How vendors size you up

Well, the last month of the second quarter is just around the corner, and storage sales reps with quotas to meet are preparing to come knocking on your door. How they size you up will determine which products they pitch to you.

Ever wondered why these people sometimes arrive on your doorstep with brochures describing solutions to a problem you have never had? More often than not, it is because you are in a "market segment."

Storage vendors are always looking to expand into new markets. Sometimes this means revving up some new geographical initiatives, but most often it means trying to move into additional segments of the national markets where they already play.

Thus, companies used to serving the large enterprise look down-market to find mid-tier and smaller customers, and vendors that have been providing goods and services to Wintel and low-end Unix customers look to get revenue from IT shops using larger open systems. The result is that builders of both big iron and small arrays, and of both large enterprise-wide management solutions and small "one-trick pony" software, are converging on what is termed the mid-market.

Traditionally, market segmentation has been defined by a company's size, and size usually means revenue. Took in a billion dollars last year? You are an enterprise. Revenue lower than $50 million? You are in the small and midsize business (SMB) category. Fall somewhere in between and you must be mid-market.

Feel free to adjust those revenue numbers any way you want.

The large enterprise market - the land of automated tape silos, and high-end Shark (IBM), Symmetrix (EMC) and TagmaStore (Hitachi) disk arrays - frequently uses mainframe and high-end Unix applications. But large enterprises also buy lots of Clariion (EMC), EVA (HP) and FASTt (IBM) arrays, which are their respective vendor's mid-tier offerings. Further, the investment by large enterprises in systems from low-end storage providers often surpasses their expenditures in high-end systems.

In like fashion, smaller companies often have need for expensive storage, and midsize companies typically use a wide mix of products. In other words, generalizations based on revenue don't really seem to work.

Vendors that try to address all markets try to match up high-end systems for big companies, low-end systems for small ones, and something in between for the rest.

The vendors would waste less of your time and theirs if they realized that when it comes to selling storage, your company's revenue will be less descriptive of your needs than is the way you use your technology.

For example, assume we have two companies, each of which takes in revenue of $500 million. The companies are different in one important aspect: One heavily relies on its IT assets, while at the other, their knowledge of IT is rudimentary at best.

Now consider a third company, one that is only $25 million in size but which uses IT extensively to maintain a competitive edge. Which of these three companies is more likely to have the most in common when it comes to purchasing goods and services from storage vendors?

How might the vendors be of better use to you? Let them try understanding how you use your people.

Think of the last time a new rep visited your site. How much of everyone's time would be put to better use if he had known the size of your IT staff and had understood how they were used? After all, businesses with 2 or fewer staffers have different needs than do companies with a staff of 10. And if you have a staff of 10 generalists, doesn't it make sense that your needs are different from someone with the same size staff but where several are specialists in storage, networking, etc.?

Most significantly, an IT team with storage specialists can be expected to have different requirements than will a company in which storage is "everybody's business".

If you work for a midsize business, your needs are going to be the hardest of all for a vendor to define. Smart vendors (at least 10% of them may qualify) will likely recognize that you have all the same pressures as your larger competitors, but probably haven't been able to make much investment in storage specialists. Their grasp of this point is likely to be a good predictor of how well they are likely to be using your time.

Assumptions about your company's storage requirements based mostly on revenue are trivially easy. Easy, however, in this case is not best. When it comes to buying storage, you are often looking for a long-term partner. If a vendor hasn't taken the time to get to know you before he arrives on your doorstep, then take their mugs, take their T-shirts, and have your junior-most staffer give them an exclusive tour of the parking lot.

You have work to do, and they don't understand what it is or how you do it.

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