of the environment and something the customer will just have to plan for? Regardless, having an asset management system allows Stratix to make adjustments before the customer has a problem.
The cost for using the sVision service depends greatly on the number of assets being tracked and the complexity of the deployment (i.e. are there cellular activations to be performed?). "Typically, when sVision is used to manage assets beyond a rollout, the service costs can range from $1 per device per month to $5 per device per month."
Give Customers The Ability To Remotely Access Mobile Devices
Another new service created out of the needs of its field service customers is mobile device management (MDM). MDM gives customers and Stratix the ability to remotely manage devices in the field. One of the VAR's partners, SOTI, has a software product that can be installed on a handheld to provide remote management capabilities. If a mobile device is turned on and connected to a cellular network, Stratix can remotely perform troubleshooting and determine whether a problem is hardware- or software-based. "The ability to perform remote troubleshooting and maintenance can be a huge cost saving for enterprises with thousands of devices in the field," Gallo adds.
Regardless of the support being offered, Gallo says that when managing mobile devices, a flexible support program is a necessity. "We've discovered that once our customers have mobility in the field, they become very reliant on it," she says. "Many of our customers ask that during their peak season, they have a service plan that includes same-day shipping. When times are slower or we're dealing with nonmission-critical devices, customers can choose whether they need the device back the next day or if they can wait three days for a new one."
Maybe you're already selling field service solutions, or maybe you think you're ready to make those solutions part of your product offering. Regardless, it's difficult to question Stratix' strategy for selling into this market when you look at the VAR's track record of growth. So, I'll ask again. If Stratix' field service sales strategy can help the VAR grow 10% this year, why can't it do the same for your company?