From Servers To Storage To Web!
Increase your revenue by selling e-business customers a complete and integrated Web infrastructure.
Web-based applications have undergone a dramatic change in the last few years. Although the Internet has been around for many years, doing business on the Net is still a relatively new concept for many companies. When e-business was first born, the technology available to implement it was out of reach for most customers. "Some early adopters, companies that were large enough and had deep enough pockets to afford it, immediately jumped on board," says Michael Madigan, VP of sales for Sirius Computer Solutions (San Antonio). "We deal primarily with companies in the SMB (small- to medium-sized business) space, and those companies cannot afford to make a huge infrastructure mistake. That kind of investment can easily sink a company."
Of course, the Internet has since proven to be a revenue generator for many companies, and more vendors have announced solutions to address the market. "Now SMB companies are ready to jump into the market and make a much bigger splash," says Madigan. "A Web solution might still cost a company $2.5 million, and for a SMB making $300 million a year, that is still a big investment. But those companies now realize this is a cost they need to incur. This is a great opportunity for VARs with Web experience."
End Users Require Web Infrastructure Solutions
Getting into a new technology is never an easy endeavor. Sirius had expertise in storage and servers, but realized many of its customers in the SMB space were launching Web applications. The company felt that providing an integrated solution, which included that critical piece of the infrastructure, would allow the company to significantly increase its revenue.
When new solutions come to market, integrators have to decide whether or not to take the plunge. Sirius depends on its vendors to help them make the decision. "The first thing an integrator has to do is consider the market opportunity," says Madigan. "Some vendors manufacture thousands of products, and resellers have to be selective in what technologies they adopt. We rely on our vendors to tell us what technologies will be a key focus for them. This helps us determine where we should be investing our time and resources."
After learning that Web infrastructure would be a key technology for IBM, Sirius performed independent verification. Sirius employees spent time talking to every customer to determine what opportunities existed for selling Web infrastructure solutions and portals. "After talking to customers and analyzing the results, we determined there was indeed an opportunity for us to capture," says Madigan. "The next thing we asked ourselves was what we would need to do to be able to capture that opportunity."
Find The Right Expertise
Integrating a Web infrastructure into a customer's existing infrastructure requires a team of e-business experts. Sirius looked at the skill sets and capabilities it had in-house, both technical and management, and determined the skills it was lacking. Then an education and hiring plan was developed. Sirius went to IBM to find out what kind of educational programs were available. "We knew individuals with experience in this technology would be hard to find," says Madigan. "Four or five years ago, few companies in the SMB space were buying Web infrastructure. Therefore, we knew there would not be a pool of integrators out there with experience in implementing it."
Sirius began to consider acquisitions and looked at companies with experience in Web applications. A company called Symatrix had recently gained significant Web application experience via the acquisition of two companies, WealthNet and Strategic Technology Group (STG). Although both WealthNet and STG had only a handful of employees, they had skills, experience, and credibility in the Web market. In October 2002, Sirius acquired Symatrix. "Symatrix had a 40-person practice doing Web application work," says Madigan. "That was the main reason for the acquisition. Sirius and Symatrix were both involved in the Web market, but Symatrix had considerably more experience."
New Technologies Require New Certifications
Sirius then turned its attention to training, looking first to its vendors (mainly IBM) for support. "We located complete certification programs with classes and exams that would get our employees to the certified level," says Madigan. "We located technical certifications for both our consultants and engineers, but we also sought out certifications for our salespeople." Salespeople are often accused of selling solutions they do not understand. Sirius located training and certification programs that would help its salespeople get up to the level where they understood the technology.
"The sales force is out there helping customers identify business problems for which we have a technology-based solution," says Madigan. "Our objective is to have each salesperson get certified in two different areas." Sirius is pretty close to meeting its goal, and many of its consultants have a dozen or more industry certifications. In addition to certifications available for the technical staff and salespeople, certification is also available for firms. This allows an entire corporation to get certified in a solution. Sirius pursued certification for the company and is now one of just a few firms that are e-business certified.
Prospecting Works, But Existing Clients Drive Sales
Once Sirius gained the needed expertise and got employees the training they needed, it was time to start making sales. Sirius spends millions of dollars every year on prospecting and marketing. "We have a prospecting system set up that is designed to identify leads and distribute them to our sales force in the field," says Madigan. "But we also depend on our manufacturers wherever we can. We try to remain close enough to each vendor so as to be in a position to exchange leads back and forth. In the SMB space, it is the goal of many vendors to take solutions to market through the reseller channel. Our goal is to be each vendor's primary link to the channel."
The heart and soul of Sirius' prospecting and marketing efforts is a force of 100 salespeople trained and certified in the solutions they sell. "They are trained to manage their customers and their territories with a focus on integrated solutions that include storage, servers, and Web," says Madigan. "Every day they are out on the streets, getting face-to-face with customers and prospective clients." Sirius has close to 30 regional and remote offices, and its geographic coverage continues to grow.
Still, the majority of the company's business comes from existing clients. "We go to them and pitch our Web expertise," says Madigan. "We tell them we have been doing their servers and storage, but would now like to talk to them about their Web infrastructure." While most customers do not have a Web infrastructure in place, Sirius encounters many clients that have implemented Web-based solutions but are not happy with the ongoing management costs. A new infrastructure will allow customers to significantly reduce those costs.
"The needs of SMB customers continue to grow, and companies in that space continue to invest in infrastructure," says Madigan. "Those companies need the integration services offered by VARs. With Web services continuing to grow, VARs that can integrate the solution with a customer's existing infrastructure will find profitable opportunities in this market."