Keeping customers: It's not about money, but trust

In order for the channel to succeed in today's increasingly competitive marketplace, partners must concentrate on fostering good relationships with their customers.

That's the message that James Alexander, senior vice-president of London, Ont.-based Info Tech Research Group, gave to partners who attended this year's annual CDN's Top 100 Solution Providers event in Vaughan, Ont.

During the educational session that preceded the formal Top 100 Solution Providers awards presentations, partners were briefed on current customer purchasing patterns and were also given advice on how they can stay relevant to their customers in the IT industry.

Research was conducted from the latter part of 2008 and the beginning of this year and was based on four end-user surveys and three supplier surveys, Alexander said. In total, more than 2,200 respondents participated. Alexander said data was collected from businesses of all sizes, industries and revenue brackets to assess the current partner landscape in Canada today.

In today's economy, it's especially important that partners foster a good relationship with their customers because that's what will make a returning customer, Alexander said.

"Once you're in (with a customer), people trust you," he said. "The single most important influence in purchases across all vendors is existing relationships, both corporate and personal. The size of a customer dictates the purchase method of preference," Alexander said. "SMB buyers are more likely to purchase from a VAR, and also on the basis of how (partners) meet their needs."

Overall, smaller companies prefer purchasing a solution from a single vendor for simplicity reasons, Alexander explains. That's why partners should bundle components to offer their customers complete solutions.

For instance, if a customer is purchasing a server solution, partners should also think about offering storage as well, because that's something every customer needs. Typically, storage solutions tend to be supplier-led engagements and the requirements for the implementation of services also increases, Alexander said. On the software side, partner opportunities lie in the services that come wrapped around them.

Respondents were also asked, if it came down to it, why they'd leave their current partner. The most common answer was because of the relationship and lack of responsiveness, Alexander said.

"If you don't look after your customers you'll drive them away," he added.

Alexander also identified key industry trends and told partners that around enterprise application solutions there's a huge opportunity for software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings.

When it comes to social networking, Alexander says it's really more "noise" than anything else, although customers are turning to portal-type communities to engage in discussions with others.

As a general trend, customers are also asking for more open source solutions because they're looking to save costs, which is often the primary driver for why they'd need a partner's help, he added.

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