Ten years is a long time in anybody’s book. Though in the IT industry 10 years is an eternity. In 1997 you used a mobile phone that looked like a brick to make calls. You took pictures with a camera and shot videos using a video camera. Email – if you used it then – was accessed from your 486 PC.
Times have changed.
There is at least one constant in this fast-paced world: a few resilient people. Look around you. How many people can you see who have been in the industry for 10 years? Not many. It takes a special kind of person to stay in the business and to also thrive. Not only does the technology reinvent itself on an all to regular basis but companies and vendors evolve, sales models change and even the way we go about our daily activities has undergone transformation.
What is it about the industry that inspires a select number of talented and energetic individuals to remain and prosper in this tumultuous industry?
In a word, the buzz.
“Where else can you get paid for playing with the latest toys?” asks Dave Rosenberg, national sales manager for Datastor and a 10-year veteran in the channel. “The technology is ever changing and the pace here can sometimes be hectic. But when you provide a solution that works really well, especially if you’ve used a bit of creative thinking in the process, the job satisfaction is tremendous.”
Allan Maclean, founder and owner of Maclean Computing, agrees. “This is a buzz industry,” he says. “Every day there are new challenges. Sure, there is a lot of day-to-day routine in any industry, but in IT you have the opportunity to make a difference for your customers. In the early days, just providing systems that worked OK was good enough. But now, with more people relying on their systems to run their businesses, OK doesn’t cut it. We have to deliver solutions that add significant value to their businesses. And that challenge – and being able to deliver – makes this job exciting.”
“Delivering on the promise adds a real buzz to my job,” says Stuart Campbell, who has been operating Campbell Software from Wellington since 1988. “The bar is constantly being lifted, which means we always have to provide new products and more services. We operate in a couple of ‘niche’ areas that allow us to be a bit more creative with our products and services. When we provide an outside-the-square solution that is tailored to our customer’s exact requirements, it is extremely satisfying.”
Richard Harri, another 10-year veteran and country manager for Synnex, also gets a buzz from the fast pace. “I really love learning new things and meeting new challenges,” he says. “In this industry, you can always improve. You can improve your processes, improve your efficiencies and help the people around you improve their game as well. You have to work hard, but the rewards – professionally and personally – make it all worthwhile.”
Belief in the technology
Another common trait that ties successful channel people together is a belief in the technology and the benefits that it delivers. “It’s fun to be associated with new products that make life for clients easier,” says Paul Leslie, national sales manager for Soft Solutions. “But it is more than just the technology. You have to be able to match the hardware and software with the customer’s requirements. Until people can derive some benefit, they are just bits and pieces of machinery. But put together in the right way, they are a business enabler.”
“I love the technology and what it can do for people,” says Dave Clark, marketing manager at Cellnet. “Launching new products is a lot of fun, especially when they raise the bar as far as performance goes. I’ve been involved with companies that are innovative and forward-thinking and that makes the whole process that much more interesting. I saw early on that sales and marketing was where the ‘cool’ people hung out and that’s where I wanted to be. I’ve been fortunate to be able to be part of the action.”
While the technology zooms along at a frenetic pace, the channel sector is still a people-based market and those who keep a positive attitude and genuinely like the people, products and lifestyle are the successful ones. “Attitude is everything in this business,” says Maurice Famularo, marketing director Australia and New Zealand at D-Link. “You have to make the best of the situation. Change what you can, accept what you can’t. You have to be able to keep an even keel and not get too excited.”
There are three types of people in any organisation, says Famularo. “An article I read a few years ago has made a big impression on me. It talked about the ‘gainers’, the ‘maintainers’ and the ‘complainers’. Gainers don’t get involved in office politics, work well within their environment and always strive to improve their performance. If you have a gainer in your organisation, keep them happy by giving them new challenges. Maintainers are also essential. They do their jobs very well, like structured and well-defined procedures and don’t make waves. Keep them happy by maintaining a stable work environment and with generous praise.
“Complainers,” continues Famularo, “are good for nothing. Get rid of them. They always look to pass blame, thrive on discord and generally bring the whole atmosphere in the office down. And worst of all is that they look to recruit more complainers from the ranks of the maintainers. If you can weed them out and support the maintainers and gainers, you’ll do well.”
Training a new generation
Nurturing new staff also provides job satisfaction for successful people. “It’s a great opportunity to pass on the skills and perspectives that I’ve gained from my years in the industry,” says Dave Clark. “I have around 10 people working with me and it’s been fun showing them the ropes and instilling in them the same level of enthusiasm for customer service that I have.”
“Seeing younger people move up is especially rewarding,” says Dave Rosenberg. “It’s not about working harder – though it helps – but about working smarter. Doing a consistently good job with high standards and setting a good example is the best way to bring along your staff. If you provide a positive environment, your people will respond.”
Good customer service skills learned early, will pay benefits for years to come. “One of my first roles,” says Geoff Cossey, managing director of Chillisoft, “was with Eagle Technology Group and they had a very high standard of customer service, Trevor Eagle especially. I saw that if you promised, you should deliver. If you can be trusted by your team and clients, you’ll do well.”
“We now have more than 50 people in our company,” says Allan Maclean, “and for us customer service is paramount. We’ve grown by acquisition and ensuring that the ‘corporate culture’ in the companies we’ve acquired is on the same level as ours has been a big part of why it has worked. Not every job goes smoothly and the people that stand out are the ones who can bring the project to a successful conclusion. Doing whatever it takes to get the job done is essential if you want to last.”
Balancing work and relaxation
Working hard does take its toll, however, and even the most dedicated professionals need to take a break from all of the frenzy.
Richard Harri took a year off and toured India, China and Nepal, among other places. “Coming home made me appreciate the lifestyle we have here,” he says.
Dave Clark took a six-month sabbatical overseas. “I travelled a lot with Sony,” he says, “but it was the plane/taxi/hotel/meeting room routine and I never saw anything else. Travelling overland around the States and Europe gave me a much better perspective on how fortunate we are in New Zealand.”
Clark burns off excess energy by playing drums in a band “It’s a lot of fun but also lots of time,” he says. “I think we’re on the verge of becoming rock stars. That could complicate things.” Look for Soul State at a future Big Day Out.
Stuart Campbell relaxes working on his woodpile. “Keeping plenty of firewood handy for the farm is a great way to recharge,” he says. Campbell is also one of the growing number of people who have been able to break away from the office and carry on their roles from a home office. “I can divide my time between the Wellington office, visiting client sites and working from my home /office. With broadband connections I can stay as connected as I need to be. One of our products is remote support software and that gives me a lot of flexibility to stay mobile.”
Paul Leslie has also based himself part-time in his home north of Auckland. “I was spending a lot of time away from the main office anyway as I travelled a lot,” he says, “so it was an easy move for me. My family is very supportive and that makes it so much easier to work from home as it can get busy. In fact, my partner helps take care of office logistics and sets up appointments for me. Having good support at home makes demanding jobs easier to tackle.”
Richard Harri agrees. “Sometimes I’ll work 60 hours or so in a week,” he says, “and that doesn’t leave much quality time for family. My partner, Janine, also puts in long hours at work so we try to coordinate our weekends. It gives us time to get our minds off work.”
Staying focussed for 10 years and thriving in a very competitive environment is no easy feat. The people who have succeeded have a few things in common. They work long hours. They get in front of customers. They understand and love the technology. And they genuinely like most of the people they deal with. They are sincere in what they do and the relationships they build.
“Most of the people who I’ve dealt with consistently over the years are a sensible lot,” says Grant Clothier, senior account manager at Reseller News, who has been a keen observer of industry personalities since the first issue of Reseller News back in 1997. “The big motors – the ones who make a lot of noise and stir things up – come and go fairly regularly,” he says, “but the ones who tend to stick around are straight shooters. You can take them at their word and they’re not afraid to tell you what they think, good or bad. And they’ll listen to what you have to say. You can’t ask for any more than that.”
Keeping the trust
Honesty and trust, built up over many years of doing business, are the twin factors that give people longevity in this industry. There is a lot of hype everywhere. And products change. Your clients expect you to give them good advice based on your honest opinion. If you can build and retain trust, you’ll be successful.
“Trust is a key component of success, especially in the IT industry where clients have to take your word that a product will work as advertised,” says Geoff Cossey. “If you are up front with people, explain what the issues are and avoid any extravagant claims, they’ll tend to believe you. If you know your products, how they can fit into your client’s organisation and can deliver on the promises, you’ll build up a high level of trust that will provide an excellent basis for future business.”
“If you’re passionate about what you do, have loyalty to your staff and client base and provide a high level of service you can prosper,” says Datastor’s Rosenberg. “Your clients want consistency when it comes to service. They understand that products are always changing and that you’ll have a certain amount of turnover in your staff. But if you give them good, solid and professional service year in and year out, they’ll stay. Repeat business is the bread and butter of any sales organisation and consistent customer service is the best way to keep your clients coming back.”