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The hardest thing about selling IT these days is that the money that is actually available to fund anything new is usually somewhere between five to 30 percent of their IT budget. Obviously, the size of the IT budget varies from company to company, so five percent of a large IT budget, for example, can be quite a lot of money.

But the reality for most IT organizations is that the preponderance of the money being allocated to IT these days is being used to keep the proverbial lights on. If a solution provider wants a customer to embrace some new emerging technology, it generally means first figuring out how that emerging technology is going to reduce the amount of money that has already been allocated to fund some other IT-related project.

That brings us to a big idea that Tommy Petrogiannis, president of Silanis, an IBM business partner based in Montreal, came up with during a recent breakfast meeting that took place during the IBM PartnerWorld conference in New Orleans. In Petrogiannis’ experience, the solution provider that has the most strategic insight into a customer’s business usually winds up with a lot of influence over how a customer allocates their IT budget.

The best way to go about gaining that insight, says Petrogiannis, is to perform an end-to-end assessment of how the business is allocating its IT dollars. The sad truth of the matter is that many customers have lost sight of how their IT dollars are being exactly allocated. There is generally a lot of money allocated to IT, but not a lot of insight into the exact business value that is being derived from those investments. More often than not, the communication between the internal IT people and the rest of the business has also broken down, which generally means that the business executives are a little suspicious of anything related to IT, especially when they look back in time to consider all the broken promises that someone has at one time or another made about IT.

Rather than trying to sell them another IT product, Petrogiannis says solution providers should open the conversation with customers by providing a business assessment. Whether a solution provider decides to do this for free as part of an effort to gain the customer’s trust or decides to put the cost of performing that assessment against an another project later on is up to the solution provider.

What’s critical to recognize, says Petrogiannis, is that many business executives have lost a lot of faith in IT, and truth be told, they more often than not don’t know exactly what business processes are associated with any given set of applications or systems. The opportunity to rationalize applications and consolidate the hardware exists in almost any organization of any size. If solution providers really want to succeed, they need to be able to identify what applications and systems are either redundant or expendable. Only then can they really start freeing up the money needed to fund additional IT projects that should add even more value to the business.

This assessment idea isn’t all that new. Solution providers, for example, routinely do assessments for security. What’s different about the Silanis approach is the scale of it. Instead of chasing piecemeal projects, Petrogiannis is proposing that solution providers become not only trusted service providers, but actual business consultants. There’s a world of different between being the company a customer trusts to buy a server and the company they perceive as a strategic business partner.

When all is said and done what this really comes down to is either solution providers can wait for their customers to either figure out they need something or they can choose to explain to customers what they actually need to do next. The stark contrast to those two approaches can easily be summed as the difference between solution providers merely surviving versus actually thriving in the channel.