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VARs and solution providers need to constantly recruit top sales talent to keep competitive in a channel environment that is undergoing fundamental changes.

That is the blunt advice of Larry Kesslin, the preside of 4-Profit, an advisory service company that works with the IT channel and is based in Riverdale, N.Y.

Kesslin addressed solution providers, VARs, vendors and distributors at the IT Channel Vision conference in Phoenix on Oct. 5. His talk, “Solution Provider Leadership for the Future,” focused on the type of leadership VARs need to increase their business.

In an interview with The Channel Insider afterward, Kesslin offered some specific insights into the future of the channel.

With the channel changing through consolidation and acquisitions, many top salespeople simply leave a business and then take customers and their trusted staff with them. Kesslin urged VARs to interview at least one qualified sales candidate a week.

For his part, Lambke said his company will usually hire one experienced salesperson and then try to recruit a few inexperienced people in order to train them in the way that most helps the company.

“I think you have to have two programs, one for hiring from the outside and then one for growing your own talent,” Lambke said.

What has made recruiting good sales people harder, according to Kesslin, is that top companies, such as IBM and General Electric, no longer offer extended training to recent college graduates. The results are that salespeople have less experience and the truly talented are harder to come by.

Like several other analysts who spoke during the conference, Kesslin said he believes that VARs have to start offering some type of business intelligence solution to their customers.

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“A lot of businesses don’t know what to do to measure these metrics that they have,” Kesslin said, adding that businesses not only want to know about their customer data, but want a solution that will help track internal matters, such as revenue per employee.

In addition, VARs need to start developing expertise in niche markets and use that knowledge to leverage their business. In vertical markets, like the financial space, Kesslin urged VARs focus on a specific area, such as hedge funds.

“Hedge funds are a great example of specializing because they are a market that needs specific technology and they have the capital to spend,” Kesslin said.

Jay Lambke, president of Prism Pointe Technologies, a service provider based in Herndon, Va., said his company has also seen a need among customers for more BI solutions.

During his formal presentation, Kesslin discussed various leadership qualities that he looks for, and told the group that VARs of any size need to constantly recruit new sales talent to help sell their solutions.

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As for how to expand a business, Kesslin said VARs and solution providers who have invested in managed services, managed VOIP (voice over IP) and those offering maintenance contracts are ahead of the curve and in a good position to grow.

Kesslin also stressed the need to communicate both with employees and customers. Leaders must develop a clear set of goals for their companies, while finding good managers to handle the day-to-day problems associated with running a business.

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VARs and solution providers need to develop relationships with other businesses and look for people that they can talk to about issues that directly affect their well-being in the marketplace, Kesslin said.

Mark Kwasnieski, owner of Midland Computer in Omaha, Neb., said Kesslin’s message was simple and to the point, but it was a message that VARs need to hear again and again.

“The problems he is talking about are real common in our business,” Kwasnieski said.