How does a massive distributor maintain close relationships with small solutions providers? For Ingram Micro, the answer involves the SMB Alliance -- a community of VARs, MSPs and IT consulting shops.
At first glance, Darren Gottesmann, director of SMB sales at Ingram Micro, leads the group. But take a closer look and you'll discover that he's riding shotgun. The real drivers are the members themselves -- including Paul Hager, president and CEO of Information Technology Professionals, an MSP in Wisconsin.
During a recent ChannelE2E podcast, Gottesmann and Hager described the SMB Alliance's focus and mission. But I wondered: Do they practice what they preach in private member settings? In search of answers, I headed to Buffalo last week and attended an Ingram Micro SMB Alliance "Unplugged" gathering.
Among the 10 takeaways:
10. Words Matter: The gathering, held at a local microbrewery, had a steady soundtrack of Bruce Springsteen tunes -- including "My Hometown." Sure, Gottesmann is a Jersey kid. But that wasn't the point. The real meaning: To truly understand your customers and your partners -- you need to travel to their hometowns. Gottesmann has earned a reputation for doing exactly that.
9. Relationships Matter: "How many people have more than 500 connections on LinkedIn?," Kirk Robinson, senior VP of U.S. Go to Market, Ingram Micro, asked attendees. Plenty of hands went up. "And how many people are super-tight with those 500 connections?" No hands went up. "That's the value of face-to-face relationships and communities like Ingram Micro SMB Alliance," Robinson asserted.
8. Brands Matter: Among the solutions providers attending the gathering was Nerds That Care -- a partner from New York. That brand, Gottesmann said, perfectly captures the essence of SMB Alliance members.
7. Long-term Execution Matters: When Renee Bergeron joined Ingram Micro seven years ago, the company's cloud business had about 10 employees. Today, Ingram Micro has 1,500 dedicated people on the cloud business. Half of those folks are engineers and the other half are partner-facing, she asserts.
6. Long Tail Matters: Take a look at that Ingram Micro Cloud business, and 42 percent of the revenues come from SMB partners, according to Jason Bystrak, executive director of North America at Ingram Micro Cloud.
5. Cloud IaaS Matters: Yes, Ingram Micro Cloud got its start promoting MSP- and cloud-oriented solutions that involved backup, security and Office 365. But take a closer look and the cloud business now features growing relationships with Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services and IBM Bluemix, Bergeron asserts.
4. Solutions Still Matter: Office 365 remains the hot-selling SaaS platform. But "don't sell naked Office 365 packages," Hager told attendees. "Brand around complete, add-on solution offerings for verticals or security. It will be a race to the bottom if you aren't selling cloud solutions."
3. Marketing Matters: Most MSPs and VARs struggle to make hire their first salesperson. But Hager has some unconventional advice: Hire a marketing person first to drive net-new leads. Then hire a salesperson to execute against those leads.
2. Hyperconverged Matters: At first glance, hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is for next-generation data centers owned by midmarket and enterprise customers. But take a closer look, and the HCI trend is moving into the SMB market thanks to two- and three-node solutions, Hager asserted.
1. Authenticity Matters: My final takeaway from the event? Whether you speak with Gottesmann and Hager on the phone, on a podcast or face to face in a meeting... you'll notice their personalities are unchanged from one setting to the next. That authentic approach triggered plenty of networking in Buffalo last week.
I'd tell you more. But the rest of my conversations at the event truly were "unplugged."