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A recent survey of 2,400 IT professionals and decision-makers offers pretty convincing proof that solution providers matter to customers and are considered a vital resource in the process of buying and implementing technology.

The blind survey, conducted by MarketTools on behalf of Microsoft, polled IT pros about whether they engage with solution providers and to what extent, and what they value most in the relationship. The respondents cut across all customer size segments—SMB to enterprise—and were not necessarily Microsoft partners, according to Kevin McCuistion, director of partner strategy for Microsoft’s Server & Tools business.

“The thing we hear from partners is that they want to be the trusted adviser to their customers and provide left-to-right solutions value across the stack,” McCuistion told Channel Insider. “This data confirms that they are.”

More than 70 percent of those surveyed said they use the services of a solution provider. Consultants were cited as the most commonly used solution provider type, with nearly 60 percent of respondents tapping their services. Forty-three percent reported working with resellers, and more than a third engaged with hosted service providers, according to the study.

Of those that engage, 42 percent said they consider the solution provider highly or extremely influential in deciding what IT they buy and implement. Here could be one reason: 40 percent of the IT pros surveyed said their solution provider partners helped them to save money.

What’s most encouraging about the survey can be found in the reasons customers cite for valuing solution providers. More than anything else, they value solution providers for their “strategic advice, guidance and overall expertise," according to the survey, with 39 percent ranking that as the top attribute. Technical capabilities such as deployment and implementation skills and ongoing support and maintenance were valued, but less important than strategic acumen, cited by 21 percent and 14 percent of survey respondents, respectively.

Overall, more than half of those surveyed said that overall planning, strategy and management by solution providers offered the greatest value as compared with the specific technical skills brought to the table around virtualization, security, systems management, and storage and disaster recovery.

“Clearly it’s not about the mechanics of the technology, but about having a seat at the strategy table,” McCuistion said.

While the study was blind and respondents were not told that Microsoft had sponsored it, the software giant still got some good news from the results. Provided a laundry list of IT vendors and asked which ones they wanted their solution providers to most closely align with, 47 percent said Microsoft. That compares with IBM (12%), HP (10%), VMware (9%), Symantec (2%), Red Hat (2%) and other (8%).