Your technology integrators want to know what keeps you awake at night. Don't worry; they're not going to offer to sing something soft and soothing over your plain old telephone service line at 3am. But many are taking their consultative capabilities to a whole new level.
Value-added resellers, integrators and others in the indirect sales channel are beginning to get much more in tune with the actual business issues their customers face, as opposed to merely touting the benefits of a particular product to their overall customer base. The reason is this: as technologies become more complex and more tightly interwoven, changes tend to have more far-reaching effects on networks than ever. Thus, getting it right the first time requires a detailed knowledge of how all that technology will be used in the context of a customer's business.
Ultimately, technology is about solving problems. And if I'm going to solve a problem, I need to have a really good idea of what that problem is. So don't be surprised if the sales rep starts asking a lot of nosy questions about how your company does whatever it does, or if the rep wants to talk to other people in your company about how they do particular tasks. By getting this information first, they're trying to do the right thing.
In fairness to my brothers and sisters in the channel, technology has never been something that could be successfully sold in a vacuum without regard for a customer's needs -- at least not by salespeople who cared about their reputations and wanted to build long-term customer relationships.
But the necessity to understand a customer's business needs is quickly rising, and this is a good thing. Differentiation is getting harder and harder to achieve at the lower end of the Open Systems Interconnection stack. And while technology has always been about delivering the application, that's truer than ever. Adding value is increasingly vertical. It's about what you do and how you do it.
For example, not long ago, going to work meant travelling to an office. Next, remote access was a good idea for most people, but we had to plug in a lot of stuff -- open software and so on. Now, I walk into my home office with a cup of coffee, press one button and everything pretty much comes up dynamically. So, how is anybody supposed to offer me anything useful without knowing what I do and how I do it?
The flip side of all this from an owner's or manager's point of view means determining what information and practices you're willing to share, and with whom. Evaluate this in advance. Discuss it with different people in your organization. But recognize that the more information is held close to the vest means an integrator has less opportunity to leverage technology to keep you competitive over time. So to adapt an old cliche that used to pertain to routing and switching: share what you can; protect what you have to.
Ken Presti is research director of IDC's network channels and alliances service