What Does it Take to be a Top Sales Rep at a VAR?

Carly Rudiger
Carly Rudiger
Senior Partner Success Strategist, Team Lead

No matter the business vertical, modern buyers are smart cookies and they don’t need you to force-feed them pitches or spout off random data. What people need is to feel nurtured, educated, and heard. 

Relevize sat down with Mark Mahovlich, Vice President of Strategy and Execution for ICM Cyber, to discuss the nature of selling at a VAR, what it takes to last, and tips for reaching success. 

After spending 29 years in the industry, Mark is full of insightful analogies and strategies for staying on top. As he pointed out:

“When a client's in a ditch, do you get in a ditch with them? There's plenty of people that can stand around a ditch and tell you, ‘Hey, you're in a ditch, you should get out of there. There are a few guys that will come along and say, ‘Hey, you're in a ditch, you should get out of there, AND I'll sell you a ladder. There are very few people that get in the ditch and say, ‘Why are we in a ditch? Let's keep from getting in the ditch ever again. And let me boost you out.’”

What are Successful Sales Reps at a VAR Doing Differently?

Individuals that are top contributors for their business have an inherent knack to focus intensely on the client. Although that sounds simple, it’s a lot harder to execute than people think. 

That’s because most sellers are solely focused on their goals and the service they are trying to sell. Nowhere does the client’s needs come into play. 

Successful sales reps at a VAR will always focus on solving a problem and providing a solution. Invariably, you will make money in the process, but there has to be true intent there to form a foundation. As Mark puts it, “Clients can tell. When you're engaged FOR them or WITH them—which are two different things.”

It’s the ability to remove yourself from your own personal financial goals and focus on the customer. Partnering with the client to success is what really drives top contributors. It’s a level of authenticity, where integrity is the key to winning.

Common Mistakes New Sales Reps Make at a VAR

In contrast to successful resellers, newer sales reps tend to be more focused on the quota, than the client behind it. There are reasons for these common mistakes, as Mark discusses, “After four to eight weeks of sales training, they tell you a methodology to follow. Question one leads to question two, leads to question three, leads to demo, leads to backing the client into a corner. All these strategies that they provide you, I've never seen those strategies ever work.”

Newer reps also tend to rely too heavily on data sheets and quantitative information. It’s not really about selling off of the data sheet, nor is it even about your capabilities. Just because you have a special function or feature in your portfolio, it doesn’t mean you’re the only one that can do it. 

These are the kind of traps reps fall into when they’re first starting out. Although, it doesn’t have to take years to realize putting the ego aside and focusing purely on the client, is the best possible move. 

Leveraging Your Partners for Success

How can you best leverage your partners to be successful at selling? For resellers, channel enablement can get complex. 

If you want to earn the respect of partners and utilize them to magnify your sales capability, it’s all about your ability to produce cycles, instead of individually selling. This just gives sales reps more of an opportunity and a greater chance to succeed.


Stability and stickiness are both incredibly important when leveraging your partners for success. Resellers always respect the OEM salespeople that ensure they make a profit (and a good one) for the effort they put in. 


Stay organized and bring the client along for the journey. You must educate and assist them with due diligent efforts and on a schedule that fits theirs. Respect their time.

That also means, if you say you’re going to do something, you should always make sure it gets done. If you’re aligned with a partner, stay aligned. Don’t suddenly shift gears or drop them when an issue arises. Stay loyal and maintain integrity. It will pay you back in the long run. 


Technology works wonders and there are some companies, like Relevize, that will help maximize your channel sales revenue while optimizing partner-personalized relationships. Automation will facilitate paid demand generation for partners to acquire new leads and nurture the channel pipeline. 

However, how the technology fits inside your client’s environment is also important. The ability of the customer to execute on that technology is typically what gets you the sale. 

The key to partner enablement, as Mark suggests, is “to be transparent as much as you can, be honest, and be factual. They'll respect you for it. And when you gain their respect, it becomes easier to sell.”

Top Tips for Selling as a VAR

When it comes to reaching success as a VAR sales rep, here are a few strategies to consider:

Company Size

Buying behaviors change by company size. How a small business decides on a tech solution is a whole other ball game compared to an enterprise. What’s important to corporate buyers, may not be for the mom-and-pop shop. 

The larger the company, the less the decisions have to do with your capability in sales, and the more it has to do with larger factors like what exactly you can offer and if it meets niche needs. This is why KYC (know your customer) is such a vital concept in reseller sales. The more time you spend with them, the easier it will be to sell (or walk away).

Doing Good Works 

Although everyone likes to use the term “trusted advisor” not every sales rep meets the responsibilities of that role. It’s not just about showing up and educating people, being a trusted advisor is a very earned position. And this is done through good works.

That means:

  1. Do what you say you’re going to do.
  2. Help your client when they are in trouble.
  3. Be there for your client when they need you.

Execution…Every Time

What really drives repeat projects is the ability to execute, time and again, and earn that valuable trust. Eventually, your clients understand that you do what you say you are going to do in a manner that fits the needs of their business. 

As Mark so eloquently puts it, “It's very functional. If you're going in thinking about I'm going to sell them a firewall today, you're in the wrong frame of mind. It's all relationship building. You should be walking in thinking about, ‘I wonder what their biggest challenges are today and how it affects their business.’”

In The Next Five Years

How will be being a sales rep at a VAR change in the next 5 years?

Staying Efficient

The future of reseller sales will be about efficiency and the flexibility to move from one solution to the next for end users. Sales reps need to be more attentive than ever to the success of the client and the services built around them. Focus on protecting and helping the client, and you’ll remain sticky. Ultimately, it’s about providing meaning and purpose for the user. 

Bucking Tradition

Although the biggest role for sales in the past 20 years was to get to the presentation, Google blew that out of the water. Everyone can do their own research now. If you want to see a demonstration on an ABC endpoint, YouTube can produce it in seconds. 

Thus, traditional sales strategies are dead. If you’re hanging technique around presentations, you’re falling behind on the race.

Poof to the Proof of Concept

The traditional proof of concept and deploying technology inside of a client’s environment is changing. Because of the access to information, reps have to think differently about how they provide value in terms of a sales function. If you’re selling off a data sheet, you won’t have much success. You have to bring more to the table, which all leads back to playing an advisory role.

What Does it Really Take?

To understand the true value and nature of actualizing a technology inside of a client’s environment, ask “how do we get this done?” The selling of it is more about how to staff it, what installation requires, how they resource it, and what does implementation look like?

You must be fully engaged with the client and have a true understanding of their business. A real advisor is embedded in their success, providing the services and advice around it, to do good things. 

Ultimately, this is how a client will trust you, work with the solution, and have loyalty to the relationship. It’s never been about money. 

“Money is just the way I keep score. Whether I did a good job this year or not, is the byproduct of building good relationships. If I'm really helping people, then I truly profit," says Mark.

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