One Month Into The Channel

I thought I would take some time to explain what my experience has been working for a VAR(Value Added Reseller) for over a month now. For those of you who haven’t read my previous writings on the recent job change(I realize you have lives of your own.), my previous employer outsourced all IT operations to another company. I turned down the job offer from the outsourcing company and went to work for a local Nashville, Tennessee VAR named ICV Solutions Inc. I started with them back in July of this year. For the overwhelming majority of my career, I have been in corporate IT environments.

Six Points

First of all, you have to change your mindset if you come from a corporate IT environment. You are now in sales. Oh I know. You’re an engineer. You only want the technical stuff. I get that. I’m the same. However, when working for a VAR, you make your living off of people buying your hardware, software, or your time and knowledge. You can’t give it away anymore.

What do I mean by that? Let’s say company X hires you to do a particular job. Data center switch hardware upgrades for example. Based on the statement of work, you go in there and swap the old switches with the new ones and configure them in a manner the client wants. What if the client asks you to take care of a wireless problem since you happen to be there? Do you do it? If it isn’t in the statement of work, the answer is no. If you happen to have some all-encompassing support agreement with them that covers whatever they need, then you absolutely take care of it. The thing you have to be cognizant of is what you have been hired to do. Your product is not just hardware and software. It is knowledge. Of course, you have to be flexible as well. You have to read the situation. It never hurts to go the extra mile for customers or potential customers. Treat them well, and the bulk of them will return the favor. Remember that there’s a difference in giving an opinion or quick fix suggestion versus providing a customer or potential customer with a detailed design plan and bill of materials for them to possibly use with another VAR or on their own. Use common sense. Don’t be a jerk, but don’t be a pushover either.

Second, you can get some serious hooks into vendors that you never thought were possible. Vendors want you to sell their products! They will provide you with all kinds of resources to make that happen. Sales training, technical training, engineering resources, financial incentives, and other things to enable you to sell on their behalf are all part of being a vendor partner. Non-disclosure agreements from vendors for corporate IT end users are great, but that only scratches the surface. As a partner you get to see so much more. The challenge with that is trying to digest it all. If I hope to be a good VAR engineer, I need to know far more about the various vendors and technologies than I did as a regular corporate IT professional. If I go into a pre-sales agreement and sound like a complete moron, what are the odds of getting work from that company? In a corporate environment, I have a bit more leeway when it comes to things like that since I already work for the company.

Third, you get far more exposure to different hardware and software platforms out there than you ever would in a corporate environment. The more vendors you partner with, the greater that exposure will be. One of the main reasons I ended up at my current company was their stance on vendors. We sell what we feel are the best products. That means we do business with a variety of vendors. If I only have one vendor to choose from in a particular space like networking or storage, then I am nothing more than a vendor extension with a different logo. Let’s face it. No vendor does it well in every sector. You also have to constantly evaluate your current vendors and be willing to move in a different direction if they are not providing a good solution anymore. We do this in our personal lives with the products we buy. Why in the world would we not do it in our business lives? Vendors and products come and go. My job is not to please the vendor. My job is to please the customer. I need to give them options based on what their needs are. If all I sell are hammers, then every problem…..well, you get the point.

Fourth, your schedule needs to be flexible. I no longer control the timeframe in which I get work done. I have to adapt to whatever outage window the customer has. I also have to be willing to go on site wherever they may be or work remote if that is what they prefer. Customer service. Remember that? Its been lost in so many industries out there. You have to be flexible. With that flexibility comes some additional freedom on your part. When I am not working billable hours or helping one of the sales executives with a pre-sales engagement or bill of materials creation, I can spend time improving my skillset. I can pretty much train as I have time. I don’t have a network to take care of as a VAR unless it is a client who pays me for that. My wife and kids enjoy it when I can work from home and don’t burn 2 hours of my day commuting. That means we eat dinner earlier, and I ALWAYS prefer to eat dinner with my family.

Fifth, nobody calls me at night. If they do, they get billed for it. I still sleep next to my phone out of sheer habit, but it has yet to ring late at night. My wife thanks my employer for that. She’s a light sleeper.

Sixth, you are always looking for additional work. If you do a good job, word of mouth can help you out. I know in my previous corporate IT life, I would regularly poll my peers in other companies to see what their experiences were with certain vendors or VARs. Even though I am a technical resource, I still have to be cognizant of what is going on out there in my local area. I don’t want to give away trade secrets here, but there are certain methods of drumming up more work. All ethical ways mind you. Essentially, you just have to take time and LOOK in the right places. Pay attention. Situational awareness is everything. This is probably the biggest change for me coming from a corporate IT life. I am now much more closer to the sales process. I have been shielded from it for years. I have always been on the other side of the deal. I buy a car. I buy clothes. I buy food. I make the decision. Sales people bend to my will or get no sale. Now I am on the other side of the table. An odd feeling at first, but after a month or so I have adjusted to it. I actually have a greater appreciation for people who are great at sales be it cars, homes, routers, or firewalls.

Closing Thoughts

What else can I say? I’m in heaven working with all of these different vendors. No week is the same for me and I get to work with a great group of engineers who are all veterans of IT. I’ve known the bulk of people in my company for several years, so that made my transition much easier. They say you won’t want to go back to corporate IT life after being in the VAR space. I can certainly understand that sentiment, although I could see myself working for a vendor one day. At some point I will be tired trying to keep up with everything and will just resign myself to shilling for one brand. Of course, my last manager was fond of saying that at some point the data center would be nothing more than 2 laptops with a crossover cable between them due to the increase in power and decrease in form factor we are seeing these days. I might only have to know specs for 1 or 2 devices 20 years from now!

What about you? Similar experiences? Considering moving in one direction or another? Think I am unrealistic in my VAR fanboy state? Like vendor work better? Like corporate IT life better? Let me know in the comments.

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3 Responses to One Month Into The Channel

  1. Ethan Banks says:

    I worked at a VAR over 10 years ago. All the positive things you relate, I identify with. That stuff was great – exposure to the technology was awesome. You could drink from the fire hose any day you wanted to. But like any job, your employer can make a huge difference in how much consulting works out for you. Like Left Ear said in the Italian Job, “I had. A bad. Experience.”

    Despite that, I’ve been thinking about getting out of the corporate world for quite a while now. No hurry, but it’s been on my mind. We’ll see what the next couple of years bring.

  2. CJ Infantino says:

    I left the corporate life for the service provider life. I can see how the VAR would be good though. The company I work for has the SP side and the VAR side, so I get to see both sides of the coin.

    It has been a great opportunity to see all the sides of networking, and currently, the SP space has me fired up.

  3. Aaron Paxson says:

    Nice! I’m really happy that you found something you enjoy! Your “2nd” point, would make it worthwhile for me, alone. The only disadvantage I see, is that because each company is different, you have to “re-learn” their environment.

    I sometimes take for granted the detail knowledge I have in a corporate environment. If things go to the wayside, I can identify what the problem is, before starting to troubleshoot.

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