Robert Farish (Vice President and Regional Managing Director, CIS)
Robert Farish (Vice President and Regional Managing Director, CIS)

Vendors of infrastructure such as servers, storage, and networking products should focus on the technological and performance excellence of their products when marketing them in Russia. My advice is that appeals to business impact of investments now fall on deaf ears.

The sad fact is that Russian senior decision makers in large enterprises are not regularly talking to foreign IT equipment suppliers. Their products are still highly valued by IT departments and infrastructure managers — but these conversations are typically taking place with partners.

Marketing server, storage, connectivity, or cloud infrastructure solutions based on their impact on customers’ financial performance is investing in messaging to stakeholders who are simply not listening.

There is no doubt that Russia very much needs the world’s best IT infrastructure products. There has now been almost eight years of ‘import substitution’ in which the Russian government has aggressively sought to prevent state sector customers from purchasing foreign branded servers, enterprise storage systems and enterprise networking products. Yet despite the growth of local suppliers, our data shows that the absolute value of this this market for foreign vendors has barely declined during this period.

You Cannot Turn the Clock Back

However, what has changed radically is the degree of customer intimacy these vendors enjoy. I remember twice seeing Bill Gates in Moscow as head of Microsoft. Carly Fiorina visited Moscow as head of Hewlett-Packard and in 2009 Michael Dell famously shared a panel with Vladimir Putin at Davos.

To be fair, the degree of top-level customer influence these companies enjoyed was never huge. Since the early the 2000s, key contracts were in any case almost exclusively held by a large Russian systems integrator and few international vendors sold directly to large enterprise customers. There were high level contacts and a willingness to invest in these relationships, but since 2014 the story has been one of risk reduction and consolidation.

The turning point was in 2014. In Russia we experienced the twin shocks of the political aftermath of the incorporation of the Crimea region of Ukraine into the Russian Federation and the dramatic devaluation of the Russian rouble. The Russian government embarked on a long-term strategy to decouple all state and state-owned organizations from their western IT suppliers. For many international vendors the rapid contraction of the addressable market led to a serious rethink of the place of Russia in their global plans. The country was no longer seen as a long-term investment bet. Instead, vendors looked to manage their exposure.

Many pre-sales and service organizations focused on anything other than support and maintenance were wound down. Before 2014 international vendors had built large teams of presales specialists. This small army of facilitators linked technology experts at vendors with users in local IT departments. They helped customers solve their problems and so could demonstrate value to them. Rarely did these relationships impact the overall businesses of their customers but they did assist them to build well-functioning and resilient IT systems. It is difficult to imagine how this capability — which took a decade to build — will ever be resurrected.

What became of these hundreds of well trained, highly experienced professionals? Many have moved to Russian vendors. Significant numbers have moved to the rapidly growing digital organizations at these huge enterprise user organizations. Certainly, Chinese vendors have chosen to expand their operations in Russia as US and European players have downscaled. It is also interesting how common it is today to meet former employees of western vendors at government ministries or state organizations.

Our advice: Sell to Your strengths, Not to Your Weaknesses

After decades of market presence, multinational vendors have tens of thousands of loyal and well-trained users. There remains a generally positive regard for these established brands. Not only are products well known, they are also generally well supported. In 2021 there has been the added advantage that multinational vendors have tended to secure better product availability than their smaller local rivals. In Russia, moving government sector users onto locally manufactured platforms is being achieved much more by brute force than by persuasion.

Given all of this, I would argue it makes sense to target 2022 marketing and sales efforts on these technology focused decision makers and influencers in Russia. It might be tempting to try to demonstrate how much money customers will save with this or that approach, but in truth, I don’t think the right people are listening.

 

If you have any questions, please contact Robert Farish, or head over to https://www.idc.com/eu and drop your details in the form on the top right.

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