What to look for in a supplier or Var

How to get the best deal out of your supplier or Var. Our expert answers give you some useful pointers in making sure you get the...

How to get the best deal out of your supplier or Var. Our expert answers give you some useful pointers in making sure you get the best solution

Changing suppliers and value-added resellers

I am thinking about changing my IT supplier/value-added reseller. We are a medium-sized company of just over 100 employees running a standard Microsoft Office shop. Can you give me five pointers to what I should look for when choosing a compatible supplier of hardware and software solutions?

The solution

Bloor Research
Robin Bloor,

Ask their satisfied customers

These are the only two things I can think of. One, the value added reseller (Var) has a solution which fits well. Two, the Var has satisfied customers similar to yourself. Go and talk to them privately and find out.

David Taylor

Set up a code of conduct

Are your goals compatible? Do they add value beyond the contract in shared skills and knowledge? Do you trust them and do they trust you?

Prove it by putting a code of conduct. Judge them by what their customers say. If they are OK, be worried. There are some outstanding suppliers out there - find them. How open are they about challenges? Forget what the supplier is selling or can do for you. Focus on them as a team.

People buy from each other. It is because of people that things can go right or wrong. Make your decision based on this. Get the right partner and the people and success will happen, whether its software, hardware or wallpaper.

Arthur Andersen
Paul Williams

Evaluating suppliers

Periodically re-evaluating your supplier of hardware and software solutions is a useful way of keeping them on their toes!

It is also a good time to re-examine pros and cons of purchasing direct versus purchasing through a value added reseller (Var) (typically providing a single point of contact as well as easy access to related services).

It is important to start with a needs assessment. Are you looking for a single point of purchase for commodity items or for a firm to provide installation, training and technical support? It is also worth prioritising these so you can use them as a way of assessing offers.

Having determined what is important, it is good practice to issue some form of tender to possible providers (including the incumbent). This should ask about services each would provide and how they would meet your needs. Based on their responses, you should be in a good position to select them.

Five factors to consider are:

  • Fitting in with your needs including provision of related services

  • Experience with your technology and industry sector

  • References from other companies

  • Flexibility including contract lock-in, speed of response and local presence

  • Clearly price is a factor, but at the same time cheapest is not always the best. It is important to that if cost is your key issue, it is probably an indication you should consider buying direct

    It is also important to think about a mix of Var and direct. Using a Var provides a single point of contact, simpler procurement, experience of market and specialist knowledge (technical and industry), and related services such as installation, training and technical support. By purchasing direct, you will get cheaper goods but it is only good for commodity items.

    Then consider:

  • References from other companies

  • Fitting in with needs - including experience of current technology, especially servers

  • A company with scale to get cheap deals and use purchasing clout on the customer's behalf

  • The contract lock-in period and flexibility

  • Speed of response and local presence

  • Ability to provide related services - install, train and support

  • Industry specific knowledge

  • Ability to manage projects if needed

    Corporation of London
    Roger Marshall,

    Do your research

    You should go through a selection process to be carried out in five stages. First, as a standard Microsoft shop, you will want all prospective suppliers to be Microsoft Certified Solution Providers (see Microsoft's Web site for details). From there, it is all down to track records of suppliers and relevance to your needs.

    The second stage is to draw up a list of promising suppliers and ask them for profiles of existing customers. Do they have other customers like you in terms of industry sector, size and complexity? Insist on receiving contact details of their customers meeting your criteria.

    Third, armed with a list of the most relevant questions, make contact with a selection of customers and get appraisals. Don't phone up expecting to get considered answers there and then. Offer to phone back later or visit. This should enable you to get to a short list of three potential suppliers.

    The fourth stage is asking prospective suppliers for business proposals covering the range of supplies and services expected. This includes pricing and standard terms and conditions. Get legal and finance advice if you need it.

    From the discussions you've had, which one of your shortlist do you feel best about? This is not just a tie-breaker. It is the most important question of all.

    Next week

    Our company supplies components to the automobile industry. Of late, B2B marketplaces have become popular and there has been a great deal of hype about how they will reduce transaction costs and bring business opportunities. We have not signed up. In fact, we are not an e-business. Is it inevitable B2B marketplaces are the future? How do you see this affecting the small supplier?

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