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It is the million-dollar question: What makes a CIO or IT manager choose a certain VAR over another?

According to our exclusive Ziff Davis Enterprise Research study, which examined both how CIOs choose a generalist VAR and a specialist VAR, some of the channel’s worst fears have been doused. When it comes to generalist solution providers, most CIOs look at value for money, with 62 percent rating this as their top priority. Interestingly, price ranked second to last, with only 12 percent calling it a top priority—so it seems CIOs are now prepared to pay for the service they get from solution providers and not simply go for the lowest bidder.

Coming second for the generalist VARs was the quality of their products and services, cited by 39 percent of CIOs. Reliability of products and services, and customer services came up third and fourth with 38 percent and 34 percent, respectively.

However, things are much brighter for the specialist solution providers. While best value for the money was still the top priority—and in these uncertain economic times that is no surprise—but it was only cited by 51 percent of CIOs, with quality of products from a specialist VAR cited as a close second with 49 percent.

Click here to read the Top 10 CIO Influencers when choosing a general service provider.

Alistair Bell, CEO of VAR Bell Microsystems, said for generalist resellers the market is tough because it is driven on price. “If you look at VARs selling desktops, it’s entirely a commodity and end users are just looking at price. When it comes to more specialist areas like storage, most of the customers don’t even go to tender, because price is less relevant.”

Bell said the quality of services offered by specialist VARs has a massive impact on deals. “If we go up against a more generalist, bigger VAR, we have better core skills of delivering the whole package, and we can help with other things such as compliance because our sales staff are skilled in our particular area; the generalist VARs don’t have this quality of skills in their sales staff,” he said.

The research also showed how important word of mouth is. A recommendation or company reputation was cited by 42 percent of CIOs as the factor that most influences their decision on choosing a services provider.

Bell said that winning deals is also about understanding and respecting that as a specialist you are just one part of what could be a major project. “So you have ensure that you deliver everything on time every time, and the end user has to be able to rely on you to do that.” Once an end user trusts you to do that, then word does get around and more business should follow, he added.

Click here to read the full, exclusive Ziff Davis Enterprise Research and get inside a CIO’s head.